Massage therapy is an effective post-workout recovery technique
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): muscle pains, stiffness, difficulty in sitting down, is no laughing matter. Whether you like sweating through intense HIIT workouts, deadlift hundreds of pounds or run outdoor trails, there is a good chance that you will end up with aching, sore muscles soon enough.
And for athletes and non-athletes alike, this soreness and pain usually peaks 48 hours post-workout and can last up to a week.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – or simply DOMS – is caused by microtearing in the muscle fibers as a result of intense activities (weightlifting, Crossfit exercises, uphill and downhill running). It’s a normal part of the body’s natural healing process. And while muscle soreness and pain may feel like a badge of honor, it can set you back from training/workouts for several days.
There are many methods commonly used by athletes to relieve pain and soreness. Perhaps the first to come to mind is massage therapy: massage therapy is found to be the most effective recovery technique for post-workout muscle soreness. It is also safe and provides more than just physical benefits.
The sports recovery industry in recent years has come up with various devices that are self-administered and provide the same physical benefits as actual massage therapy sessions. Three of these devices have made waves in the industry.
What are these devices and are they really effective at relieving DOMS?
Popular massage devices for post workout recovery
“Foam rolling” or using foam rollers – is a form of self-myofascial release. The muscles are surrounded by fascia, which is a layer of connective tissue that protects your muscles without affecting your movements.
During intense workouts or strength training, muscles are overworked, and scar tissue develops within the fascia. This causes a feeling of tightness in the muscles, followed by pain. Foam rollers work by loosening up the scar tissue and lengthening the muscles, allowing them to move freely.
The Journal of Athletic Training published a study that showed the use of foam rollers reducing symptoms of DOMS and improving mobility among participants. Furthermore, there are very few downsides to using foam rollers before and after training.
Like the foam roller, using a massage ball is a type of self-myofascial release. It stretches and loosens the fascia, allowing the underlying muscles to move more freely. You can use the ball on almost any part of your body that feels sore. They do not cover as much of the surface of the body as foam rollers, but can be used to target smaller, more specific tight spots.
If for example, you have tight and painful hamstrings, you can sit on the floor and place the massage ball beneath your thighs. Roll the ball back and forth with your thighs, making sure that you use your hands to support your body weight.
Massage balls are popular because they are quite easy to bring anywhere. This is important particularly for pro athletes that have to travel for training and events several times a year.
A massage gun or percussive massager, provides the benefits of massage therapy minus the expense of visiting a massage therapist – which is currently an area of concern with social distancing. The device is most popular among athletes: basketball players, marathoners and weightlifters that use the massage gun as a post-workout recovery tool.
Like traditional massage therapy, a massage gun works to reduce muscle soreness by flushing venous blood and lymph fluid out of the muscles into the bloodstream. The percussive force produced by the gun breaks up muscle fibrous adhesions, relaxes tight muscles, and significantly reduces soreness.
The Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research published a study that showed percussive therapy is as effective as an actual massage when it comes to treating DOMS. Apart from facilitating post-workout recovery, massage guns can also be used before starting an intense workout to warm up the muscles.
It is important to note though, that massage guns should not be used for more than 15 minutes at a time. This can be quite a powerful device, as it mimics deep tissue massage to get vibrations deep into muscle tissue. If you have recently undergone surgery or have recently recovered from an injury, consult your doctor first before using the device.
Massage therapy allows athletes to recover quickly and safely from DOMS so they can continue with their training. Apart from the physical benefits, the psychological benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety, promoting relaxation – help an athlete maximize every training session and achieve breakthroughs in their performance.
Using devices like foam rollers, massage balls and massage guns is a great way to supplement traditional massage therapy and achieve muscle recovery for athletes and non-athletes. These devices are portable, easy to use and can also be great tools for professional massage therapists and sports trainers.
This blog post was primarily written by Jai Tadeo.