Sports massage is not a specific technique, but the application of several methods for achieving a sport specific goals. It can be used to recover after a competition or big workout, to treat or prevent an injury, as well as increase athletic performance.
Sports massage involves soft tissue manipulation that is done with the intent to improve the athlete’s body. There is no doubt that when done properly, massage is a very enjoyable experience that can keep us on a positive track toward a healthy, active lifestyle. This can mean different things to different people depending on their specific activity. Sports massage can be a 90 minute, full body, deep tissue massage scheduled a couple days after a long run or a quick 15 minute calf massage just before practice.
Sports Massage Techniques
Sports massage techniques are broad due to the wide focus included in the goal of improved performance and providing pain free movement:
Deep Tissue Massage
This is done with the intent to affect the deeper soft tissue structures of the body. It’s more intense than a salt scrub, fluff-and-buff at the spa, which is intended for exfoliation and a healthy appearance. Deep tissue work may be a little uncomfortable but should not be very painful. Although some people may disagree, I am not a believer in “pain equals progress.” Each person has their own tolerance and a good therapist knows they are helping and not fixing the client’s problems. As a person becomes more familiar with deep tissue treatments they learn to relax more, enabling deeper and more effective work.
Cross Fiber Friction
Includes deep, non gliding movements, done across muscle, tendon and ligament fibers. This broadening technique is usually done to break up scar tissue and adhesions to help restore proper tissue alignment. This technique is uncomfortable at first but pain should diminish as the treatment continues.
Force is applied to a particular spot usually done with a thumb or braced finger. The spot is held for up to 3 minutes with moderate pressure and is best used to help release spasm in stress points of muscle tissue.
This is a technique that has the client move a particular body part through ranges of motion while the therapist holds, presses or pins some parts of the muscle to cause resistance. This produces a deep stretching sensation which is mostly controlled by the client.
Includes a stretch or series of stretches assisted by the therapist.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
PNF is a physical therapy technique of sports massage that involves muscle contractions and assisted stretching for increased flexibility.
Sports Massage: Who Can Benefit?
Many professional athletes take advantage of sports massage on a daily basis. For pro athletes, their sport is their life and their bodies are the vehicle of their sport. Proper maintenance and care for the vehicle is of utmost importance. Ice bags, ice baths, chiropractic adjustments, e-stim and massage are all part of their daily activities. Successful professional athletes employ sports massage to help them stay in tune.
Runners are perfect candidates for regular sports massage. Runners participate in their sport every day with only slight variations of long runs, speed work, tempo, and so on. This sets them up for stress related injuries like: Petellofemoral Pain Syndrome, Tibial Stress Syndrome (a/k/a “shin splints”), Achilles Tendonitis, Stress Fractures, Plantar Fascitis, and Iliotibial Band Syndrome. While there is no guarantee sports massage can prevent these conditions, having regular therapy sessions can assist in body awareness to distinguish between muscle fatigue and body malfunction. A good MT can help encourage clients to seek appropriate medical care for injuries or potential injuries sooner than they might otherwise.
Recreational and competitive athletes can all benefit from regular massage treatments. You don’t have to be an Olympian or Boston qualifier — just caring about you body is reason enough to utilize massage.
The most basic thing about sports massage is that it allows the body to regain proper alignment and function. There can be some pain, but if done correctly, it can be a good pain you want to work through. Sports massage has an immeasurable psychological effect that should not be underestimated.