When it comes to muscular pain, few things feel better than a well-done massage. It’s one of the things players request most at tournaments. It can be used for as part of a warmup, a cooldown, or a break, and even those of us without serious pain can enjoy a nice massage.
But how useful is it for treating injuries? Beyond feeling nice, what are the short- and long-term effects? Today, we’ll go through how massage works, its impact on pain and function, and whether massage is the right choice for you.
Source vs Cause with Gaming Injuries
As we talked about in one of our very first 1HP articles, a lot of what we as gamers to do address pain is to go after the source of the pain–applying ice, kinesiotaping, or getting a massage. That doesn’t mean we’ve addressed the cause, though. That ice is decreasing inflammation, but where is the inflammation coming from? That massage is relaxing a muscle, but why was it tight in the first place?
Massage works to reduce muscle tension by improving local bloodflow. By “local”, we mean that only the area that’s been massaged sees any change, as opposed to the whole body.
Massage has an impact on mental state as much as on physical status, and research suggests that mental state changes from massage are part of how pain and tension are relieved.
Does Massage Work for Gamers?
The answer, as it often is in physical therapy, is “it depends”. Does massage result in less pain? For some conditions, yes. Does massage result in better function? For some conditions, yes.
Research suggests that massage, by itself, is more useful for improving pain and function than just rest. When it comes to pain, massage appears to improve pain and function in patients with shoulder pain, knee pain, neck pain and low back pain. That’s not to say it doesn’t also help with pain for other conditions, just that the research in those areas is lacking.
Massage, by itself, helps pain in the short term. In the long term, though, unless you’re consistently and repeatedly receiving massages, your pain isn’t going to stay away. And if you only ever address the source of the pain and not the cause, the underlying cause will worsen until addressing the source isn’t enough.
So: does massage work? If your goal is short-term pain relief, yes. If your goal is to completely fix an injury, no.
Massage is great as a complimentary therapy, and can definitely be part of a good treatment or prevention program.
If you have pain from inflammation, gentle massage like effleurage to can help decrease swelling along with ice, compression, and gentle movement. Higher pressure types of massage like deep tissue, petrissage or tapotement are likely to make inflammation worse and to cause more damage.
If you have pain from muscle tension, especially from “muscle knots” or trigger points, massage is likely to address the source of pain (tightness) well. The underlying cause may involve muscle weakness, poor muscular endurance, or impaired coordination. While massage won’t address that directly, relieving tightness through massage can allow for improved muscle performance during the exercises that are used to address the cause.
That’s it for our first post on massage and injuries! Stay tuned for more posts this week on the types of massage and how to incorporate self-massage for gaming-related pain into your everyday routine.