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Massages aren’t all lavender and wind chimes. Not only do elite athletes use massage as a secret weapon to speed recovery, but most NBA, NFL, and MLB teams employ full-time massage therapists. Massage was reported to be a key factor in former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Jake Peavy’s comeback, and science has confirmed its effectiveness in relieving pain, lowering blood pressure, and reducing stress. But not just any massage will do. Here’s how to find the right treatment—and the right therapist—for your specific needs.
“Muscles need nutrients to recover, and massage improves circulation, bringing those nutrients faster,” says sports medicine chiropractor Anthony Gustin, M.S. “When you work out, tissues get broken up and create waste. Massage brings oxygen, amino acids, and metabolites to help repair fibers.”
What to get: Sports massage, a deeper technique. Have the therapist focus on your most-worked muscles and stroke up, to move blood toward the heart.
When to get it: At least twice a month and within hours of a tough workout. “You should also do self massage at least 3-5 times a week,” Gustin says. Plan a massage for your recovery day.
A study conducted by Cedars-Sinai showed that massage replicates effects of muscle contractions. This increases lymphocytes and white blood cells—which help prevent disease—and slows the release of cortisol and vasopressin, hormones related to stress.
What to get: Lymphatic massage or lymph drainage—total-body techniques using gentle strokes to move lymph fluid toward “drainage ports” under the arms and near the groin. “Regular massage can still help,” notes Gustin, “but the gentler technique is more effective.”
When to get it: Twice a month, preferably on a rest day.
Massage increases your range of motion by breaking up adhesions and reducing scar tissue in tight muscles. “It also releases tightness,” Gustin says. “When you’re in one posture for 20 minutes, your muscles tighten and ‘mold,’ so releasing tension through massage can get you into a more neutral position.”
What to get: Deep-tissue or myofascial massage. This targets the shoulders, hips, ankles, wrists, and mid-back, which tend to get tightest simply from typical overuse or seated inactivity.
When to get it: Three to four times a month. But if you have a specific problem area, even once a month will make a difference.
If you’re not keen on dishing out the dough for a professional massage, try these techniques to speed your recovery right at home.