Understanding What Muscle Massage Is and the Tools That Can Be Used to Benefit Your Muscle Recovery
According to statistics, 6.1 million Americans received massages four or more times in 2020. A 2008 study tested the effectiveness of muscle massage on athletes to see if short term flexibility in their hamstrings improved. The study found that massage made significant short term changes in hamstring flexibility.
Our body sometimes needs help to keep our muscles healthy and performing at their optimal level. Muscle massage can help you deal with the aches and pains of daily life. It can also help with muscle recovery and break down scar tissue that can cause long-lasting damage to the muscle.
In this article, you will gain a better understanding of muscle massage, the benefits, when you should get a massage, and the different tools and machines that can help you in muscle recovery.
Muscle massage therapy
According to Healthline, muscle massage or deep tissue massage is a technique that is used to treat mainly musculoskeletal issues such as muscle strains and sports injuries. The massage involves applying sustained pressure and using slow and deep strokes to target the inner layers of your muscles and connective tissue.
Massage aims to help break down scar tissue that is formed after trauma and injury to a muscle. It will help reduce tension in the muscle and tissue. Muscle massage can also promote faster healing because it increases blood flow to the area that is hurt.
The benefits of muscle massage
Muscle massage therapy offers physical as well as psychological benefits. Since this technique helps to treat muscle pain and stiffness, you feel better after a session, which improves your overall mood. You can go back to your daily activities without pain and discomfort.
Other benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Helps muscles recover from sports injuries
- Helps with chronic pain caused by Fibromyalgia
- Relieves sciatica pain
- Relieves tennis elbow
- Relieves golfer’s elbow
- Relieves Plantar fasciitis pain
- Reduces chronic headaches
- Reduces lower back pain
How often should you get a massage?
This is a complex question because the frequency will depend on muscle damage and what it is that you aim to achieve from your massage. Some people go for muscle massage at least once a week to help maintain normal muscle function. If you are injured and there is trauma or damage to your muscles, your therapist might suggest more frequent treatments to help your muscle recover quicker and with less long-term trauma.
With that being said, it is recommended that you get muscle massage therapy at least once a month. This will help ensure that your muscles are working at their optimal level, as well as help control any chronic pain and tension that you might be feeling due to your job, exercise routine and overall lifestyle.
Should you massage a muscle that is strained or pulled?
It’s not a good idea to personally massage a muscle that is pulled or has any form of injury. These injuries should be left to a professional.
Massage can help a range of injuries, including sprains and strains, as well as muscle tears or a pulled muscle. A professional will use a variety of techniques to help stretch out the muscle and loosen scar tissue. Massage can be added to your injury rehabilitation once you have been given the all-clear from a medical professional that says it is safe for you to do this type of rehabilitation.
Muscle massage helps to increase blood flow, which helps heal damaged tissue. Applying certain pressure to an injured muscle will also help relieve pressure and reduce swelling. A 2015 study showed that massage after an injury may cause a reduction in the inflammatory response and possibly a reduction in muscle damage.
In that same study, authors wrote: “Recently, a series of studies from the Best laboratory used a rabbit model and “massage-like compressive loading” (MLL) which applied quantifiable and repeatable lengthwise strokes to muscle for 15 min for four consecutive days. These studies reported significantly enhanced muscle force recovery following muscle damage induced by forced eccentric contractions in animals exposed to MLL relative to controls, particularly if the MLL was first administered immediately following the lengthening protocol.”
Muscle massage tools
It is important to keep in mind that even though most of these tools can be used at home and offer benefits, you need to remember that the tools will not give you optimal recovery and movement. These tools will not replace your professional therapist. A professional knows how much pressure needs to be exerted on specific muscles to get the best results. They also know when your muscles can be treated with massage and when you need to seek medical advice.
The tools are a good home care treatment that you can do between your sessions to help in your muscle recovery or get you through a painful day before you can see your therapist.
A massage gun is also known as a percussion massager. It is an electric tool that produces vigorous movements to massage the muscles. They come with different attachments such as balls that are meant to give you different firmness depending on the area that is being treated.
They are designed to be used on your own but you can ask someone to work on muscles that you can’t reach whilst the muscles are relaxed. When using these devices, please be careful of your bones, and especially your spine. You do not want to use vigorous movements on your spine or other bones because you can cause damage.
The aim of these devices:
- Reduce inflammation
- Relax tight muscles
- Reduce muscle soreness and tension
A small study found that percussion therapy did help reduce muscle soreness. Vibration therapy and massage were found to both be effective in DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
There are a few different massage machines on the market can be used at home. These machines come with different heads, which are designed to mimic the 5 main massage movements which are:
- Effleurage (long smooth strokes)
- Petrissage (kneading, rolling and lifting the muscle)
- Friction (small circular movements)
- Tapotement (percussion)
- Vibration (rocking and shaking movements)
Most of the machines vibrate regardless of which applicator you choose to use. Science has shown that vibration increases blood flow, which helps to heal a muscle faster. The vibrations also help to reduce muscle pain and spasms.
One of the most common massage machines is a TENS machine that uses about 100Hz, which has been shown to neurologically block pain. That makes massage machines one of the most common massage applications used at home. They are easy to apply and you do not need help from someone else to apply pressure. You simply need to stick on the electrodes and push the on button.
You can use massage machines every day. Just remember to read the instructions to see which applicator can be used on specific areas of the body.
A massage stick is a handheld massage device that is used to break up muscle tissue. It helps to increase blood flow which will facilitate the healing response in your muscles. They can come in many shapes and sizes.
The most common massage stick is usually covered in plastic, rubber or foam. They can also have spikes or gear-like looking objects stuck on the outside of the stick to help penetrate the muscle deeper.
The aim of these devices is to help with the elasticity and flexibility of your muscles. This can help with your range of motion, can reduce muscle soreness, and prevents extra stress and strain that is placed on your muscles, which can lead to overuse injuries.
Massage foam roller
Foam rollers are considered a form of self-massage. This treatment can be uncomfortable and you need to make sure that you are rolling your muscles and not your bones. The rollers help to break up adhesions, reduce stiffness, decrease muscle soreness and increase blood flow. They can also help to improve your muscle recovery and performance.
Foam rolling can be done on a daily basis to help stretch out your muscles after a long day of work or exercise. A 2019 study tested the effectiveness of foam rolling before and after the participants sprinted. It was found that foam rolling after a sprint resulted in reduced muscle pain.
When should you see a professional?
The devices that we have mentioned above can be used at home and will help you take care of your muscle health. You should seek professional help when sharp or burning pain interferes with your normal everyday life. If you rate your pain 5+ out of 10, it is time to go see a professional, as there could be something else happening in your muscles other than normal fatigue. Having a better understanding as to why the pain is there will help your recovery journey go faster.
Going for regular muscle massage will help you recover faster, maintain good muscle condition, and prevent injuries.
Chris Pine once said: “ I like a deep sports massage- a casual beating up. I try to get them whenever I can, usually more if I’m getting in shape for a role.”
- Always drink water after a muscle massage to help get rid of unwanted toxins in your body
- Massage tools and machines do not replace the work that can be done by a professional but will benefit the overall treatment journey
- When using a massage tool at home and you feel sharp pain, stop right away and go see a professional
- You should not cause any bruising to yourself or to others when using the massage tools
- Make sure you do not apply any pressure over bony areas
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