The Benefits of Sports Massage

what are the benefits of sports massage

Roman and Greek athletes combined massage techniques and forms of exercise in training for athletic competition in ancient times. In the more recent 1960s, athletes of the former communist bloc and U.S.S.R. began travelling, for the first time, with massage therapists. What did those Romans, Greeks and communists know that you need to know? Sports massage is a type of massage specifically for people who participate in athletic activity. Sports massage has four goals: preventing injuries, keeping your body in the best condition possible, preparing for peak performance, and ensuring recovery from injuries and strain.


What is Sports Massage?

There may be more types of massage than you realize—Swedish, hot stone, aromatherapy, and deep tissue. Besides those, other types of massage are trigger point, reflexology, Shiatsu, Thai, prenatal, couple’s, chair, sports, and more. Each type of massage uses different techniques targeted at other muscle groups with different objectives. 

Sports massage is not just appropriate for elite or competitive athletes but can benefit people who simply want to be as physically active as possible. For everyone on that spectrum, sports massage offers increased flexibility, improved performance, reduced pain, eased anxiety, and decreased muscle tension. Your sports massage therapist will, while addressing your entire body as required, systematically manipulate the soft tissues and muscles of your body involved in and affected by your sport or activity. 


Sports Massage for Elite Athletes

Elite athletes who receive sports massage often participate in massage immediately before an event, sometimes between stages or heats of an event, and usually immediately after an event—in addition to during training and during post-competition periods. An elite athlete may prioritize getting massages by a certified sports massage therapist. In Canada, sports massage therapists participate in the National Sports Massage Certification program. 


Sports Massage for Recreationally Active People

People who enjoy recreational physical activities will undoubtedly benefit from massages with a certified sports massage therapist but may also reap the benefits of sports massage—relief from aches, cramps, pain, and muscle tension—at the hands of a massage therapist who may not be certified in that specialization. Even if you don’t participate in competitive events, massage therapists will help you live a physically active lifestyle with the lowest possible risk of injury, and with the quickest and most complete recovery from injuries that do occur. 


What Are the Benefits of Sports Massage?

Sports massage offers a wide variety of benefits for athletes and active people of all ages and activity levels. While everyone is different, research into sports massage has identified the following benefits: 

  • Increased range of motion and flexibility
  • An improved emotional and psychological feeling of well-being
  • Reduced muscle tension and spasms
  • Improved blood flow and better sleep
  • According to a 2016 study conducted by Oxford University, sports massage may provide pain relief 
  • Research at McMaster University reported in 2012 found that well-timed massage can relieve pain in damaged muscles by transmitting anti-inflammatory signals, increase muscle growth, and even stimulate the growth of mitochondria—the parts of our cells that are responsible for producing energy out of our nutrients
  • The same study at McMaster found that sports massage contributed to reduced recovery time between workouts and competitions

An August 2013 study called “Effects of Swedish massage therapy on blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammatory markers in hypertensive women” was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It did not discuss sports massage specifically but found the following benefits of massage generally: decreased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced recovery time and improved rehabilitation, reduced anxiety and improved mood, improved circulation of oxygen and blood, pain relief, improved healing and elasticity, and stabilized stress hormones. 

The manipulation of your soft tissues and muscles often produces tenderness and even muscle stiffness for a day or two after your session. That tenderness and stiffness is normal and will resolve quickly. Your massage therapist will tell you what to expect. Having said that, if you’re concerned about your post-massage sensations or about how long they’re lasting, contact your massage therapist right away for advice. 


Understanding the Limits of Sports Massage

You should also know what benefits sports massage does not deliver. When assessing a potential sports massage therapist, it’s essential to ensure the person you’re consulting is not over-promising and that you’re not developing unrealistic expectations. 

Sports massage doesn’t break down the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles and causes muscle soreness. Time and cessation of exertion, or active recovery techniques, breaks down that lactic acid, not massage. 

A study entitled “Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis” was published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. This study found that sports massage does not: improve sprint speeds, jump distances, or strength measurements. Also, sports massage does not reduce the decline in force and velocity that can only be recovered by rest. 

These results are essential to understand because sports massage is not a substitute for effort and training. Coupled with effort and training, though, the increased flexibility, improved relaxation, improved range of motion, and relief at specific trigger points achieved with sports massage can contribute to better athletic and recreational experiences. 


What to Expect During a Sports Massage

While every athlete, recreational or elite, is different and has different goals, and every massage therapist has different styles and specializations, there are a few elements of sports massages that are common across the board. Here are a few things you can expect at your next sports massage. 

First, you can expect your sports massage therapist to ask you a lot of questions. Those questions might include: What’s been bothering you? What kind of exercise do you perform, or in what sports do you participate? Have you suffered any injuries? Your complete and honest answers will help your massage therapist to deliver all the potential benefits to you. 

