Most professional athletes and sports clubs make heavy use of massage type treatments. The ability to do self massage using a hand held massager puts this type of care within reach of "ordinary" people, making these benefits available for all who play sport or exercise. Many of these benefits are discussed elsewhere in the various guides and articles on our website. The most obvious is the use of massage for the treatment of muscular conditions. Due to the nature of the activity those who play sport or exercise are very prone to these. In addition there are many scientifically proven benefits of vibration massage that are more specific to sports and exercise.
Warm ups are done to help prepare the body for exercise and reduce the risk of injury. Muscles are typically stretched to their effective operational length to allow full movement, and blood flow is stimulated to help flush the muscles with oxygen and nutrients.
Vibration massage at approximately 50 Hz has been shown to both allow muscles to relax and increase blood flow. Generalised vibration massage could be combined with other parts of a normal warm up such as stretching and exercise.
Recovery/ reducing soreness
After exercise or sports participants often experience soreness known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and a temporary reduction in function. Many trials have shown that vibration massage from 30-65 Hz applied to muscles either before or after exercising will considerably reduce the amount of post exercise soreness, reduce the levels of lactic acid, and cause the muscle to return to full function faster.
The application of vibration massage from approximately 30-65 Hz has been shown to considerably reduce post exercise soreness (DOMS), reduce the build up of lactic acid and other residual chemicals, and speed recovery. This could be done by applying a General Purpose Massager at approximately 60-100% of full speed. As a general guide this could be done for about 60 seconds for each muscle. It could be done as part of a warm up then daily during the post exercise recovery period.
If full movement is attempted with a muscle shortened not only will movement be restricted, but there will be a risk of tearing the muscle. Stretching lengthens muscles to their more optimum operating length, allowing full movement and reducing the risk of injury. Vibration massage from approximately 20-60 Hz has been shown to relax muscles causing equivalent lengthening of muscle to that obtained with conventional stretching. Further, in a trial gymnasts used vibration massage at 30 Hz to inhibit the muscles' protective reflex that restricts stretching to "stretch further" than was done using conventional stretching.
Stretching muscles with trigger points
It is important to note that muscles tightened due to the effect of a trigger point will resist stretching. A key part of a trigger point is a positive neurological feedback loop that locks the section of muscle into spasm. Attempts at stretching will further activate the positive feedback loop causing the muscle tighten further. Because the muscle is tight people will be advised to stretch it. However, because of the feedback loop it it will be difficult to stretch and quickly re-tighten. Because of this those muscles are often the ones that end up being injured. The correct way to stretch these muscles is to first treat the trigger point breaking the feedback loop that will inhibit stretching. The muscle should then stretch normally.
Screening and treating trigger points should always be considered, especially in muscles known to be abnormally tight. Using a massager as described previously has been shown to have a similar lengthening effect to that of stretching, and could be used as well as conventional stretching. There are times when vibration massage would be the preferred method of lengthening muscles. For example, during the early stages of recovery from an ankle sprain calf muscle stretching may injure the healing ankle joint, whereas vibration massage to the calf may be able to be applied safely. Using vibration massage to inhibit the stretch reflex to enable further stretching is best left to elite athletes under proper professional supervision. Such reflexes are there to protect against injury.
Vibration at many frequencies has been shown to enable the nervous system to better activate muscle fibres, resulting in increased performance. Frequencies of 5-50Hz tend to require shorter applications.
An Olympic weight lifter might be very interested in using vibration massage to help get every last bit of performance from his or her muscles. However, the ordinary sports person would likely get far more benefit from the effects of vibration massage previously discussed in eliminating the things that inhibit normal optimal performance. For example, by treating trigger points one will avoid their tightening of muscles and other performance robbing effects. Using massage to help warm up and stretch will help allow full performance. Using vibration massage to help decrease post exercise soreness and speed recovery will allow normal performance sooner and possibly even encourage more training. Finally, several of these effects will help reduce the risk of injury. Obviously one will perform better when not injured.
Implementation and further information
This information is general in nature and does not take into account specific needs. Readers should discuss this with their own professional advisor. For more information see the articles on trigger points, assisting healing and the scientific effects of vibration massage on our website.