What is a Sports Massage

Massage is one of the primary forms of physical therapy known to a man. It has been in use for over 3000 years by various cultures and people all over the world. Thanks to the recent development in travel and communications and technology, people from different cultures are able to communicate with each other which has led to the development of various types of massage techniques which have a specific benefit and purpose of their own.

What is a Sports Massage?

Purpose of Massage

There are different types of massages designed for different purposes. In sports massage, the requirements of the athlete are kept in mind by the massage therapist. Due to increase in the number of people participating in sports along with increased competition and strenuous exercises, the necessity for sports massage has also increased. Sports massage is now seen as a skill which helps in speeding up the recovery process from injuries and in augmenting the performance. Sports massage is very beneficial in muscle strains as it softens the stiffness and prevents scar tissue formation at the site of injury. It also helps in re-aligning the new healing fibres in the direction of the muscle fibres and helps in preventing re-injury.
The therapist should have a complete understanding of human anatomy and physiology, especially the skeletal and muscular systems. Having knowledge of the human body and its systems helps the therapist in identifying the way in which the massage will benefit the athlete and forms a vital part of the training program of the athlete.
Athletes undergo vigorous training regimes to improve their performance. This puts a gradual stress on their bodies resulting in overuse. Due to this, the soft tissues of the body are stressed out and if this continues and becomes prolonged or chronic, they become a major obstacle in an athlete's performance and make the athlete more prone to injuries or other medical illnesses. For example, if an athlete is already suffering from an injury and has not fully recovered from it, then while playing he becomes more vulnerable to other injuries such as can occur in a football tackle.

Advantages of Sports Massage

Massage which is applied by a professional and competent therapist can benefit in many ways. One of the biggest advantages of sports massage is that it helps in preventing further injuries to the body. It helps in decreasing the tension in the muscles and helps in relaxing stiff muscles. Massage also provides balance to the musculoskeletal system. If the massage is applied regularly, then it helps the athletes in preventing further injuries, which are caused due to overuse. Overuse causes accumulation of stress or tension in the muscles and puts a lot of stress or burden on the muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons.

Usually the tension or imbalances in the muscles are not diagnosed and they continue to build up to the point where they cause serious damage to the athlete. The athlete may not be able to perform to his best ability and may experience pain or discomfort while playing. A professional and a competent massage therapist is able to make out these types of problems in the muscles and soft tissues and will apply massage using correct techniques which benefits the athlete immensely in preserving their healthy physical condition.

Contraindications for Sports Massage

There are certain conditions where sports massage should be avoided; otherwise it can result in more harm than benefit to the sportsperson. Given below are contraindications to massage:

  • If you are not feeling well or have a fever over 100°F.
  • Recent and acute injury/traumas i.e. open wounds/lacerations, fresh bruising, torn muscle and ligaments, burns or chilblains.
  • Tumors or any type of swelling.
  • Blood vessel disorders such as thrombosis, varicose veins and phlebitis.
  • Melanoma
  • Hemophilia
  • Any type of infection such as bacterial infection, fungal infection, viral infections, lymphangitis or herpes.
  • If you feel worse after a massage instead of feeling better.
  • Diabetes, although it is not a strict contraindication, but should be done after consulting with your doctor.

Required Equipment in Massage

The first and foremost equipment which is required for a massage is a lubricant. This enables smooth gliding of hands during massage. For this purpose, massage oils can be used or simple baby oil will also suffice. Care should be taken not to use too much oil, as it will cause lack of control during massage. Apart from a lubricant, the other equipment needed is a firm and flat surface to lie upon during the massage.

Sports Massage Techniques

Essentially there are 3 main techniques used in sports massage which are known as effleurage, petrissage and frictions. Usually, any type of massage is done with the pressure directed towards the heart. This method ensures that the venous and lymphatic flow is increased and that there is no backward pressure of blood on the closed valves and thus prevents blood vessel damage. This method is not used if the purpose of the massage is stretching the muscle fibres, but as strokes used are small in this method, it is quite safe to do it, as there is no chance of accumulation of the pressure.

Technique 1: Effleurage

This technique is used to initiate massage and for even oil application. It also helps in warming up the tissues in order to prepare them for deeper massages. Light strokes are applied using the complete palm of the hand and fingers in an upward direction towards the heart. The direction should always be upwards towards the heart, because this is the direction of the blood flow. Doing it the opposite way causes vein damage. The pressure applied depends on the aim of the massage and the condition for which it is done. The therapist should keep the contact of his hand on the body light, firm and the hands should be shaped according to the natural body contours of the athlete. The pressure used should be light in the beginning and gradually the pressure should be increased. The therapist should perform this massage slowly so as not to miss any tender points. The following are the purposes of effleurage:

  • Initiating the massage and making the client comfortable.
  • Warm up of the tissues
  • To increase the blood flow
  • Peripheral nerve stimulation
  • To relax the muscles

Technique 2: Petrissage

This is a kneading type of massage technique which helps in additional relaxing and warming up of the muscles. The palms or the knuckles are used in this massage technique. A firm, kneading pressure is applied using the hands. Half the muscle should be pulled towards you using the fingers of one hand and half the muscle should be pushed away using the thumb of the other hand. Then the direction of the massage should be changed to reverse. Try to cover as much area as possible by working the hands up and down the muscle. This technique should be continued for about 5 minutes and can be alternated with the effleurage technique.

Technique 3: Frictions

The thumb is used in a circular motion for massaging. This helps in breaking down the adhesions and scar tissue and helps in separating the muscle fibres. Circular frictions and stripping techniques are used alternatively for deep massage of the muscle tissues. This massage can be painful or uncomfortable for the client and the client should be forewarned about this. This massage is done only for a short amount of time, as prolonged use of this technique causes more harm than benefit and can result in irritation or inflammation of the soft tissues.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: May 23, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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