Second, sports massage may be different from stress-relief massages you’ve experienced. Where a stress-relief massage may tend to your entire body, sports massage is more likely to focus on particular problem spots or muscle groups involved in your exercise or sport of choice, and the trigger points associated with those muscle groups. 

Third, you may be surprised at the wide variety of massage techniques you’ll experience in a single sports massage session depending on what the massage therapist decides may benefit you. You may also encounter Swedish-style techniques, stroking or effleurage, kneading or petrissage. Other types of massage you may encounter are stretching, gliding, vibration, rhythmic striking or tapotement, compression, or friction. If at any time, any technique makes you uncomfortable in any way, be sure to let your massage therapist know right away. 

Finally, as mentioned above, it’s normal after a sports massage session when so many trigger points are stimulated, and tight muscle areas are stretched that you may feel sore or that your muscles may feel a little tender the next day. 

Whether you’re an elite athlete or a person who enjoys physical recreation as part of a healthy and active lifestyle, sports massage offers benefits ranging from improved emotional well-being to expedited recovery. To find out how you can benefit from sports massage, get in touch to schedule an assessment to get answers to any questions you have. 

Getting in Shape with Sports Massage Techniques

massage therapy

It is essential to exercise regularly to take care of your overall health. However, it is equally as important to ensure that you take care of your body as you do. One effective method of muscle maintenance is sports massage. 

We’ve examined and answered many relevant questions about this particular form of massage therapy, including:

  • What is sports massage?
  • Who should get a sports massage?
  • What techniques are applied to a sports massage? 
  • When can a sports massage help?
  • What is effleurage? 
  • What does effleurage achieve?
  • What is petrissage? 

That’s a large amount of ground to cover, so let’s take a closer look at the practice of sports massage, its various techniques, and it even more varied benefits. 


What is a Sports Massage?

The most obvious question is the most important: What exactly is a sports massage? A sports massage is a particularly targeted type of tissue massage. Sports massage therapy focuses specifically on the soft tissues that are more easily injured or strained when the patient plays sports or does any other kind of recreational activity. But sports massages don’t have to be for the injured. Some athletes incorporate sports massages into both their pre and post-competition regimen to keep their bodies in optimal form.  

Sports massage therapy is most commonly utilized by participants who engage in repetitive motions, such as athletes in the following sports: 

  • Running 
  • Gymnastics 
  • Baseball 
  • Tennis 
  • Wrestling
  • Football (both European and American)


Who Should Get a Sports Massage?

Don’t judge the therapy on its name alone; you don’t need to be an athlete to book an appointment for a sports massage. The parts of the body that are focused on during a sports massage are soft tissues. Particularly around joints like the knees and shoulders, these tissues can even become tense or injured during everyday activity, including the repeated lifting of objects in manual labor positions, or even sitting hunched at a computer desk all day. The risk of everyday activity should drive the point home. The world of sports massage therapy is as much for the athletically challenged as it is for the athletically capable. 


What Techniques Are Applied in a Sports Massage?

“Sports massage” is more indicative of the parts of the body or types of injuries treated, rather than as a method of its own. Sports massages incorporate elements of other massage types, including effleurage and petrissage, which we’ll discuss both in-depth later on. The techniques used in sports massage vary in intensity or frequency depending on the part of the body being treated and whether an injury is present at the time of the massage. If an injury is present, the massage therapist may conduct the massage in a different way than they might in the case of a typical “wellness” massage.

In addition to effleurage and petrissage, another technique is called tapotement. From the French meaning to “drum on” or “tap.” This sports massage technique involves the massage therapist rapidly tapping or slapping the target muscles to loosen them and warm them up. 

Certain areas in the body are highly sensitive, like the spine or the kidneys. This sort of massage must be performed with more care than either effleurage or petrissage, as forceful striking to sensitive areas is ill-advised. But as long as tapotement massage is performed carefully, it can be a useful way of warming up an athlete before exercise. 


When Can a Sports Massage Help?

The answer to this question is simple: Anytime, remember, the name “sports massage” only designates the fact that the muscles treated are most aggravated in athletes. Sports massages are helpful for aches and pains of all sorts. Still, they can be best utilized in the unfortunate event of being injured during a recreational activity, such as overuse and over-extension of a baseball pitcher’s arm. 

The overall benefits of sports massages are both physical and mental. Physically, the techniques used in sports massage can loosen tightened muscles, increase blood flow and overall range of motion, and in some examples, help speed up injury recovery time, depending on the injury the athlete sustains. 

