Sports Massage

Woman running along beach on the sand

Sports massage is an area of massage that has become increasingly popular in the last decade.

With athletes taking better care of themselves than ever before and a shift towards wellness and holistic health, sports massage can play an integral role in optimising performance, promoting relaxation, and aiding rest and recovery.

If you’re an athlete looking to improve results, or you’re interested in finding out more about sports massage, here’s an informative guide that will tell you everything you need to know about this innovative therapy.

Man receiving a firm sports massage

What Is Sports Massage?

Sports massage is a form of massage therapy, which is designed to benefit individuals who participate in physical activity on a regular basis.

Massage has been used to promote recovery and aid healing for centuries, but the concept of sports massage is relatively new.

This type of therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more athletes choosing to incorporate sports massage into their training regimes.

Sports massage utilises a range of massage techniques to manipulate the muscle tissue, and it can be used to prepare for competition, to condition the body and reduce the risk of injury, to accelerate the recovery process and to facilitate post-injury healing. 

What Are The Benefits Of Sports Massage?

Sports massage provides a host of benefits for anyone who puts their body through the rigours of physical activity. 

Although massage therapy is often associated with elite performers, you don’t have to be a professional athlete to take advantage of the benefits of sports massage. 

There are two main categories to explore when it comes to the perks of regular massage sessions: these include physiological and psychological. 

Physiological benefits are linked to the body’s response to massage therapy, while psychological advantages are related to the mind.

What Are The Physiological Benefits
Of Sports Massage?

  1. Increased Circulation. Massage therapy increases circulation, improving the delivery of oxygen to the muscles both before and after physical activity. Massaging the body can help to prepare the muscles for exercise and to cool the body down after a training session or competitive match. 
  2. Reduced Muscle Soreness. Most of us are familiar with DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness). This often manifests as aches and pains the day after a competition or a vigorous session in the gym. Muscle soreness is associated with high levels of lactic acid in the body. Cooling down can help to reduce muscular pain, but massage therapy can also be beneficial. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training suggested that sports massage can reduce DOMS by around 30%.
  3. Injury Prevention. ost athletes live in fear of getting injured. Even a minor injury can throw you off course and impact your performance and progression. In some cases, accidents are inevitable, but there are steps you can take to try and protect your body and to lower the risk of injury. Sports massage can help to reduce the probability of injuries by preparing the body for exercise and aiding post-workout recovery. A study conducted by researchers at McMaster University suggests that sports massage increases the range of muscle motion and reduces recovery time between training sessions. 
  4. Injury Rehabilitation and Pain Management. Rehabilitation should be managed very carefully when coming back from an injury. In most cases, a combination of techniques and treatments is employed to achieve optimum results. Sports massage is a form of therapy, which can be used alongside treatments like medication and physiotherapy to aid recovery and manage discomfort. A study carried out by Oxford University researchers in 2016 revealed that sports massage can be an effective remedy for athletes who are struggling with pain. 
  5. Sleep. Sleep plays a critical role when it comes to achieving the best results out on the field, the court, or the pitch. A lack of sleep can affect concentration, energy levels, and focus, and it can make the difference between winning and losing. The American Massage Therapy Association recommends massage as a means of improving sleep quality based on a study of 30 adults who underwent 5 weeks of massage therapy. 
  6. Posture. Poor posture can affect your technique and increase the risk of back pain and injuries in the shoulders, neck, hips, knees, and ankles. Sports massage can help to improve posture and release tension in the muscles surrounding the spine.
Woman leaping in air on beach

Psychological Benefits Of Sports Massage

  1. Relaxation And Rest. Research suggests that sports massage can help to facilitate relaxation by reducing blood pressure, bringing the heart rate down after exercise, reducing tension and lowering levels of stress hormones, including cortisol. 
  2. Mood. Have you ever noticed that you feel great after a massage? This is due to the release of hormones and chemicals that lift your mood. Research, including a study published by the University of Miami, suggests that massage therapy increases levels of several important chemicals within the brain, 

Pre Training And Event Massage

Athletes prepare for events and competitions very carefully, and for an increasing number of participants, massage is an essential element of a pre-event regime.

Most people tend to opt to have a pre-event massage 48-72 hours before they compete.

A deep tissue massage is designed to release tension caused by training, to increase blood supply, and to warm up the muscles.

As the event looms, the intensity of massage sessions tends to diminish gradually. and a more relaxation style massage is done just before the even to warm the muscles.

