Massage before an event can be an integral component of the pre-event preparation for many athletes. Pre-event massage can create a state of readiness in the muscles and tissues so that the athlete's performance can be optimized. Whilst some therapists consider that a pre-event massage can take place up to 48 hours before an event, most Sports Massage therapists judge that, strictly speaking a pre-event massage is one given just before the time an athlete is scheduled to compete (ideally 15-45 minutes before the event). This article will concentrate on massage immediately prior to the event.
A question that is often posed is should the pre-event massage happen before or after the athlete warms up. To answer this one needs to understand the physiological effects of a warm-up: to increase heart rate, body temperature and respiratory rate; and to prepare the body's nervous system. Hence a pre-event massage done after the warm-up would defeat it's purpose and you would not want the athlete's heart rate, body temperature and respiratory rate to drop during the massage.
In general a pre-event massage should assist in increasing the circulation of blood to the muscles to allow the muscles to be flushed and oxygenated. Tight muscles may be relaxed so that joints can be moved through their range of motion. Emphasis should be placed on the muscles used during the activity so improve performance and also reduce the chance of injuries. The athlete can use the time to focus on their event, to relax or complete their mental preparation. At the end of the massage, the athlete should feel great!
More specifically before giving a pre-event massage, the therapist should ask several key questions which relate back to the article "Sports Massage – An Introduction"(1) namely what techniques should be used and what is the intent. These question include - what type of event is the athlete competing in? Are lightening quick reactions required as a pre-event massage given too close to the event may dull reaction times? - does the athlete's sports permit the use of oils or lotions during the pre-event massage? - is the athlete required to be "loose" prior to the event (eg boxing) or relaxed (bowling)?
The massage should generally be done at a moderate pace, non-specific, relatively light, warming and short in duration (no more than around 15-20 minutes). It certainly does not have to be a complete routine. As with most massage treatments, it is preferable to be conservative – too little is better than too much. The massage must not be painful or include high impact techniques such as deep cross-fibre frictions or deep muscle therapy. The techniques most commonly used are general Swedish techniques (petrissage, vibration or percussion), compression, jostling, broadening strokes and general frictions.
It is important to note that no two individuals respond to massage in quite the same way and this can present a problem to the therapist seeing an athlete for the first time for a pre-event massage or in the last couple of days before an event. For example, two days before an event the massage can be deep so that the athlete can obtain the maximum recuperative benefit from the pre-event taper. However the depth required to address specific problem areas will vary considerably between athletes. An athlete should see how they respond to a massage in the last 48 hours/pre-event at a competition (or simulated training session) that is non-critical. So please don't leave it until the day before the City to Surf or your big event to have your first massage!
(1) "Sports Massage – An Introduction". Richard Lane.
By Richard Lane
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