Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Stay Fit with Bodywork Therapy: Enhance Workout Performance and Recovery with Massage

Apr 30, 2021 08:30AM ● By Marlaina Donato
Athlete lying down on massage table receiving body work from therapist


Therapeutic massage and other bodywork modalities are well-known stress-busters, but they can also hasten recovery after a workout or injury. A little restorative TLC with a bodywork practitioner before or after exercise can combat post-workout soreness and stiffness, maximizing our fitness investments in and out of the gym.

Approaches such as Swedish, deep tissue and sports massages, and myofascial trigger point release therapy can boost both blood and lymphatic circulation, giving soft tissues a vital shot of cellular nutrition. Massage modalities affect biochemical processes and on the deepest level, mitochondria—the cell’s energy-producing engines. Research from 2015 published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that massage immediately following injury due to resistance training encourages tissue regeneration.

Tailored Tools

“In the context of exercise, someone who trains three to five times per week at a high intensity will likely have a higher level of fitness. However, the demand placed on the soft tissue structures will equally be high, and may require more treatment to offset this. This may vary from once a week to once a month,” says Andy Stanbury, head of soft tissue therapy at Pure Sports Medicine, a London clinic for sports injuries. 

After working with high performance athletes for 15 years, he always asks, “What do I need to add to improve a patient’s fitness or performance?” For a patient that wants to improve fitness by running, “I would want to optimize their range of movement and stimulate the nervous system in readiness to exercise. I may look to use some myofascial release techniques, active release therapy, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization or muscle energy techniques. This would of course take place before the run.” For post-run recovery, Stanbury suggests more relaxing modalities, such as gentle massage, combined with breathwork.

The Fascia Factor

Fascia, a network of connective tissue, wraps the body in protective layers from the most superficial muscle to the deepest organs and plays a central role in flexibility. This complex netting can become stuck due to inactivity, injury or surgery. Keeping it supple is vital for everyone.

Bodywork like myofascial release that targets trigger points—knots of tension—can help to ramp up postoperative and overall injury recovery. “Myofascial release is a technique used to reduce the tension in the fascial membrane. Slowly stretching the fascia will unwind and reduce the pressure on the muscles and nerves, reducing pain and creating range of motion and flexibility,” explains Anthony Hansen, a myofascial release therapist at Therapy on the Gulf, in Naples, Florida.

Hansen, who specializes in a “fast release” technique, emphasizes the importance of a gentle approach. “Trigger points are caused by cellular debris encapsulated by the fascia, so it’s much better to stretch it loose than it is to force it. Normally, it takes about three to five sessions, depending on the condition of the patient, for the fascial system to unwind before the patient will feel relief.”

Active trigger points refer, or radiate, pain elsewhere in the body while latent points tend to be more localized and are sore when compressed. “From a whole-body perspective and when we put this in the context of fascial planes, restoration of efficient movement is key, particularly post-surgery and when progressing training load,” says Stanbury. “However, this is not just movement of the body (muscles), but movement of blood, lymph and energy.”

A supple, tension-free body helps deter and bounce back from injuries. Regular bodywork, especially Swedish and deep tissue massage, fosters muscle recovery and helps prevent future issues. Self-massage using foam rollers and massage balls or canes can also be very helpful.

Bodywork offers full-spectrum perks, points out Stanbury, including “improved tissue mobility and elasticity, more efficient blood circulation and reduced anxiety and stress. This will, in turn, help promote better sleep, which is, of course, where we recover best.”

Marlaina Donato is a body-mind-spirit author and composer/recording artist.

Modalities to Help Ease Pain and Strain

Swedish Massage: Gentle, gliding strokes to stimulate circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce muscle tension.

Deep Tissue Massage: Specific, focused massage to break up muscle congestion and reduce restrictions.

Sports Massage: Offered at many gyms, physical therapy facilities and recreational sports events for recovery and prevention.

Muscle Energy Techniques: Stretching and hands-on techniques that enable gentle muscle contraction to improve joint function and lengthen muscles.

Myofascial Release: Modalities that specifically target trigger points in the muscles and fascia to release adhesions, increase oxygen and reduce pain and tightness include
the following:

Active Release Therapy: May be beneficial for chronic pain due to repetitive movements, especially where muscle weakness, numbness or tingling/burning is experienced in the soft tissues.

Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization: Also known as the Graston technique, practitioners use an array of hand-held instruments for deep trigger points in the fascia and muscles—beneficial after injuries and conditions such as piriformis, muscle-induced sciatica and back pain.

Myofascial Cupping: A technique that employs cups to create suction on the muscle tissue to move lymph and blood through the area of deep trigger points.