How massage therapy has helped me as an athlete. Movement efficiency, looking back to move forward…

Firstly a few facts about fascia (to hopefully put you in the picture about what I’m talking about and where I’m going with this! And why the onion image is relevant – think layers!!!)…

  • Fascia consists of tough sheets of connective tissue that envelop almost all of the structures of the body – muscles, nerves, organs, bones and blood vessels
    It ties everything in the body together, enabling us to hold posture, it holds our organs in place, it prevents muscles from tearing and tethers muscle tendons to bone, so if the integrity of the fascia is compromised, its muscle cannot contract with any force
  • The term ‘myofascia’ refers to the muscle and its fascia as a single unit
  • Fascia consists of about 70% water! When fascia is dehydrated it gets tight and inflamed and develops microtears – that can create pain and so too can trying to stretch that fascia
  • Soft, flexible, hydrated fascia that is free from ‘stuckiness’ (a new word I learnt recently at my myofascial workshop) allows the body to move freely and efficiently. For one, a contracting muscle will slide easily past other muscles next to it and two, the appropriate pre-tensioning of the fascia within a myofascial chain will allow for elastic movement
  • The state of fascia can be changed by doing physical work on it – for example manipulation through massage.

So, back to where I was going with this!…
A lot of my learning has been driven initially by experiences from within my own body. I have always followed my heart and what I have enjoyed doing when it has come to educating myself. Physical Education, Biology and Art and Design were my A-level choices which lead to a Bachelors in Sport and Exercise Science, followed up by a Masters in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health before I specialized in Sports Massage Therapy. Since I have competed in a number of sports for a looooong time and focused on a couple at a high level, getting to know my own body and how it moves and works best has gone along nicely with my education in the body and massage therapy. I have been driven by my own injuries, tight feelings, lack of feeling of efficient movement, to understand more and more about the body and how I can relate my experiences to help better understand and help others.

Looking back, 2006 – 2008 were my best years racing at professional level in triathlon, with a 5th place finish in IM UK (06). In 2007 I did my first stand alone marathon in a time of 3.06. At that point in my life I was fairly settled and importantly I had a good routine of getting a good quality sports massage every 2 weeks. My tissues were healthy and I was moving in a way that proved it. I’m sure knowing what I know now I could have had even healthier tissues at that point too and I’m sure I would have been more focused continuing onwards to maintain this. I’d say a combination of time training and competing at that level and not paying enough attention towards active recovery which involves good nutrition/hydration, sleep & rest and looking after the health of my tissues i.e. massage therapy lead to some plateauing and a start of a slope downwards in performance. Results were not getting better and injuries started niggling away.

Learning more about fascia and how it relates to healthy movement is key to me being able to further help people I work with. The facts I stated above show how important fascia is. Tight, kinked, under hydrated fascia will affect the whole body when you think along the lines of chains of fascia and how we move efficiently utilizing these chains. The body is very good at disguising these problem areas as we have so many different mechanisms that come in to play, often protecting the body from being exposed to an acute injury occurring. So often I hear from a client, ‘I just feel tightness here’.. and then the surprised reaction when I’m working on them of ‘wow I never knew I was so tight there too, and there’!… That’s where I try to get the message across that it’s better to look after your body proactively rather than wait until you feel tight spots and or actual injuries. So many of which could be prevented. Foam rolling and stretching can help keep on top of the tight areas as and when you feel them but regular massages should be part of a regime to look after the whole system and chains of fascia, catching the areas you may not be aware of as being ‘tight / stuck’ (aside from the other benefits of massage). Think of how much more efficiently you can move if fascia is healthy and free from random tight areas, you can move elastic-ally rather than having to rely just on muscular energy! So, getting back to that ‘stuckiness’ in fascia, that can be addressed proactively, WHY are we all waiting to feel the pain first and or avoid moving freely?!!!

So in learning these lessons myself, I hope I can help in keeping more people moving freely….

See you soon