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To massage or not to massage?

Posted: May 20 2020

In previous blog posts we’ve mentioned how massage could be incorporated into your cool-down routine, but how can massage actually benefit the dancer? In this blog post we discuss how regularly receiving sports (or deep tissue) massages is vital for the dancer’s body, and in our next post we’ll provide a practical guide for self-massage, which any dancer can do for themselves.

To make sure we got all the right information for you, we’ve been chatting to Becky Byers. Becky started dancing from a young age and trained in ballet, tap, contemporary and modern theatre. She went on to train at London Studio Centre, specialising in Cotemporary Dance, and graduated in 2015 with the dance company ‘Intoto’. She now works as a freelance dancer, with experience in stage and screen. Becky was always interested in the body and anatomy, and she developed an interest in massage while at college. She then signed up to a massage diploma at the London School of Soft Tissue Therapy, which is she is due to graduate from this summer (2020). Becky explains that Soft Tissue Therapy encapsulates many types of treatment techniques, which together are more commonly known as Sports Massage.

Why massage?

Massage encourages blood circulation to the muscles. Massage strokes create a ‘pumping’ action which encourages blood flow to the area, which helps your body to fix issues and flush out waste products. Becky points out how your instinct when you injure yourself is to ‘rub’ the injured area… So it’s actually part of our natural instinct to massage an injury. The main advantages of Soft Tissue Massage are:

  • Reducing muscle aches and pains
  • Reducing tension in muscles
  • Relieving pain from overuse
  • Encouraging flexibility
  • Treating soft-tissue injury
  • Managing the symptoms of some medical conditions

Becky explains that when we use muscles repeatedly, putting them under strain, little damages can occur and cause small bleeds. These bleeds can inhibit the smooth action of the muscle fibres, making them almost ‘sticky’. Even if this has only happened in one part of the muscle, the other muscles fibres will compensate, and this can cause imbalances. These imbalances can spread through the whole body… for example, an ankle injury could even cause referred pain in your shoulder!

Massage therapists learn how to correctly map muscle imbalances and treat the problem through massage.

There is also a potential for enhanced flexibility, as you will be reducing tension and increasing blood flow in your muscles. However, remember that flexibility is a product of many factors, and we encourage you to read our blog post on flexibility!

Healthier muscles are also less susceptible to injury, which is a massive bonus.

What if I never have a massage?

This is highly dependent on the person as we are all so individual. However, even if you’re stretching regularly there are likely to be tight spots within your muscles that can’t be reached that way. A trained Massage Therapist would be able to find and treat these small areas of tension… They may even find areas of tension that you didn’t know exist, but which are inhibiting your movement without you realising.

How often?

So, in an ideal world, every dancer would benefit from regular massages. This could even start from a young age such as in your teenage years; as we all know, growth during teenage years can cause a lot of tightness for dancers, as the muscles struggle to keep up with your bones. A trained Massage Therapist would be mindful of this and could help reduce pain and tightness.

For someone who is dancing every day, Becky would recommend going for a massage once a month if possible. But she’s keen to add that if you’re nursing an injury this may vary and it’s important to agree a treatment plan with your therapist.

From a practical point of view, we know this isn’t always possible. (Moreover, probably not affordable!) But it would be a good aim if you’re able to. However, you can intersperse professional massages with your own self-massage to help keep your body in best shape.

When?

So, if you’ve decided to go for a massage, when should it be? Again, this is personal, but the ideal timing would be to go AFTER the main activity or exercise of your day. Your muscles will be heavily manipulated during your massage, and they will need some time to recover. After class is great as long as you’re going home after.

Do I need to visit a professional?

YES!

Aside from the fact that they KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING, there are other benefits as well…

Remember that if you’re massaging yourself, you are also feeling your own pain. This means you won’t be very effective at pushing past the pain barrier, whereas a massage therapist is separated from your pain and so is able to focus on the reaction of the soft tissues in order to work through the discomfort. A trained therapist will know how much pressure to safely apply in the best way to help you.

“A good Massage Therapist doesn’t cause a lot of pain, but there might be some discomfort throughout the treatment to receive the best results.”

We also want to highlight the importance of the verbal relationship between client and therapist whilst working with techniques or in areas that may be painful. If it’s really too much, you can say.

In addition, you’re more likely to be able to relax if you are lying prone, whereas massaging yourself requires you to be focused and actually working.

Becky also wants to remind us that it is “a bit of a treat” to have a massage. (We agree with you there, Becky!) You will come out of a professional massage feeling really good about yourself, and you’re unlikely to feel quite so chilled and wonderful if you’ve done it yourself.

If you develop a relationship with your massage therapist they’re also likely to see your changes and progress, and can help you develop a long-term strategy which best suits your body.

Finally, remember that getting a massage from someone else means that they can reach areas that you cannot! Most notably, your back. Let’s face it, no matter how bendy you are you’re just not going to be able to give yourself a good massage all over.

OK, what now?

If you’ve never had a soft tissue massage, or you don’t go regularly, then we hope this encourages you to think about adding it into your routine. As dancers (and, to be honest, as human beings) our bodies are so important to us that we should be caring for them in every way we can. What’s the point in eating healthily, or exercising well if we don’t take time to care for our soft tissues in other ways? We encourage you to find a qualified soft tissue therapist, perhaps with a focus on Sports Massage or Deep Tissue Massage. And remember, you may need to look around and try a few different therapists before you find the right one for you, as it is a very personal experience.

In our next blog post we’ll share practical tips for how to effectively self-massage at home or at the studio.

Don’t forget to get in contact if you’ve got ideas and themes that you’d like us to explore in these blog posts, by emailing hello@boysdancetooUK.com

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