By Marianne Macdonald Msc
There is a long tradition of the use of massage by martial artists. Some incorporate learning massage skills as part of training, such as with Danzan Ryu Jujitsu. At the Jen Jhi Dao Taiji Quan school that I am part of, medicine is one of the seven aspects, with massage being an integral part of that aspect. Others use sports massage to enable them to recover from training more quickly, as well as to specifically aid in increasing flexibility and allow their muscles to work at their peak. While the use of sports massage is increasing worldwide, some athletes have not yet experienced the benefits to be gained, perhaps partly because they lack knowledge about it. This article aims to remedy that.
Types of Massage
Deep tissue; sports; remedial; therapeutic, relaxation, neuromuscular therapy, trigger point therapy…It is easy to be confused by the variety of terms used. Although therapists may have specific techniques that they use or types of client that they treat (e.g. athletes or pregnant women), to simplify things, massage therapists are either qualified to provide relaxation sessions for clients or they have the expertise to provide treatment for specific medical problems and injuries, such as postural misalignment, back and neck pain, and shoulder injuries. This training means that they are not only able to provide an effective treatment, but have the knowledge to act in a professional manner, for example making sure that appropriate massage techniques are chosen to facilitate the results you want with your body. For example you wouldn’t want focused deep tissue techniques in the hours leading up to an important event.
These depend on the country you are in. Some countries have no legal requirement for someone advertising as a massage therapist to have any training at all. Therefore, it is in your interests to check the qualifications of any prospective (or current) therapist. A good recommendation is that they are a member of a professional massage association. In New Zealand, Massage New Zealand (MNZ), is the association for massage therapists. Certified Massage Therapists (CMTs) provide relaxation massage, while Remedial Massage Therapists (RMTs) provide treatment. MNZ has a register of CMTs and RMTs on their website www.massasgenewzealand.org which gives information of what therapists provide specific sports massage.
Benefits of Massage
Whenever I meet new people and answer the “What do you do?” question, I realise that many of them think of massage as just a luxury that makes you feel good. Of course it feels fantastic to take time out, having your muscles expertly soothed and kneaded, while your thoughts drift away in to relaxation. Even relaxation massage has many proven health benefits including: increasing circulation which enhances the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues and assists in removing metabolic wastes; producing endorphins – those same feel good hormones that are released with exercise; countering stress by relaxing both mind and body. However, if you are seeking massage to enhance your martial arts training or get treatment for injuries, you will need a well trained remedial therapist.
After a period of hard training or performance, there will be accumulation of waste material and perhaps some micro-trauma in the muscle fibres and even slight swelling. The tissues will be lacking in nutrition and some repair may be needed. Stimulating the blood circulation through massage, will help all this. Fresh blood from the arteries supplies the needs of nutrition and repair, while wastes are removed more quickly and effectively. Effective remedial massage uses a variety of specific techniques to work deep in to the individual muscles, loosening any adhesions and mobilizing the tissues. If the connective tissue is glued together, the muscles cannot work efficiently and you will be limited in the range that you can reach and kick.
Hard working muscles often develop trigger points which in addition to causing pain, can also lead to restriction in movement through a joint and also a lack of power in the muscles affected. Trigger points can be treated in a variety of ways by a therapist to get the muscles back in working order.
As every martial artist knows, breathing is a key to correct form, but tight muscles can restrict breathing. This can be remedied by working specifically on the muscles involved in respiration in the neck, chest and diaphragm areas.
Overall the massage treatment will also benefit you in that a good therapist will be able to pick up potential trouble spots and deal with any niggles, before they turn in to injuries, thus keeping you active and training.
When to get massaged
If you are training for the same time each week, a regular maintenance massage will help prevent injuries and keep the body flexible. How often depends on the amount and level of effort you are putting in, as well as your budget. Maintenance treatments can be from weekly to monthly. Whereas if you are aiming towards a grading or competition, you will be structuring your training to peak at the right time and your massage treatments should be planned accordingly. In the build-up stages your therapist can work with you to even up postural muscle imbalances, changes that can take the body and your fighting style a little time to adapt to. Focused deep-tissue work can get to the origin of any muscle dysfunctions, allowing your body to work at its peak. This deep work can be continued until two to three days before the big day, when a lighter treatment, focusing on specific muscle groups will enhance performance. Many athletes also have a short pre-event massage in the hours leading up to a competition. The pre-event treatment is light and invigorating, maximizing blood flow and passively stretching key areas. This can also be an aid to mental relaxation, to counter any pre-event nerves.
I wouldn’t recommend having your first massage just prior to an important event, since everyone reacts differently to treatments. If the massage is too deep too close to an event, your body may still be partially in recovery mode at the vital time and you may lose some of your power.
Post-event massage is also to be recommended as an aid to better recovery, removing muscle waste and stretching the tissues. The depth of this treatment will depend on the state of the muscles post-event. Injuries can be treated with ice, then lightly flushed to dissipate excessive swelling, after which the ice is re-applied (this needs to be done within minutes of injuries having occurred, otherwise is not to be recommended). Getting prompt treatment of injuries, speeds the healing process, so you can train hard again.
What to expect in a sports massage treatment
Any professional massage therapist will be pleased to be asked about their training and qualifications, as it shows that you are serious about getting a good treatment. The initial phone conversation gives you a chance to ask any questions and make sure that they provide the type of massage you are wanting. When you arrive, they will take a health history in order to screen you for any health issues which could affect the treatment. After getting clear on what you want to achieve from the treatment, a remedial therapist may assess your posture, tissues and movements in order to more efficiently target an agreed treatment plan. Many therapists use massage lubricants to ease the strokes, but may also use dry techniques and stretching to maximise the relief of muscle tension and pain. The type of treatment will depend on whether you want a general loosen up of one area (or even the whole body), or if you need focused work to remedy a problem or injury. A good therapist will explain what they are doing during a treatment, especially if it is your first massage. If you have questions or feel uncomfortable at any point, do let the therapist know, so that they can make your treatment as beneficial and enjoyable as possible.
I hope that after reading this, you are feeling better informed about what massage can do for the martial artist. If you take your training seriously, it pays to take your recovery seriously as well and get in to a routine of regular massage treatment. You will notice the benefits and your body will thank you for it.
For further information on this type of massage or if you would like Neuromuscular Therapy contact: Marianne at Ybsore.co.nz, phone on 09 576 1368