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Sports Massage: Muscle Damage and Healing

Intro

We know, after the last post that sports massage can help you feel less pain, especially if you are suffering from severe DOMS being upwards of 7/10 on a pain scale. We also know that exercise causes muscle damage and the greater the intensity of exercise the greater the level of damage. This is normal though, and is part of the body’s system for getting better at whatever exercise you are doing, be it lifting weights, running of jumping. This article will explain how sports massage can help your muscles recover and how it will help you in your training.

Muscle Damage

When we exercise, our muscles get damaged and the muscle cells ‘leak’ some of their contents into the blood stream. Creatine kinase (CK), is one of the enzymes that is leaked from the muscle cells and is a good indicator of muscle damage. Although not a perfect measure raised levels of CK in the blood is highly linked with increasing levels of muscle damage. This increase typically happens a day after exercise and peaks around days 5-7 after the event. However this may be accelerated based on factors such as exercises type, exercise intensity and your daily activity.

One argument I see is that if cells leak their contents into the surrounding area, being inside your muscles, the area becomes full and you effectively suffocate the healthy cells. The body spends more time trying to get rid of the effective swelling and less time and energy repairing the damage. Hence we see rising (not high but continually rising!) levels of CK in the blood for days after the exercise.

Recovery

Sports massage can help with the initial ‘flushing out’ that aids in early stage of recovery. Being as soon as possible after the event. What we know is that muscle damage the day following a massage is similar to not having one. However, I do not believe this is the main benefit of massage.

The benefit I draw from the research is that the level of muscle damage following the leakage is mitigated. Massage does this by removing the leaked fluids quicker than the body would do if left to its own devices. This happens through an increase in blood pressure and heart rate which will only serve to improve how much your body can ‘clear’ from the damaged muscles. In addition, lymphatic drainage, the secondary system that takes the debris and other waste products from damaged muscles away is also improved by massage through compression.

The knock on effect here is that by preventing the pooling or swelling effect of the leakage, the muscle can get nutrients, oxygen and other muscle repairing goodies from the blood without interruption. The initial damage will be the same, as the exercise intensity was the same. However, if a sports massage is used as a recovery modality the body can more effectively clear the waste products following exercise and focus more on repairing the muscle damage. As opposed to spending a week trying to clear the area of waste.

Conclusion

In short, a massage will not ‘fix’ the muscle, but it will allow your body to recover from the damage quicker than rest alone. This is done by increasing the speed at which the body removes the waste from muscle damage effectively stopping the muscle leakage from suffocating the healthy muscle cells. Overall promoting better supply of nutrients and oxygen for the muscle to repair.

References

Clarkson, P. M., & Hubal, M. J. (2002). Exercise-induced muscle damage in humans. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 81(11), S52-S69.

Kargarfard, M., Lam, E. T., Shariat, A., Shaw, I., Shaw, B. S., & Tamrin, S. B. (2016). Efficacy of massage on muscle soreness, perceived recovery, physiological restoration and physical performance in male bodybuilders. Journal of sports sciences, 34(10), 959-965.

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