Sports Massage

Sports Massage helps your range of motion
Sports massage is a form of bodywork geared toward participants in athletics. It is used to help prevent injuries, to prepare the body for athletic activity and maintain it in optimal condition, and to help athletes recover from workouts and injuries.

Origins

Sports massage has antecedents in earlier periods of history. The ancient Greeks and Romans combined massage and exercise in their athletic training. Various Asian cultures also developed forms of massage for dancers and for students of martial arts. As a formal practice, however, sports massage began in the Soviet Union and Communist bloc countries in the 1960s. Soviet teams were the first to have a massage therapist travel with them and work on their athletes on a regular and ongoing basis. Through sports and cultural exchanges, the concept of sports massage moved to Europe and the United States in the 1970s. Over time the benefits of sports massage became accepted, and sports massage became a part of the training regimen, first of professional athletes, then of college and amateur athletes. Today sports massage is recognized as a specialty by the American Massage Therapy Association.

 

Defining “Sports Massage”

Sports massage is the specific application of massage techniques, hydrotherapy protocols, the range of motion/flexibility protocol and strength-training principles utilized to achieve a specific goal when treating an athlete. Notice my use of the phrase, “specific application … to achieve a specific goal.” So, how do you decide what application and goal are appropriate for a particular treatment?

Three Key Principles of Sports Massage

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Three specific principles are vital to understanding what type of sports massage to apply to an athlete at any given time. I call these principles the “when what and why” of sports massage: Timing, Technique, and Intent.

Timing refers to when the massage is given: pre-event or post-event; during recovery; during a maintenance period; or when an athlete suffers an injury that requires rehabilitation. Technique refers to what application you utilize and can include a number of different techniques: effleurage; friction; pettrisage, vibration; shaking; compression; broadening strokes; direct pressure; cross-fiber friction; range of motion; and stretching. Intent refers to your reason(s) for treatment: as a warm-up; to increase blood flow; stimulate neurological pathways; aid recovery from exertion; increase flexibility; improve strength, or improve posture.

Let’s look at a few examples of how timing, technique and intent work. If you need to provide a pre-event massage, and the intent is to warm-up and increase blood flow, I would use techniques such as friction, compression, shaking and stretching. If you need to provide a post-event massage, and the intent is to aid recovery from exertion, I would use effleurage, petrissage, compression, broadening strokes and range of motion. If you are working with an injured athlete, and your intent is to assist the proper formation of scar tissue, I would use effleurage, compression and cross-fiber friction, followed by ice treatment and movement.

As you can probably tell, understanding sports massage is never as simple as learning one technique or type of modality … or just “working deep.” A sports massage therapist who understands the three key principles of sports massage should be able to apply the appropriate treatment at the appropriate time. Every sports massage therapist should ask himself or herself the following questions before beginning a session:

  • What is the intent of the massage I am about to provide?
  • What are physiologic changes in the tissue I trying to create?
  • What massage techniques are most efficient at creating such changes?

Follow-up with these self-questions after the session is completed:

  • Did I achieve the desired physiological change in the tissue?
  • Is the athlete satisfied with the treatment?

Mastering the application of sports massage takes years of education and experience, not to mention a love of athletics. No one modality, technique or approach works every time. It is the love of what you do, and the people you work with, that enable you to perfect your sports massage technique. I hope this information is helpful.

Benefits

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Sports massage is a generic term for three different types of massage associated with athletic performance. Each type of massage has its own benefits and uses different techniques.

Pre-event sports massage is done to help prevent serious athletic injury. It helps to warm up the muscles, stretching them and making them flexible for optimal athletic performance. A pre-event massage stimulates the flow of blood and nutrients to the muscles, reduces muscle tension, loosens the muscles, and produces a feeling of psychological readiness.

Whenever athletes exercise heavily, their muscles suffer microtraumas. Small amounts of swelling occur in the muscle because of tiny tears. Post-event sports massage helps reduce the swelling caused by microtraumas; loosens tired, stiff muscles; helps maintain flexibility; promotes blood flow to the muscle to remove lactic acid and waste build-up, and reduces cramping. In addition, post-event massage helps speed the athlete’s recovery time and alleviates pulls, strains, and soreness.

