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Soft Tissue Requirements of the Elite Rugby League Player

Posted on February 10th, 2016

Salford Red Devils‘ Lead Massage Therapist Sarah O’Neill, lets us in on what happens off the rugby pitch and how the players recuperate after each demanding game.

The rigours of professional sport leave their calling card on any athlete’s body. Whether it be an intense training session or an actual game, the effect on the soft tissues of the athlete are far reaching. This post aims to look at how soft tissue therapy helps athletes return to optimal performance.

Rugby league is a collision sport. With impacts up to 13G in some cases, it is likened to being in a car crash at 30mph. The impact on the soft tissues from both the collisions and the exertion of the sport leave the athletes in dire need of recovery strategies to promote healing and prepare them for the next game. In some cases this can be as little as 4 days later!

A number of modalities are employed to assist in recovery from both injury and game related fatigue. Examples include cryotherapy, compression garments, active recovery and good old food and rest. Here I will look at my role in helping our athletes recover from a game.

My role as a soft tissue therapist is to encourage the recovery process using a number of techniques. In the 48 hours post game there is little to do for the athletes, due to the soreness they would experience. Massaging bruises and sore muscles would not be a great experience for the players, so I encourage the use of specific flexibility programs for this period. Active recovery such as light cycling, walking and light swimming are also excellent modes of recovery in this period; all will encourage circulation, the removal of waste metabolic products from the tissues (such as lactic acid) and the normal mobility of soft tissues. Quality nutrition and hydration are also imperative post game to help restore the body’s normal function and facilitate the repair of tissues.

Massage treatment will normally resume when the players return to training approximately 48 hours after the game. All our players have their own individual requirements regarding soft tissue care. If a player has picked up a ‘dead leg’ injury we will begin the process of mobilising the tissues to restore normal function.

Flexibility and activity of the tissue is imperative to prevent a domino effect which could for example, mean hip or knee involvement. Otherwise, the players will stipulate what they need – maybe they have tight hips from running or they feel stiff in their back from tackling. I will then treat each player appropriately, including inputs from our physios where necessary and modifying training requirements accordingly. This includes adding specific preventative strategies to the players training – altering the training load/volume, including increased warm up/prehab time, active recovery efforts to improve performance.

Treatment will continue throughout the week to best prepare the players for the next game; sometimes players are required to have treatment a couple of times a day. These could be soft tissue treatments, mobilisations or manipulations or acupuncture treatment. The medical team work closely with the strength and conditioning team and coaches to enable the players to perform optimally and ultimately assist in our progress in the competition.
I hope this gives a brief insight into what a part of my role entails. If you are an athlete looking to improve your recovery and maintenance strategies then do not hesitate to get in touch via Harris & Ross.

When Sarah isn’t kneading muddy muscles, she can be found at our City Centre clinic just off Deansgate.

To book a session, you can click on the ‘Request an Appointment’ tab on the right hand side of the page or speak to us over the phone.

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