Massage therapy should be combined with proven warm-up techniques and exercises to ensure the body is in peak condition before competition. 

Some people also choose to have massages between training sessions or competitions.

If you’re used to competing in several events, or you have a quick turnaround between games, for example, you compete in heptathlons, or you play badminton, tennis, or netball, you might find inter-event massages useful.

These sessions are usually short and fairly light in terms of intensity.

They can help to give you an energy boost, to remove lactic acid, and to reduce the risk of pain.

Two massage therapists hands on clients back

Post Event Massage

After competing, athletes can benefit from a post-training massage, which is designed to boost recovery, repair, and regeneration.

Athletes should fully rehydrate and complete cool-down sessions before having a massage after training or competing.

In most cases, massages are recommended within 72 hours. 

How Does Sports Massage Affect The Body?

Massage therapy utilises manual techniques and movements to bring about positive effects on the body and mind.

When you have a massage, it will affect your muscles, and you should also notice that it has an impact on your mind.

Massage is known to trigger two main responses: a relaxation response and a mechanical response. 

Although sports massage is often associated with deep tissue massage and intensive movement, massage therapy is proven to relax and make you feel calm.

The relaxation response is brought about by a drop in heart rate and stress levels, and it can help you recover after an event, reduce anxiety before training or competing, and clear your mind between sessions.

During and after a massage, you may find that you feel much more relaxed than you did before, and this helps you to adopt a positive mindset and keep stress at bay when you leave the massage table. 

In terms of the body’s mechanical response, this is predominantly related to increasing circulation and improving the efficiency of the lymphatic system and by relaxing and releasing tension in the soft tissue.

Increasing circulation improves blood flow, which ensures that more oxygen and nutrients can be delivered to the muscles.

Targeting the lymphatic system improves waste product removal.

Relaxing the muscles can help to prevent pain, injuries and spasms and lower the risk of nerve compression. 

What Types Of Sport Is Massage Good For?

Sports massage can offer benefits for all kinds of sports, and it can be rewarding for people who compete at all levels. Massage can be particularly beneficial for intensive activities that take their toll on the body, and for events that require you to recover quickly. Examples include:

  • Triathlon
  • Long-distance and marathon running
  • Cycling
  • Football
  • Rugby
  • Decathlon, heptathlon, and pentathlon events
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Fighting sports
  • Racquet sports

Types Of Sports Massage

Man receiving a firm sports massage

Sports massage can be based on a variety of well-known massage types, including deep tissue and Swedish massage. Massage sessions tend to involve the following techniques:

  • Effleurage is a soft and gentle stroking technique, which is ideally suited to both pre and post-event sessions. This type of movement can be used to warm up the muscles and stimulate blood flow before training, and to relax the muscles and relieve tension afterwards. The word effleurage comes from the French word meaning ‘to stroke.’
  • Petrissage is a more intensive action, which is often compared to kneading. This type of technique is beneficial for encouraging the breakdown of waste products and removing lactic acid to prevent post-workout muscle soreness and aid recovery. This kneading method is also effective for releasing tension. 
  • Cross-fibre friction is a movement, which goes against the muscle grain to eliminate muscle tension and stress. 
  • Tapotement is a term used to describe techniques such as cupping and hacking, which are often used during a pre-training massage. These methods, which are characterised by rhythmic tapping, target the superficial muscles, and they are ideally suited to warm-ups. 
  • Soft-tissue release aims to target the muscles and tendons, and it can be hugely beneficial for those who are prone to stiffness and tightness. This type of massage technique can help to release tension before an event and improve mobility and reduce pain after training or competing. 
  • Myofascial release is a potent massage technique, which can often be employed to improve posture and help with injury rehabilitation. This movement targets the myofascial tissue, which supports the muscles, internal organs, and connective tissue. Myofascial release can help to condition the tissue structure and improve flexibility and mobility. 
  • Compression techniques are designed to pinpoint trigger points to release knots and nodules.

If you’ve never had a sports massage before, and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, why not book your first massage today? You might be surprised at the difference even a single session can make.

Two clients on massage tables

Loved our sports massages after the Noosa Marathon.

Sarah and Matt were fantastic and really helped us post recovery.

Will definitely book you again next year!


Sports Massage

5 out of 5
October, 2015

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Author Biography – Ali Saoirse –  BEc University Sydney, GradDipPsych Bond University, Diploma Remedial Massage, Certificate IV Massage, Level 7 Kahuna Massage, Qualifications in Pregnancy Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Aromatherapy, Reflexology from Gold Coast TAFE.

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