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Tips for Self-Massage

The following article appeared in the Fitness Section of the Ottawa Citizen. Photographs are by Patrick Doyle, The Ottawa Citizen. Though the article is geared to runners, the principals can be applied to all body parts.

Massage Yourself

Reduce your risk of injury by increasing your flexibility

Frances Russell, RMT, displaying self-massage; photo by Patrick Doyle, The Ottawa Citizen

Training involves sweat and grunt work, that's a given. Sometimes, though, it demands the softer touch of sports massage. While professional athletes have long enjoyed pre- and post-game therapy, massage has only recently come out of the locker room.

"It decreases the risk of injury by increasing flexibility," says Frances Russell, a registered massage therapist at the Metcalfe Massage Therapy Clinic in Ottawa. "It also helps eliminate toxins like lactic acid and it helps distribute nutrients to your tissue." Little wonder many athletes are adding hands-on therapy to their routines.

There are three kinds of sports massage. 'Pre-event' is a light, fast, stimulating treatment of about 5 to 20 minutes that prepares muscles for competition. 'Post-event' is a slow and relaxing massage of about 20 to 60 minutes that helps jumpstart rehabilitation. In between events, 30- to 90-minute 'maintenance' sessions involve deep massage and help keep athletes at their peak.

If you don't have access to a registered massage therapist, there are still ways to enjoy the benefits of massage. What follows are a few Swedish 'self-massage' techniques that can be used before or after an event.

First, the basics. There are two common strokes in Swedish massage: Effleurage, meaning "to touch lightly", is a long, light stoke with your palm or forearm that covers the length of the limb being treated. Effleurage at the beginning to warm up tissue, and always stroke toward the heart. Petrissage, which targets an area with shorter, deeper strokes, involves grasping, kneading or wringing motions that milk the muscles of waste product and increase the blood flow to the area. Use palm, fingertip, thumb, forearm or knuckle in a circular motion. Effleurage after petrissage to flush tissues of toxins and increase blood flow.

There are about as many techniques as there are body parts. Frances Russell offers a few of the basics.

Watch your pace: work fast before the event; slow and relaxing after.

Knee


Upper Leg

Self-massage of knee
Self-massage of upper leg
Gently massage around the knee. Apply circular pressure with your thumb around the kneecap. Then gently stroke behind the knee, up toward your body.
With alternate hands, grab and release your thigh muscle. Knead the entire thigh. Follow this with effleurage up the thigh from the knee, one hand after the other.



Foot


Hamstrings

Self-massage of foot
Self-massage of hamstrings
Rest one foot on the opposite thigh. With one hand on the top of the foot and the other below, gently stroke from your toes to your ankle. Repeat this motion. Using your thumb in a circular motion, apply to the arch and ball of your foot. Finish with gentle strokes.
Lying flat on your back, bend one leg and rest your foot sideways on your opposite knee. Stroke the hamstrings from the knee to the hip. Then, knead the area with your fingertips. Finish with gentle strokes, up toward your body.



Calf



Self-massage of calf

NOTE: These techniques are not a replacement for the treatment of injuries or for any conditions that require deep tissue massage. 


Using your thumbs, knead your calf muscles. Follow up with long strokes to the area, one hand after the other.