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11 Psychological and Physiological Effects of Sports Massage

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Whether you’re an amateur or professional athlete, or you’re simply in pain, there’s huge psychological and physiological effects of sports massage

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the effects of getting regular sports massages so you know exactly what to expect.

This article will cover:

Before we start, if you’re interested in developing your own career and becoming a sports massage therapist, OriGym’s industry leading sports massage course is the best place to start!

You can also download our free course prospectus to find out more about this and all of the personal trainer courses we offer!

Physiological Effects of Sports Massage

#1 One of the Effects of Sports Massage Is That It Can Relieve Muscle Tension and Pain

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Sports massage therapists employ many different techniques during sessions, but one of the most commonly used is the stroking technique.

Using the stroking action on a client helps to stimulate peripheral nerve receptors, which are nerve endings within the skin that detect changes in the environment.

These changes could consist of stimuli such as temperature, pain, or pressure, and the body’s response to this is known as a reflex action.

If the stimulus is pain or discomfort, the body’s reflex action will be to increase muscle tension. 

 

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However, the physical effects of this sports massage technique helps to relax the muscles. This is because peripheral nerve receptors interrupt and block pain signals to the spinal cord, hence the brain and the rest of the body.

Therefore, one of the physiological and neurological effects of sports massage is that it helps to reduce muscle tension, relaxing the muscles and causing patients to feel less pain in the long run.

#2 Sports Massage Effects Muscle Flexibility

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Alongside stroking, another two of the most common sports massage techniques are kneading and wringing. These are more rigorous massage movements, which help to stretch and loosen the skin and underlying tissues of the body.

Employing these techniques also allows bundles of muscle fibres to be stretched lengthways as well as sideways.

This is why one of the effects of sports massage on performance and recovery is that it can help increase the range of motion in specific joints and muscles.

This is because the pressure put onto the muscles during these techniques helps to generate an increased body temperature, as well as improving localised blood circulation.

Tissues hence become more pliable, and muscle fibres are stretched and lengthened too.

As a result, any tension or pressure built up within the muscles is released, which helps to restore and improve flexibility as well as reducing risk of injury and boosting performance!

#3 Improved Circulation is Another of the Physical Effects of Sports Massage

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With many sports massage techniques, such as hacking, deep blood vessels are compressed and released during sports massage.

This is because these techniques help to increase blood flow when significant pressure is applied during a deep massage.

Therefore, another of the physiological effects of sports massage is that it improves circulation throughout the body.

Increased circulation has a huge range of positive effects including:

  • Greater supply of oxygen for the soft tissues
  • Vital nutrients carried to tissues and organs
  • White blood cells are transported throughout the body efficiently to prevent and fight infection

All of these things will help improve recovery time and help to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS)!

As you can see, good circulation is crucial for a number of reasons and so there’s massive benefits of sports massage for everyone, not just athletes!

#4 Increased Lymphatic Drainage is One of the Effects of Sports Massage

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Another one of the positive physical and mechanical effects of frequent sports massage is that it can help to increase lymphatic drainage.

The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system, protecting it by filtering toxins away from the tissues.

Within this system, lymph fluid flows through lymph nodes, which are situated throughout the body and connected by lymph vessels. 

Lymph nodes do this filtering process of trapping and then removing or destroying any harmful cells and waste material not required by the body.

Good lymph flow is best stimulated through deep kneading and stroking techniques, when aimed towards various lymph nodes within the body.

This is because, as a result of increased circulation through the lymphatic system, the body is able to remove waste products more effectively from tissues.

They are then carried back into the bloodstream and are removed from the body by the kidneys or the liver.

This process is known as lymphatic drainage and helps reduce muscle fatigue and pain by draining away lactic acid (which causes DOMS) and reducing inflammation.

Having less fatigued and sore muscles means that patients are able to recover more quickly from exercise or sports activities, and are likely to perform better during their next session!

#5 One of the Effects of Sports Massage on Performance and Recovery Is That It Reduces Swelling

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Swelling within the body is caused by a build-up of metabolic waste or excess fluid which surrounds an area to protect it from further infection or damage.

This can also be caused by fluids moving through capillary walls or by blood leaking out from torn blood vessels.

If not treated appropriately, prolonged swelling and inflammation can become chronic, leading to tissues becoming less flexible and more rigid.

Consequently, tissues that are less flexible are at a higher risk of sustaining further injury.

Swelling also prevents you from using the injured part of the body, which means that you are unable to activate the associated muscle. This can lead to muscle atrophy which is where muscle mass begins to waste away.

This is one of the advantages of the physical and mechanical effects of sports massage in terms of lymphatic drainage. These waste fluids are reabsorbed and subsequently removed from the body more efficiently.

This process results in waste fluids, causing the swelling, being reabsorbed into the circulatory system, and being removed from the body more efficiently.

Sports massage clients will therefore be in less pain, meaning that they can recover more quickly and return to regular exercise.

#6 Increased Soreness is One of the Negative Physiological Effects of Sports Massage

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Though you might think of massage as a predominantly gentle and relaxing experience, sports massage can be much more intense and vigorous than a standard session!

Although the effects of sports massage on performance and recovery are generally positive, their intensity means that you may experience discomfort.

Discomfort and soreness can occur both during the massage, as well as the day after. 

