Sports massage has many physiological effects that can benefit an athlete’s cardiovascular system and improve recovery time, setting an athlete up for optimal performance. Not only do sports massages improve recovery, but they can also prevent injury and alleviate muscle tension, soreness, and inflammation.
Sports Massage Definition
Enclopedia.com states that a sports massage is “a form of bodywork geared toward participants in athletics” which can help prevent injuries. Sports massages also help athletes recover from strenuous physical activities and help prepare the body for these intensive activities while helping to keep it in working condition for optimal performance.
Students or professionals who have attended or currently attend sports massage school typically learn three basic forms of massaging: pre-event massage, post-event massage, and maintenance massage. They also learn injury rehabilitation and injury prevention techniques to target areas of tightness and speed up recovery time for injuries.
Sports Massage Benefits
There are many different sports massage benefits that help athletes improve their performance, reduce risk of injury, and reduce both physical and mental stress.
Reduces Stress and Pain
When a person receives a massage, endorphins are released in his or her brain. Endorphins are chemicals inside of our brains that work as natural painkillers and can reduce stress, anxiety, and improve a person’s sleep, health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Sports massages also reduce inflammation to help with pain relief and recovery.
Sports massages completed prior to strenuous physical activity (pre-event sports massages) can help warm up the muscles that will be used during the activity. Pre-event massages stretch the muscles and prepare them for use. Massages completed before athletic performance stimulate blood flow, bringing nutrients to muscles and reducing tension in the muscles. This helps prevent injury and prepare the muscle for any impending physical activity.
Improves Recovery Time
Post-event sports massages can help restore blood flow to the muscle, improving recovery time and helping to ease pain associated with muscle strains, pulls, and soreness. Post-event sports massages can also help alleviate cramping and muscle soreness to help an athlete quickly return to physical activity by reducing lactic acid buildup and soreness.
Maximizes Athletic Performance
By improving recovery time, reducing inflammation, and decreasing the chances of injury, sports massages can improve and maximize an athlete’s performance. Studies state that athletes recover faster, have improved moods, and experience a decrease in delayed onset muscle soreness after receiving a sports massage, helping to improve overall performance.
Types of Sports Massage
There are many different types of sports massage techniques which sports massage therapists can use on athletes. The main types of sports massage techniques include:
- Effleurage: gentle stroking to increase circulation and stimulate nerves
- Petrissage: also referred to as kneading, this stretches muscles and eases tension
- Friction: separates muscle fibers and helps to break down scar tissue
Performed on the day of the physical event or activity, a pre-event massage warms muscles up to prepare them for the upcoming event. This type of massage is usually 10 to 15 minutes in length and stimulates the muscles. A sports massage therapist will work to warm up the tissue and also increase blood flow to muscles while gently stretching them, targeting the muscles the athlete will use during the competition.
A pre-event massage will include the following sports massage techniques:
- Compression to increase blood flow
- Gentle stretching to warm muscles up
- Tapotement for muscle stimulation
- Friction to warm up superficial tissue
A post-event massage is completed by sports massage therapists immediately after a physical activity or competition. This helps to improve recovery time, reduce lactic acid buildup and decrease muscle tension and soreness by increasing blood flow to muscles. This is typically done for about 10 to 15 minutes.
A post-event massage will include the following sports massage techniques:
- Compressive effleurage to calm the nervous system
- Petrissage to ease muscle tension
- Compression to increase blood flow and spread muscle fibers
- Broadening strokes to lengthen muscles which are tight
- Stretching to help restore range of motion
Training/Maintenance Sports Massage
This is performed in between training sessions to help improve recovery time and reduce risk of injury. These massages are performed as a regular part of an athlete’s training routine to increase blood flow and nutrients to muscles while also improving range of motion and flexibility.
Rehabilitative Sports Massage
These types of massages are performed to help improve recovery time from sports injuries and reduce pain as the body heals by reducing inflammation and breaking down scar tissue. This type of massage can also help improve muscle flexibility while reducing an athlete’s chances of reinjuring the muscle.
What You Need to Know Before You Get a Sports Massage
There are many different types of sports massages an athlete can receive to help improve recovery and prevent injury.
The type of sports massage an athlete receives depends on any injuries he or she may have, what they are training for, and how often they are competing. For example, rehabilitative massages which help the recovery process during an injury are very different from pre-event, post-event, or maintenance massages.
Before you get a sports massage, you should also understand that sports massages are not like traditional massages. This is because the techniques used in sports massages differ greatly from those used in traditional massages. Sports massages and traditional massages also have very different purposes.
Pre-event sports massages increase blood flow. This involves stretching and compression. Other techniques are used for post-event massages to help reduce inflammation, while injury massages employ techniques which help scar tissue. Traditional massages like deep tissue massages or Swedish massages are more general. They are not likely to have these types of variations in techniques and are not geared for a specific purpose.
You may also find that you may experience post-massage soreness. This is because when muscles are lengthened, micro tears occur which help the healing process, which is why it is important to ensure that you are hydrated before your massage, as dehydrated muscles are often tighter.
Sports massages are very beneficial to athletes. They improve recovery time and can help prevent injury. If you are an athlete, you should consider speaking to a sports massage therapist to understand how a sports massage can help your overall physical health and even improve your athletic performance.