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. 

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