The physical benefits of sports massage therapy can extend even past the treatment of injured areas or the musculoskeletal system. When undergoing massage therapy, the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, get reduced. Stress can play a role in chronic illness, particularly making a disease’s symptoms worse. There is also research evidence to suggest that the use of massage therapy can improve the patient’s ability to sleep, which in itself allows the body to rest and recover from certain illnesses or injuries. Massage therapy could also alleviate the symptoms of physical ailments, such as the chronic pain experienced by people living with fibromyalgia, for example. 

Apart from the physical, massages can have a distinct mental benefit, as well. Massage therapy, in general, can increase the production of certain chemicals in the brain, particularly dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is the brain chemical that works as a neurotransmitter, helping to regulate, among other things, mood, attention, and motivation. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter, and it also plays a role in mood stabilization, in addition to psycho-physio processes such as sexual desire. Because massage therapy can increase the production of these neurotransmitters, there is evidence to suggest that massage therapy may aid in the treatment of certain mental conditions, including depression, insomnia, and anxiety.  

To these ends, sports massage therapy may be especially beneficial to athletes. When sports are such a monumental aspect of your life, the physical benefits of sports massage may help to either prevent or expedite recovery from an injury. Message can help with the mental strain that comes with either being sidelined from an injury or being hyperaware of trying to avoid one.


What Is Effleurage?

Effleurage is a form of massage. The root of the name is from the French phrase meaning “to skim.” Thus, effleurage massage is a more “superficial” type of massage. It is performed at the beginning and the end of a sports massage therapy session, as both a “warm-up” and “cool down” portion of the session. The touches used during effleurage massage are gentler, utilizing more of a stroking motion, often in a circular pattern. The strokes employed by the massage therapist may vary in firmness, especially at the beginning of the massage process.


What Does Effleurage Achieve? 

The use of effleurage at the start and end of a massage therapy session allows for several important aspects of the massage to occur, often simultaneously. First, and most importantly, this serves as the initial physical contact between the patient and the massage therapist. Effleurage allows for the patient to get used to the feeling of the massage, the therapist’s hands on their skin, placing them both physically and mentally at ease before the bulk of the session begins. Effleurage also allows the therapist the opportunity to gauge the condition of the patient’s muscles, which in turn informs the remainder of the techniques and areas of focus for the session. Effleurage also encourages the warming up of the muscles, making them easier to manipulate during the rest of the session. Depending on the pressure used in the effleurage at the beginning portion of the therapy session, blood flow and lymph fluid are increased, helping to rid the muscles of any toxins that have built up. 

When effleurage is issued at the end of a massage therapy session, it can help wind down the activity and relax the patient, the “hard work” of the therapy session having already been completed. In this way, it is nice to end the session the same way you began it. 


What Is Petrissage? 

Suppose effleurage is a technique that is “more superficial” and used to open and close a massage therapy session. In that case, petrissage is the deeper, “more intense” sort of touch that comprises the majority of the therapy session. The root word comes from the French phrase meaning “to knead” or “to squeeze.” And it’s done precisely that way. Petrissage is performed when the massage therapist manipulates the patient’s muscles in a squeezing or needing motion, mostly using the pads of the fingers. 

Touch intensity during petrissage can vary depending on muscle condition (if there is an injury present in the patient, or if the patient indicates a specific problematic area).


What Does Petrissage Accomplish?

Petrissage sets out to accomplish many of the same things as effleurage. The difference is the level of intensity with which the therapist manipulates the patient’s muscles. Petrissage can help loosen knotted or spasming muscles, thereby increasing the patient’s overall range of motion. Sometimes, a quick rubbing of a particular spot, known as frictions, can help work out particularly knotted areas of tissue. 

The deeper, methodical stroking and squeezing of petrissage can assist in opening up blood flow and the bodies lymphatic system, thereby removing to remove toxins. As petrissage opens blood flow, it allows more reparative blood cells to reach an injury area, which is helpful for the patient looking to use sports massage to recover from an injury.

It isn’t uncommon for the recipient of a sports massage to feel slightly sore either during the session or for a brief time afterwards. Soreness may be a helpful indicator of places that may pose persistent problems and may need more frequent treatment. The more frequent the treatment is, the less pain there will be overall, either from the massage or from the tearing of muscles that are too seldomly or improperly stretched or worked out. 


A Final Word 

Sports massages hold distinct benefits for people who play sports. They can be useful in preventing injuries, or helping recover from them, focusing on the athlete’s most at-risk soft tissues and joints. Sports massages, with their combination of stroking, squeezing, and tapping methods, also hold distinct benefits for anyone who might want a well-rounded massage experience. This method helps to increase chemicals in your brain that well regulate both mental and overall physical health. 

If the idea of a sports massage appeals to you, call your local massage parlor and ask if this is a service they offer. Occasionally, physical therapy practitioners may also have this as a service, or if they don’t, would know of a place where you would be able to get a sports massage.