Sports massage, as the name implies, aims to prepare athletes to be in peak form. It enables them to perform better during events, recover more effectively from training or trauma and reduces the risk of injuries. Sports massage provides a set of tools and techniques to improve the functioning and maintenance of a sportsperson’s soft tissues in general as well as before, during, and after an event.
Why sports massage?
Athletes and other performers that need to be in top physical condition can derive great benefit from remedial massage and soft tissue therapy. Why? Because these groups of people often push their bodies beyond their limit. They want their muscles to function at an optimal level. To accomplish this, they want to train effectively, intensely and frequently. This naturally increases the chances of overtraining, accumulating microtrauma, and increases the risk of overuse and injuries. Sports massage offers a variety of approaches effectively addressing these objectives while minimising the risk of compromised health.
What is sports massage?
Sports massage can include a variety of forms from Swedish massage, Eastern forms of massage as well as techniques such as Soft Tissue Release (STR), Neuro Muscular Techniques (NMTs), Muscle Energy Techniques (METs), assisted stretching and beyond. Usually, the pressure applied is deeper and more intense. Techniques such as trigger point massage, cross fibre frictions, lymphatic drainage, compressions, and thermal therapy are also widely used. A common feature of most sports massage sessions is that they are 100% customised to the specific needs of the individual at the time.
Sports massage objectives
Maintenance is an important objective that sports massage fulfils. It works in conjunction with thorough knowledge of the sportsperson anatomy and the demands of the activity. It facilitates the development and preservation of optimal strength, flexibility, range of motion and whatever other parameters are required by the sport.
Pre-event massage is just one variety of sports massage used specifically in the build-up to a major performance. In the 48-24 hours prior to an event, the focus must have shifted from any remedial to preparatory work. The soft tissue session must be aimed at putting the athlete into the best possible physical condition and state of mind to perform at their best.
The muscles will ideally be warmed up and stimulated during the pre-event massage. The pace, length, and intensity of the session will be tailored according to whether the athlete needs relaxation or stimulation. The therapist must know the specifics of the sport and the individual psycho-physiological needs of their client to deliver the most effective treatment.
Post-event massage, on the other hand, is about optimising recovery. Ideally given as soon as the event has finished, it focuses on stimulating blood circulation. Deep pressure is usually contraindicated as the underlying tissues may be tender or injured. Ice packs can be used as needed around traumatised or over-exerted areas. Some gentle passive stretches may also promote a better recovery.
Rehabilitation of acute or chronic injuries is another area where sports massage yields great results. Trigger point techniques can be used to alleviate pain and spasms. METs can be helpful in restoring the full range of motion of an injured joint. Deep tissue and cross fibre frictions can help alleviate any build-ups of scar tissue.
Benefits and applications
Precautions and recommendations
Long-term health must ideally be a higher priority than short-term performance. Often, the therapist may be the voice of reason to let an athlete or their coach know if participation will be too high a risk.
Additionally, it is worth checking the credentials and reputation of the practitioner prior to entrusting an athlete to there are.
Finally, it is important to recognise that ‘sports massage’ is just a name chosen in order to distinguish this from other modalities. It is by no means limited to competitive athletes. As more and more people begin realising the benefits of sports massage, the need for qualified and capable practitioners is growing.
So, if you want to be in top condition now and over the long term for your chosen work, sport or hobby – a sports massage can help you achieve this.
Martin Stefanov Petkov