The purpose of a massage after a major event is simply to aid the athlete to recover from the activity. This is achieved by reducing post-exercise soreness, re-establishing full range of motion and enhancing blood flow to tight muscles. The length of recovery time from strenuous competition can be dramatically reduced with a good post-event massage. Studies have found that correctly applied massage in the first two hours after activity can be critical for reducing the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (1). Although they could not detect any change in measured physiological variables, post-event massage did lower the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness. Post-event massage can also be employed after (heavy) training sessions as well as competition.
The primary goal of post-event massage is very similar to that of pre-event massage (2), namely promotion of circulation and to lengthen tight muscles. However, the difference is that the muscles are now in a state of congestion and fatigue following maximal effort and performance. Therefore the objective is to increase the athlete’s rate of recovery by decreasing soreness and fatigue, speeding up the removal of metabolic by-products and relieving the increased tone of the muscles. Please note that the delayed onset muscle soreness is not caused by lactic acid build-up as is commonly espoused. Current research suggests that the delayed soreness may be caused by
– microtrauma of the muscle fibres
– a micro-tearing of the fascia
– the pain-ischemia-pain cycle resulting from overuse, oedema and inflammation or
– a combination of all of these.
A post-event massage is typically administered for around 10 to 15 minutes. Even 5 minutes on the legs after a City to Surf type event is beneficial. It is certainly not a full-body massage. For example, a typical post-event leg routine might consist of:
– compressive effleurage to calm the nervous system
– compression for spreading muscle fibres and also enhancing blood flow
– petrissage for easing muscle tension and
– compressive effleurage as a finishing stroke to soothe.
Depending upon the circumstances, the therapist may consider that some gentle therapeutic stretching may be appropriate.
When performing post-event massage, the massage therapist is much more likely to encounter athletes that require first aid. During the massage the therapist should watch for cuts, scrapes, blisters, bruises and mild strains and sprains. However, it should be noted that, depending on the training of the therapist, providing first aid is generally not within the scope of practice for massage therapy. When a sports massage therapist suspects that an athlete has a problem, they should seek the help of a qualified medical staff member at the event.
Although most athletes carry out a warm-down routine after training sessions, they often fail to do so after competition because of exhaustion, elation or even disappointment. An effective post-event massage can help an athlete feel better immediately following a competition. Along with a big psychological lift, it can allow the athlete to recover mor quickly. Almost all athletes look forward to seeing massage therapists at an event because they know that they will enjoy a well-deserved post-event massage.