Sports massage uses a variety of pressure (often deeper, more intense and focused than in conventional massage) to speed up an athlete’s recovery time and help prevent injury.
Many athletes believe that a complete training programme should include not just the exercise itself, but also regular massage.
Because each sport uses the muscle groups in different ways, a qualified sports massage therapist will have a sound knowledge of the muscular and skeletal systems, and tailor the treatment for each individual athlete. Sports massage is often supplemented by other massage therapy styles, including Swedish massage, deep tissue, trigger point (myotherapy), shiatsu, acupressure, compression, cross-fiber and lymphatic massage.
What Is Sports Massage?
Sports massage is a systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body that focuses on muscles relevant to a particular sport. Runner Paavo Nurmi, known as the “Flying Finn,” was one of the early users of sports massage. Nurmi is said to have used sports massage during the 1924 Olympics in Paris where he won five gold medals. Here, Jack Meagher is thought to be the father of sports massage in the United States.
Many different movements and techniques are used in sports massage. Examples of these techniques include; Swedish style massage, effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), compression, friction, tapotement (rhythmic striking), vibration, gliding, stretching, percussion and trigger points. These movements and techniques are used to try to help the athlete’s body achieve maximum performance and physical conditioning with a decreased chance of injury or pain and a quicker recovery.
Many benefits from sports massage have been reported based on experience and observation. Some of the benefits are to the mind (psychological) and some are to the body (physiological). Possible side effects of sports massage are tenderness or stiffness for 1 to 2 days after the sports massage.
A skin reaction due to the massage oils is also possible. But for the most part, sports massage is safe. Some of the reported benefits include:
•Increased blood flow
•Increased joint range of motion (ROM)
•Increased elimination of exercise waste products (lactic acid)
•Increased sense of well-being
•Decreased muscle tension
•Decreased neurological excitability (nerves more relaxed)
•Decreased chance of injury
•Decreased recovery time between workouts
•Decreased muscle spasms
•Relax your muscles
•Relieve any swelling you have around your joints
•Boost circulation and the immune system so that the body heals more quickly
•Improve your flexibility and body strength
•Reduce your heart rate and blood pressure
•Increase your circulation and lymph flow
•Make it easier for you to recover more quickly after you’ve done strenuous exercise
•Make it less likely you’ll get more injuries by getting rid of the tension in the muscles
The strokes used in sports massage are almost always directed towards the heart, a technique designed to increase blood and lymph flow. But you may find that your therapist sometimes massages you with shorter strokes in the opposite direction – this is designed to stretch your muscle fibres.
Your massage will begin with a variety of stroking movements (‘effleurage’) usually carried out with the whole palm of the hand and the fingers. This helps you become accustomed to your therapist’s touch, warm your body’s tissues and increase your blood flow. It will also help the therapist to identify any tender areas at the outset, so less pressure can be applied later on.
They will then use a technique called ‘petrissage’ – kneading designed to work on deeper tissues, to mobilise fluids, stretch muscle fibres and aid relaxation.
After this comes the ‘frictions’ technique – aimed at breaking down lesions and even scar tissue, and separating muscle fibres. Frictions might feel uncomfortable or even slightly painful, so don’t be afraid to tell your therapist to go more gently on particular areas.