For most people, sports therapy is synonymous with sports rehabilitation after an injury or muscle pain. But sports therapy, such as a sports massage, can be an excellent tool for increasing sports performance.
Sports massage, for example, if It is carried out with the right approach, can increase muscle strength, joint excursion, and the speed of movement of our body in general.
When there are muscles tension or contractures, they not only produce pain or fatigue after a workout, but they are the direct cause of a decrease in the force produced by the muscles as they are unable to contract and extend according to their physiological length.
When our muscles are tense there are 4 main effects:
Therefore the main objective of a sports massage with the aim of increasing sports performance is to work on these main effects described above and not only on the trigger points where pain and muscle tension are located.
When we perform a pre-competition sports massage in our clinic, we focus on improving these three fundamental aspects of our musculoskeletal system:
1 Muscle Length and Flexibility.
2 Tendon Tension.
3 Articular Excursion.
Now we are going to analyze in more detail why these three characteristics of our musculoskeletal system can influence sports performance.
The length of a muscle directly influences the ability to produce force both for the greater interaction between the muscle fibers and for the greater elastic force acquired by them. The greater flexibility of the muscles, on the other hand, allows better adaptability to changes in their state and to the stresses of forces to which they are subjected during a sports activity, for example.
These two characteristics of the muscles are also essential in reducing the possibility of sports injury.
A high tendon tension produces a greater stimulation of the stretch receptors which have the function of safeguarding the integrity of the same and if the receptors reach a certain limit they induce the phenomenon of muscle cramp. A muscle cramp is a defense mechanism to order our muscle to stop its activity to avoid both a muscle tear and tendon rupture.
More tendon tension produces greater stress on the connection point with the bone which can lead to joint or tendon inflammation.
Furthermore, tendon tension reduces the range of motion of the related joint.
The range of motion of a joint is fundamental in the execution of any sports skill. A poor range of motion of a joint is almost always connected to a limitation of athletic skill or in any case to a reduction in its effectiveness.
On the other hand, wide joint excursions allow you to manage and conduct the athletic skill with greater effectiveness and mastery, with a lower risk of a sports injury.
So in order to perform the best sports massage with the aim to improve sports performance we need to choose a systemic approach rather than focusing only on the areas of muscle tension and pain.
In fact, very often we treat areas of the body that are very distant from the trigger points, described by the athlete as main pain areas, but which are always part of the wider kinetic muscles chain of the pain areas.
For example, often when we encounter pain in the Achilles Tendon we treat the hamstring area a lot because it supports the calf in the flexion of the leg for a certain degree of movement. It is also often the opposite that a hamstring injury or pain leads us to treat the calf.
Another fundamental aspect to consider for both joint movement and muscle strength is the concept of Agonist and Antagonist Muscles.
The muscle that contracts to move a joint is called the first motor or Agonist while the muscles relaxing or lengthening in the opposite direction of the same joint are called Antagonists. The antagonistic muscles during the movement of the joint have to relax or lengthen in order to facilitate the movement produced by the agonist’s muscles. Antagonistic Muscles exert a braking control on the movement and therefore if they are tense and contracted they oppose a great resistance to the contraction of the agonists reducing both the range of motion of the joint and its power.
An example that explains how the agonist and antagonistic muscles system works is the Myotatic Reflex or Stretch Reflex shown in the picture below.
So in order to improve the power and flexibility of some groups of muscles we need to treat their related antagonistic muscles too.
All this to say that if we have the aim to improve sports performance we must consider and treat our muscles with a systemic rather than with a compartmental view of our musculoskeletal system.
Every single movement of our body is always produced by the movement of a muscles group and never by a single muscle.
Another aspect that sports therapy can improve is the blood flow of the muscles and other surrounding tissues. Better blood flow allows for both better nutrition and quicker recovery of the muscles and surrounding tissues after training or competition.
Therefore we advise you to consider sports massage and other sports therapies as a tool both to prevent injuries and to increase sports performance.
Plan sports therapy by consulting with your trusted therapist, identifying the right times and quantity during the training period and after the competition.
For example, we recommend to our runners to have 4 Sports Massage:
If you do not have the possibility to carry out periodic sports therapy, we strongly advise you to carry out daily stretching exercises because it is one of the most valid tools to improve sports performance because It is a real workout acting on our musculoskeletal system through many actions: