Sports Massage - An Introduction

sports massage

Sports Massage - An Introduction by Richard Lane

Many therapists offer Sports Massage on their ‘massage menu’ yet few understand what sports massage is about. When a client comes in requesting a sports massage, some therapists merely react by going in deep. Sports massage is so much more.

Whilst sports massage does have some aims in common with other forms of massage therapy, the usual experience in conventional massage is to aim to restore the normal function when someone is injured. But in sport there is no ‘normal’ and athletes are always looking to improve and gain a competitive edge. Most athletes aim to reach a level of performance they can never achieve.

A sports massage therapist has great potential to assist the athlete to become better, rather than merely normal. In striving to be better, the athlete attempts to systematically increase the level of training thereby subjecting the body to gradual and controlled overuse. This overuse can often create imbalances and problems in the soft tissues, which if ignored may become chronic. Clearly this may hinder the athlete’s performance and/or rate of improvement. Sports Massage can become a key ingredient in an athlete’s success and this is why top competitors incorporate it as an integral part of their training regime.

So what is Sports Massage? McGillicuddy defines Sports Massage as “The specific application of massage techniques, hydrotherapy protocols, range of motion/flexibility protocol and strength-training principles utilized to achieve a specific goal when treating athletes”. He considers that there are three principles that are vital to understanding what type of Sports Massage to apply to an athlete at any given time. These principles are:

  • Timing
  • Technique
  • Intent

The timing of Sports Massage is related to when the massage is applied. Is it pre-event or post-event; during a maintenance period or possibly post-injury when rehabilitation is required? The technique refers to what massage/stretching/strengthening methods the therapist employs to attempt to achieve the intent; the desired outcome.

The intent of pre-event massage is to warm up the muscles and to get blood flowing through the muscles. The massage techniques generally used are petrissage, vibration, percussion, compression, muscle broadening strokes, etc.

find a sports massage therapistsWith post-event massage, the intent is assist in the recovery process by increasing venous and lymphatic circulation to assist with removal of metabolic by-products and thereby decreasing muscle soreness so that the athlete can return to full training faster. The massage techniques would include effleurage, compression, petrissage, passive movements and light stretching.

The intent of maintenance massage is to keep the athletes muscles and tissue in optimum condition and is generally scheduled at a regular frequency (be it weekly or fortnightly), closely married to the athlete’s training program.

Thus Sports Massage is not about going deep nor is it learning one technique. The requirement for the therapist is to apply the appropriate treatment at the appropriate time, which takes education, skill and experience.

Ref. M. McGillicuddy. “Three Key Principles of Sports Massage”. May 2003, Volume03 Issue 05.

Copyright © 2005 Richard Lane. Richard Lane is a qualified remedial and sports massage therapist, with a mobile massage practice in Sydney's Inner West

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