Psychology of Sports Massage

The benefits of sports massage that are published are very often limited to the physiological aspects, and with good reason, because it’s easier to quantify them (e.g. measuring circulation or chemical levels in blood). However, the psychological benefits are naturally more qualitative, and being unmeasurable they are therefore difficult to explain in a scientific way. However, the field of sports psychology is not insignificant, and as such we should not shy away from the emotional and mental benefits, just because we can’t speak from an evidenced position.

As it is difficult to speak from a research based position, clinical expertise can be called upon. In our clinical experience, one client who we treat on a regular basis with maintenance massage commented (to paraphrase) after competing in a particularly tough fell running race that they “felt great, in fact good enough to be able to go out and run the race again – straight awayand it’s because of your massages”. This type of comment is not uncommon amongst our clients.

Looking at injuries, the psychological side should also not be forgotten. In many cases, simply waiting for the injury to heal is not sufficient and most people we come across find that there has to be some form of intervention (e.g. soft tissue therapy) and/or a change to occur (such as modification to running gait or new shoes). Importantly, when an athlete is injured we find that their responses and mental attitude can often dictate how quickly or how well they recover.

The athlete could be in denial (and run through the injury), become angry (and all the associated frustrations that brings), experience grief (because they miss their sport so much), become obsessed with wanting to return to sport too quickly (and risk re-injury or exacerbating the injury), feel guilty (if they are letting their club or team down).

To enable a successful return to sport we believe that there needs to be a shift in mental attitude from “I’m injured” to “I’ve suffered an injury and now I’m rehabilitating”. It’s the shift from the negative to positive which can help to promote better coping (and therefore rehabilitation) skills. Being educated about the injury helps too, and that’s something we, as soft tissue therapists, take very seriously. We like our clients to be aware of what structures are injured, why that might have occurred, and what they can do to aid their rehabilitation.

By learning about your injury you can lessen your anxiety and fear of the unknown.

Hoping the injury will just go away is no substitute for education, knowledge and intervention. Combining these elements will help you to return to full health in a shorter amount of time. They may even go some way to helping prevent injuries in the future.

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