What is It?
At its core, the goal of sports massage is to maintain a patient’s active lifestyle while providing lasting relief, improved recovery periods, and injury prevention.
How Does It Work?
What separates sports massage from other relaxation-based modalities is its combination of passive, active, and direct work. An example of a passive technique is when the therapist would manually pull a patient’s leg across their body to stretch out a stubborn hip muscle or tight IT band. An active technique would include coaching the patient to lift or move a part of their body against resistance applied by the therapist. In a Swedish Massage session, it’s unlikely a therapist would include any active instruction as the goal is to provide a calm and soothing experience. These techniques use the body’s own mechanisms to coax a tight muscle to relax without applying pressure. Once the effectiveness of passive and active techniques are exhausted, direct manipulations—think deep and deliberate pressure applied through the therapist’s arm, hands, or elbows—work through any lingering adhesions and tight tendons or muscle fibers.
This method allows the therapist to alleviate the bulk of the client’s muscular tightness and adhesions with minimal applied pressure, allowing for speedier recovery and less risk of bruising.
When To Get Sports Massage
Regardless of a patient’s athletic level, sports massage is often recommended shortly before or after an event. Whether that’s a swim, a marathon, or an easy hike, research confirms the short-term benefits of sports massage. However, with sports massage, the sessions should be slightly different in their approach to the activity based on when a patient gets one.
When receiving a massage before an event, the therapist will likely use more lively techniques like jostling, and other active techniques with the least priority given to direct work. The goal is to prepare the muscles, not wear them out, and provide some range of motion to prevent injury.
After an event, the sessions will shift their focus to more direct treatment of problem areas or pain caused by exertion. Sports can be an unpredictable endeavor even for the most experienced, and as such, a post-workout session is more specific in its treatment. The goal in these instances is to ensure that recovery goes smoothly and that the athlete can address any potential injuries before they get out of hand.
Is Sports Massage Only for Athletes?
Not in the slightest. As an evolution of the basic principles all therapists learn, the therapeutic benefits of sports massage cross over into many areas of treatment. It is an extension of a practitioner’s toolkit and can be used in a myriad of circumstances from treating chronic pain, to headaches, and even in some post-partum situations. It’s also effective for surgery recovery since adhesions, range of motion limitations and pain are all a common occurrence after a procedure.