Whenever athletes exercise heavily, their muscles suffer microtraumas. Small amounts of swelling occur in the muscle because of tiny tears. Post-event sports massage helps reduce the swelling caused by microtraumas; loosens tired, stiff muscles; helps maintain flexibility; promotes blood flow to the muscle to remove lactic acid and waste build-up, and reduces cramping. In addition, post-event massage helps speed the athlete’s recovery time and alleviates pulls, strains, and soreness.

Maintenance sports massage is done at least once a week as a regular part of athletic training programs, although professional athletes who have their own massage therapists may have maintenance massage daily. Maintenance massage increases the flow of blood and nutrients to the muscles. It also keeps the tissues loose so that different layers of muscle slide easily over each other. Maintenance sports massage also helps reduce the development of scar tissue while increasing flexibility and range of motion.

The goal of all sports massage is to maximize athletic performance. Athletes in different sports will concentrate the massage on different parts of the body.

Conditions that generally respond well to massage as a complementary therapy include:

  • muscle pain and stiffness
  • muscle strain
  • edema (swelling)
  • muscle soreness
  • muscle sprains
  • muscle tension
  • sore spots
  • repetitive strain injuries
  • tendinitis

Massage can help these conditions, but it should never be used to replace skilled medical care.

Description

Massage is great for skiers
Massage is great for skiers

Each type of sports massage uses different massage techniques. Effleurage is a light stroking that can be performed with the palms or the thumbs. The pressure and speed are varied depending on the muscle and the desired result. Effleurage increases blood flow to the muscle. Petrissage is a form of two-handed kneading in which both hands pick up the muscle and compress it. This technique loosens tight bunches of muscles. Percussive strokes are blows or strikes on the muscle, often performed with the little fingers. They are used to tone the muscles. Cupping involves percussing or striking the muscles with cupped hands. It stimulates the skin and causes muscle contractions that help tone the muscles. There are variations on all these strokes, such as deep cross-fiber friction to separate muscle fibers and break down scar tissue, and jostling to relieve muscle tension. A good sports massage therapist will combine techniques to achieve the maximum desired result. Sports massage sessions generally last 30-60 minutes.

Pre-event massage is given shortly before an athlete competes. It consists mainly of brisk effleurage to stimulate and warm the muscles and petrissage to help muscles move fluidly and to reduce muscle tension. Effleurage is generally a relaxing stroke, but when done briskly it is stimulating. As the massage progresses, the pressure increases as the massage therapist use percussive strokes and cupping to stimulate the muscles to contract and flex. The part of the body being massaged varies from sport to sport, although leg and back muscles are common targets for this type of massage.

Post-event massage is usually given 1–2 hours after the competition is over in order to give dilated blood vessels a chance to return to their normal condition. Post-event massage is light and gentle in order not to damage already stressed muscles. The goal is to speed up the removal of toxic waste products and reduce swelling. Very light effleurage will decrease swelling while light petrissage will help clear away toxins and relieve tense, stiff muscles. Post-event massage can be self-administered in some parts of the body, such as the legs.

Maintenance massage is performed at least once a week while the athlete is in training. It is frequently administered to the back and legs. Deep effleurage and petrissage are used to relax and tone knotted muscles.

Preparations

No special preparations are needed to participate in a sports massage. Athletes should wait for 1–2 hours after competing before having a post-event massage.

Precautions

Massage may be an appropriate technique for helping certain sports injuries, especially muscle injuries, to heal. When treating an injury, however, it is best to seek advice from a qualified sports therapist or a specialist in sports medicine before performing any massage. Certain ligament and joint injuries that need immobilization and expert attention may be aggravated by massage.

People who suffer from the following conditions or disorders should consult a physician before participating in a sports massage: acute infectious disease; an aneurysm; heavy bruising; cancer; a hernia; high blood pressure; inflammation due to tissue damage; osteoporosis; phlebitis; varicose veins; and certain skin conditions. Individuals who are intoxicated are not good candidates for sports massage.

Side effects

Sports massage is safe and effective. When given correctly, there are no undesirable side effects.

Research & general acceptance

Sports massage has become an established and accepted practice. Various studies done in both the United States and Europe have shown that when properly used, massage will produce greater blood flow to the muscles and better athletic performance. The practice of sports massage is not considered controversial.

 *Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the propert

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