Everyone knows the obvious benefits of a great massage: total relaxation and pain relief. What many don’t know is that massage therapy can actually improve your range of motion (ROM). It does so by acting on various body systems, including your skeletomuscular system, lymphatic system, circulatory system, and endocrine system.
Next time you’re feeling particularly stiff, be it from post-workout soreness or not, consider massage therapy as a primary tool in your mobility arsenal — you might find yourself pleasantly surprised at the vast improvements in your range of motion at your major joints, including your hips, knees, ankles, elbows, and shoulders.
Massage therapy will knock the muscle knots right out of your body — or gently knead them out, if you prefer. “Fascia” refers to the connective tissues that hold all of your muscles, nerves, organs, bones, tendons, and ligaments in place. It’s basically a sheath that covers and protects all of your internal body parts.
With massage therapy, you can employ a tactic called myofascial release, which breaks up tight, constricted sections of fascia. Massage therapy also relaxes and loosens muscle tissue. Those things combined can lead to increased range of motion, particularly at trouble joints like the shoulders, hips, and ankles (and we all know that greater range of motion equals better performance in the gym).
Your heart does more than pump oxygen throughout your body: With each beat, your heart also delivers critical nutrients to all of your body tissues. Improved blood flow can reduce muscle soreness and encourage greater ROM, especially when blood flow is encouraged shortly after an intense workout.
Getting regular massages after tough workouts can encourage quicker muscle recovery and prevent your range of motion from becoming limited between workouts due to increased blood flow.
Massage therapy can be a great tool for improving joint ROM before workouts, too. Ever notice how it gets easier to access deep positions as you get warmed up? That’s largely due to the increased blood flow to your muscles and joints.
Take an Olympic lifter for example. An elite lifter’s pre-workout routine is pretty complex and intense: They may go through a series of light cardiometabolic work, foam rolling, and dynamic stretches to improve ROM at, let’s say, the hips.
Skipping just one step in their routine can lead to poorer hip range of motion and preclude them from accessing the deep squat position. Foam rolling, which is a type of self-massage therapy, improves hip ROM and is often key to an elite lifter’s pre-workout routine.
Moral of the story: If you start and end each workout with a self-massage, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get into deep ranges of motion, such as the bottom of a squat.
Increasing range of motion not only helps with performance but can also prevent injury and joint pain
Your lymphatic system is a matrix of organs and tissues that help your body get rid of waste, toxins, and other unwanted substances. The primary function of your lymphatic system, however, is to transport a fluid called “lymph” throughout your body. Lymph contains white blood cells that fight infections.
Massage therapy can stimulate your lymphatic system, thus encouraging your body to rid itself of more waste and toxins, as well as circulate lymph to all of your tissues. Lymphatic stimulation can help reduce fluid buildup and swelling throughout your body, so you should notice a decrease in stiffness following massage therapy, thus improved joint range of motion throughout your body.
You’ve heard of the “stress hormone” cortisol. Cortisol is the primary hormone directing your body’s stress response, or what happens when you’re under real or perceived stress. Too much cortisol can lead to widespread inflammation in your body, and inflammation can impair your range of motion.
You can use massage therapy as a way to combat cortisol build-up: A massage can help you relax and unwind from the day’s stressors, including your workout, which in turn helps to quiet your stress hormones. A massage can also help you sleep better at night, and sleep is a major player in keeping stress hormones and inflammation at bay.
Massage can provide many benefits ranging from sore muscle relief to providing a better night's sleep
The best type of massage? One you can access at all times, of course. Keep your Ekrin B37 handy so you can tap into the benefits of massage therapy when you’re feeling a little tight.
Written by Ekrin Athletics Staff
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