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A healing touch is better than a bag full of medicines. However, a body massage is not a one-size-fits-all therapy, and it is certainly not just for those who are physically active. A sportsman can relax his/her overused muscles with a massage but so can anyone who isn’t exactly burning the calories at the gym. Depending on the kind of massage you opt for, it can help you relax, increase your flexibility and even speed up recovery.
“In today’s modern but sedentary lifestyle, we sit for very long hours (something) which we humans were not designed for. This leads to certain muscles shortening and tensing up. Massage helps them immensely, even if temporarily, to relax those tense muscles and regain close to their normal length,” explains Rajat Chauhan, sports medicine specialist and chief executive officer of Back 2 Fitness, a chain of clinics specializing in injury rehabilitation and performance enhancement.
A study published in the November 2012 issue of Journal Of Alternative Therapy In Health And Medicine found that massage was associated with an increase in oxytocin, a hormone which increases happiness in a person.
Hardik Patel, head of physiotherapy, Fortis Hospital in Vashi, Navi Mumbai, says, “After a massage, the receptors are stimulated which increases blood circulation in that area. This not just helps prepare the body for high threshold activity (if done before the activity) but also decreases the chances of delayed onset of muscle soreness (if done after an activity).” This is especially good for people who are into endurance activities such as running or cycling.
We sometimes make the mistake of stretching when we feel a muscle pain. Amit Dube, fitness coach and director of Milkha SureFit, a programme for sports education for schoolchildren across the country, says, “When we exercise, our body secretes lactic acid. If the dispersion of the lactic acid is not done evenly, we can feel stiffness in our muscles. Think of these as knots—the more you stretch, the tighter the knot gets. A massage on the other hand, can help loosen the knot.”
However, like every therapy out there, there are various massages that one can choose from. These range from those given by certified doctors, masseurs in a spa or even something you can do in the gym by yourself.
Swedish and Thai massage
Swedish therapeutic massage is meant for the wellness of the whole body, and not a particular muscle or limb that is paining. It helps to remove toxins and bring in fresh oxygenated blood to the body part which is being manipulated/massaged. Thai massage is similar, but blends gentle rocking, rhythmic acupressure and assisted stretches.
“These massages are useful to release both physical and emotional stress. However, it cannot help in injury prevention or recovery after a certain point,” says Patel.
Chiropractors use manual therapy (hands) to treat the patient. “Chiropractors are little more aggressive in their treatments compared to osteopaths. They tend to adjust joints by clicking and cracking more while osteopaths tend to use therapeutic massage more,” explains Dr Chauhan.
While both treatments are non-evasive, a chiropractor can treat problems associated with the neuromusculoskeletal system, such as sprains, disc problems, headaches and arthritis.
“These can help in injury prevention as posture, muscle imbalance and body movement is the focus for osteopaths and chiropractors,” he adds.
Physiotherapy, or physical therapy, is used to reduce the initial inflammation in case of misalignment of muscles or bones. “A physiotherapist will use massage for symptomatic relief, post which he will try to understand the root cause of the pain itself. A physiotherapy session will, therefore, be followed by exercises to help neuromuscular facilitation that is aimed at strengthening motor control,” adds Patel.
Soft and deep tissue massage
Popular with professional and recreational athletes, both these massages are more trigger-point oriented. For deep tissue massage, the focus is on the deepest layers of muscle tissue, tendons and fascia (the protective layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints). Soft tissue massage, meanwhile, focuses on the same pain points but uses less pressure.
Dube recommends getting a deep tissue massage during the training period for any activity, and not after (for example, if you are training for a marathon three months in advance, start getting the massage, and don’t wait for the race day). It can be done at least twice a week, and usually after the day you have a tough workout or run. “A good way to start any workout is by using a foam roller, then stretching, then doing a warm-up and finally doing body weight exercises,” he adds.
An easy massage technique to follow is to use a foam roller, before and after any activity, including gym sessions and long runs. A foam roller can be used daily, and without anyone’s help. However, since it is not done by someone trained in giving massages, the effect may not last as long as a sports massage. It can also be clubbed with a sauna and ice bath immediately after a run or workout since that disperses lactic acid fast.