As a dedicated sports massage therapist it doesn’t take much to provoke my elevator speech about the benefits of sports massage for cyclists. I’m well prepared for the glazed eyes and blank stares from riders that have heard this pitch too many times already. But I can’t help myself. For me, it’s not about drumming up business. The desire to fixing people is hard wired into my genetic code. Even more important is to let it be known that there really is a fix out there. So, given the opportunity, my gospel of sports massage flows like a sermon from a preacher.
Sports massage is touted by many to have a host of benefits. It’s used by many a pro and pro team. But solid evidence of benefit has been thin, resting mostly on individual testimonials rather than science. Cyclists love science – watt meters never lie.
But that situation is changing. The results of an experiment involving massage at McMasters University in Canada were recently published in the February 1 issue of the publication Science Translational Medicine. The results of the study are quite astonishing. It was found that 10 minutes of massage after 70 minutes of cycling to exhaustion produced a marked decrease in muscle tissue inflammation, as compared to those that didn’t receive massage and those that merely took anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
Researchers found that massage reduced the production of cytokine, a compound involved with inflammation. At the same time massage provoked mitochondrial biogenesis, leading to enhanced cell function and repair that helps muscles adapt to the demands of increased exercise.
However, those that used pain relievers such as aspirin may suffer a maladaptive response, said Dr Mark A. Tarnopolsky, senior author of the study. “With massage, you can have your cake and eat it too – massage can suppress inflammation and actually enhance cell recovery.” Over-the-counter pain killers reduce inflammation and pain but may actually retard healing.
Bottom line – yes, a quality sports massage costs more than a bottle of Costco ibuprofen. But in the long run use of nsaids may lead to tissue damage. A better alternative is to learn a few basic massage strokes and then trade massages with your training partners. Another way is to self massage with The Stick massage tool or the ubiquitous foam roller, both of which give good results. You just have to remember to use them.