The benefits of physio and massage

The real benefits of physiotherapy, massage and foam rolling for athletes

Physiotherapy and massage is something that will always have a place in an athlete’s life and it’s something that becomes increasingly more important as your athletic life progresses. Not only because you obviously become more fragile as you get older and injuries begin to creep in, but also because a physiotherapist can really improve your performance as an athlete and help you understand how to get more out of your body.

The body is a complicated machine and it’s often difficult to identify weakness and understand why it’s causing problems. A top physiotherapist can diagnose problems and come up with a plan to sort it and this will help you go faster and remain injury free. Massage is also essential. I was a relatively late starter to massage as I didn’t see the need for it (and I was way too ticklish for it!).

Now though I couldn’t go more than a few weeks without a massage. By flushing the body of toxins and encouraging fresh blood flow massage helps to maintain the muscles’ suppleness. It also helps the body to recover from all of the hard training work.

A physiotherapist is very useful for prefab and rehab, and ideally I’d work in conjunction with both whenever I feel a need. That said I’d usually turn to massage when I feel like my muscles are getting too tight and causing problems. A good firm massage (the firmer the better) will help iron out any problems and you’ll probably feel like a new person a few days later!

Inevitably there will be problems that need more attention and only a physiotherapist will be able to help. They’ll get to the root of the problem, give a full diagnosis of how it happened and tell you where you’re overcompensating or out of balance. As a result, they can prescribe treatment or exercises to take the pressure off.

A good physiotherapist will also be able to offer a range of techniques such as massage, heat treatment, acupuncture, laser therapy and ultrasound. In the worst cases they’ll just prescribe rest, which to be honest also works wonders.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it often pays to see a physio even when you’re not injured. I like to go in every so often to get a full body screening which only takes around 15 minutes. Potentially during a visit like this, they can diagnose where you’re weak and where you can get more out of your performance. For instance, they may be able to inform you that it’s possible to increase the range of movement in your hip flexors or improve the stability in your pelvis for efficiency. Every little helps.

Interestingly it’s often not what you expect that is causing a problem.  A while ago I kept twisting my ankle and I couldn’t work out how to stop it. It got so bad I was told that if I twisted it a few more times I’d require surgery. I decided to go and see a physio we have in Loughborough. Although I’d been doing heaps of work on my ankle strength to try and sort it, he went straight to my glutes. Sure enough, after 10 minutes of (painful) work there, I suddenly had much more power in my ankle. So much so that I haven’t had a problem since! Imagine trying to work that out by yourself.

Massage and physiotherapy can be expensive, but another good option for maintenance is self-massage. I also think if you can stretch often it’ll help you increase your injury-free life and potentially ward off most injuries. However regular stretching can only get you so far. Foam rolling is an excellent substitute to massage and you can perform it in front of the TV before you go to bed, and really work on the areas that are causing problems.  It’s a very painful experience but to be honest the more painful it is, the better it is for you, so embrace the hurt!

Foam rolling requires a certain technique. Your muscle has to be relaxed to really allow you to go deep into the muscle (tensing up is cheating). To execute it properly you have to roll the muscle from one end to the other in a 2-inches-forward 1-inch-back movement. You can add even more pain by putting your other leg on top to increase the pressure. Good luck and I hope you find this a useful insight. 

Will Clarke

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.

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