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Sportsmen, and specifically those involved in high contact sport such as rugby, put their body under physical stress on a frequent basis. They therefore need to make sure they are able to sustain the required performance of their bodies by adopting the appropriate ‘post-game’ muscle repair techniques

There are many different physical activities and therapies that assist with recovery. Some of those most commonly used include:

  • passive rest
  • stretching
  • hydrotherapies
  • sports massage
  • acupressure and acupuncture

Stretching

Stretching is an essential action for movement in skeletal muscles and improves flexibility. Flexibility refers to the range of movement (ROM) possible around a joint. This varies enormously from one individual to the next. It also decreases muscle tension and improves muscle relaxation. This leads to improved blood flow through the muscles and when performed as part of the cool-down it can be an effective way of helping muscles to recover from physical activity that rugby and AFL players may experience.

Stretching Techniques for Recovery

Post-game, (e.g. after football), the most appropriate techniques are for short lightly held static stretches of about 6-10 seconds' duration. Stretches should be performed in a warm environment and can be continued in the shower or bath.

Hydrotherapies

After stretching, hydrotherapies and sports massage are the two most frequently used physical therapies. Water therapies are much under-used and undervalued in Australia. Showers, spas, baths, float tanks and saunas (dry baths) provide ideal environments in which to stretch and perform self-massage. Athletes should drink water before, during and after hydrotherapy treatments as sweating tends to go unnoticed in wet environments. It is also important that the time in the spa, shower or bath is restricted. Treatment times are best limited to two minutes of in a warm shower or three minutes in a warm spa. This should be followed by 10-30 seconds in a cold shower or 30-60 seconds in a plunge pool, alternating from hot to cold three times. There is a tendency for athletes to linger too long in a warm environment and this can offset the benefits of the treatment and in extreme cases be quite detrimental because it can lead to dehydration and neural fatigue. When used correctly, hydrotherapies should leave athletes feeling relaxed but mentally alert, not sleepy and lethargic.

Sports Massage

Sports massage has two major physiological benefits. Firstly, it increases blood flow, and in doing so enhance the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tired muscles and facilitate the removal of metabolic by-products such as lactic acid. Secondly, the warming and stretching of soft tissues provide temporary flexibility gains. There are also psychological benefits, as tired and tight muscles relax; there is a corresponding improvement in mood states. Athletes feel less fatigued and more relaxed. Sports massage has gained wide acceptance in Australia over the past fifteen years.

Self Massage

Self massage techniques are easy to administer, particularly for the lower legs, chest, neck, shoulders and forearms. In particular, lower leg massages are an effective way to minimise compartment problems such as shin splints, or repetitive strain problems.

Massage Strategies

These can differ, as can be seen from the following:

  • Within training sessions: short massages can be given during work sessions to help accommodate high training loads and to increase the athlete’s training potential.
  • Preparatory massage: massage as part of a warm-up phase can be given 15-20 minutes before competition. Techniques can be varied so that the massage can relax an overstimulated athlete. Sometimes the massage is localised to an injured area in an effort to prepare it before activity. Restorative massage: is given in the post loading part of a training session or competition. The techniques used aim to reduce muscle tension and fatigue and lower stress levels. Elite athletes need at least two full body massages per week.
  • Injury prevention: massage as a means to enhance muscle relaxation after activity and return muscles to their ‘normal’ resting state. Two days post exercise is often ideal for a massage to be given to identify any stressed or injured areas which the athlete will need to manage carefully to minimise any future problems with these stressed parts.

Acupuncture & Acupressure

Acupressure is often performed as an alternative to sports massage but acupuncture requires more extensive qualifications and hence it is less accessible and more expensive. Both techniques focus on balancing energy fields via specific points that pass through the body. Acupuncture points have a lower electrical resistance than adjacent areas and these can be measured and evaluated. Credible studies have demonstrated that muscles relax more after acupuncture than muscles which receive no acupuncture treatments.

Calder, A. 1990, Sports Massage, State of the Art Review No 24, National Sports Research Centre, Australian Sports Commission, Canberra.

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