Having a massage or using gadgets such as a foam roller or massage gun can be useful in giving immediate relief. It is however important that an athlete gets the fundamentals in recovery right first i.e. sleep, nutrition, hydration, training load management etc. before having any benefit from massage. Their usage should be carefully considered and not used to replace any of the above and especially not in place of physio or strength & conditioning.
Massage is not a cure for injury as some may think, but it can be used to reduce injury, enhance soft tissue recovery within training blocks and better performance (if used correctly).
How? During hard blocks of training, regular massage can be used to aid recovery between sessions by increasing circulation, improving your flexibility and movement and aiding your perceived fatigue level as you resume training. Saying this, the intensity of the massage is important. Too much pressure will simply put additional stress on the tissues leaving them fatigued and in fact increasing your injury risk going forward. So the intensity and the timing around training or prior to an event is crucial.
The importance of massage (either with a therapist or using your own tools) & advised frequency is very much based on individual preference. Some will train at a high level with very little exposure to massage. Others will feel the immediate effects of massage and therefore be reliant on it more regularly. Is it necessary to have one every week? Absolutely not. But if you do find them beneficial, it may be worth booking one in on a quieter training week between blocks.
Should everyone have one prior to an event? Only consider massage at this time if you are used to having them. You do not want to be adding in this new stress on your soft tissues so close to competition. If you are opting for one, do not have it any less than 48hours prior, for the reasons mentioned above.
The results from massage are often immediate and can therefore be useful during longer events and managing multi-stage cumulative fatigue. But, for this reason they often have only short-term effects. This is exactly why massage modalities should not replace any training fundamentals that have greater longevity. By all means, use massage to compliment your heavier training blocks if you simply feel better after having one as this may allow greater gains in your training load across a longer period. But… don’t neglect to think about the timing around training and/or events.