If you’re new to sports massage, this is because your muscles aren’t yet accustomed to being manipulated in this way, and so they will respond with inflammation to protect themselves.

A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that out of 100 people surveyed, 10% of massage clients experienced some form of discomfort in the 12 to 36 hours after their session.

 

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As long as you’re aware of the sports massage aftercare you should be doing, any soreness or discomfort shouldn’t last longer than a day or two after a session.

If this is the case, be sure to ask your massage therapist to lower the intensity of the massage during the next session or visit your GP to check there isn’t an underlying issue or chronic inflammation or injury.

If you’re finding this article helpful, check out some of our others below for tips on sports massage and the fitness industry!

#7 Complications Are Rare Physiological Effects of Sports Massage to Be Aware of

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Sports massage contraindications are medical conditions or pre-existing treatments that a client may have which would mean it’s inadvisable for the client to get a sports massage.

This is because the massage could further exacerbate their symptoms, or be harmful to the client.

Patients with conditions such as osteoporosis or brittle-bone disease should also avoid sports massage, as the weakness of their bones could be further compromised by the vigorous motion of the massage.

If you have a low blood platelet count, or are on blood thinning medication, sports massage can cause bruising and pain.

Although serious side effects are rare in this case, intense massage can cause internal bleeding or nerve damage. This is why a sports massage therapist will do a screening with you beforehand to check your health and readiness.

Clients with cancer generally experience positive physiological and neurological effects of sports massage but you should always check with a healthcare professional first if you’re undergoing treatment.

This is why it’s vital you’re given the opportunity to reveal any health conditions or injuries before getting on the table!

Psychological Effects of Sports Massage

#8 One of the Neurological Effects of Sports Massage is That it Helps to Reduce Psychological Tension

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Plenty of the mental effects of sports massage follow on from, or are a direct consequence of, the physical effects.

Although the muscle relaxation caused is a physical response, when your body feels relaxed, your mind will follow. Therefore, the pleasant relaxation feeling induced by massage can help with the process of mentally letting go.

Of course, there are exceptions to this, including when a sports massage is too vigorous, causing pain and inflammation rather than inducing a relaxation response.

However, the general effects of sports massage leave patients feeling relaxed, and therefore less stressed and anxious as a result.

This is why one of the things you can expect from a sports massage is a release of mental and psychological tension as well as any physical!

This is why using sports massage to relieve physical tension can subsequently rid you of any mental or psychological tension too!

#9 Reduced Anxiety is One of the Psychological Effects of Sports Massage

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As well as relaxing the muscles, and helping to reduce a feeling of tension in the body and mind, there’s other ways in which sports massage reduces stress.

This is another mental effect that arises from one of the physiological effects of sports massage. Sports massage helps to regulate and interrupt the production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

There’s been scientific studies that would suggest this is due to the relaxation of the muscle and interrupting our ‘fight or flight’ response that can arise from physical tension.

Lymphatic drainage helps to flush out these hormones too and so getting a sports massage is a great way of detoxifying yourself of any unnecessary and excess stress hormones!

#10 Improved Mood is Another of the Psychological Effects of Sports Massage

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One of the effect of sports massage on the nervous system is that not only does it reduce stress hormones, it can release neurotransmitters such as:

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • Endorphins

This is because sports massage triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS, within the body. In contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which drives the body’s fight or flight instinct, the PNS stimulates the rest and digest response.

As well as allowing rest and recovery, the triggering of PNS increases the production of these neurotransmitters!

Dopamine is responsible for the ‘feel-good’ function within your body. The chemical is released when you are performing an activity associated with pleasure.

Serotonin plays a vital role in the regulation of mood as well as:

  • Memory
  • Focus and concentration
  • Learning

So, not only will the increase in these neurotransmitters improve your mood they may also generally improve your cognitive function!

#11 Having Regular Sports Massage Allows You to Rest More Efficiently

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As a result of the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, another one of the physiological and neurological effects of sports massage is improved sleep.

This is because serotonin is a chemical precursor to melatonin, which induces sleep in the body! 

Melatonin is regularly prescribed to help people when their natural sleep rhythms have become disrupted. This might be people suffering from insomnia or even jetlag.

So, stimulating the production of serotonin will turn into melatonin in the body and help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms!

Before You Go!

Hopefully now you know all of the potential risks as well as all of the hugely positive effects of sports massage!

Don’t forget you can develop your own highly lucrative fitness career, helping others to feel these benefits and effects, with our Level 3 sports massage course.

You can find out more about all of our personal trainer courses by downloading our free course prospectus.

Sources

  • Jerrilyn A. Cambron et.al., ‘Side-Effects of Massage Therapy: A Cross-Sectional Study of 100 Clients’, in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, (Vol.13, No.8, Nov 2007).
  • M. Hernandez-Reif et.al., ‘Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy’, in The International Journal of Neuroscience, (106, 3-4, 2001).
  • M. Hernandez-Reif et.al., ‘High blood pressure and associated symptoms were reduced by massage therapy’, in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, (Vol. 4, No.1, 31-38, 2000).

Written by Rebecca Felton

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Graduating from the University of Liverpool with a first-class degree in English, Rebecca’s combined passions for fitness and writing are what brought her to OriGym. Rebecca is a keen gym-goer and specifically enjoys lifting weights. Outside of fitness and writing, Rebecca enjoys cooking, reading, and watching the football.

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