Sports massage therapy is appropriate for everyone. We can sustain injury and experience symptoms from a wide range of causes. These include occupational factors, postural / structural anomalies, emotional and medical factors (pre and post-surgery), symptomatic illness and disease and physical disabilities.
The key difference between sports massage therapy and other types of massage treatment is that it involves deep tissue work and a range of techniques which entail the client working with the therapist so that the treatment is more active, with less emphasis on relaxation.
Sports massage for athletes
Ideally, sports massage should be used as an integral part of an athletes’ training regime. Top level competitors use massage to attain higher levels of performance, with a diminished risk of injury.
After a period of hard training there will be an accumulation of waste materials. There may also be micro trauma, with the tissues depleted nutritionally and in need of repair. Massage speeds the process of recovery, allowing athletes to train without needing to assign the same periods of recovery time. This increases the quantity and quality of training and ensures that the athlete trains with greater safety.
Keen sportsmen and women can have treatments aligned with their training programme. For example, booking in after a long run or competitive event. After a half marathon or marathon for example, the best results can be derived from receiving a treatment at the earliest opportunity to aid recovery and reduce post event discomfort.
The most common sports injury is over-use. A sports massage therapist can identify areas of over-use in muscle tissue on palpation as they will feel hard and tense in comparison to the surrounding tissue, often before the injury becomes apparent to the athlete. This acts as an early warning system to allow the athlete to modify their training programme. This can be in addition to the application of massage techniques and stretching exercises designed to bring about full function.
Over-use can occur over days, weeks or even years – since the central nervous system gets used to and compensates for injury within the body in order to avoid pain. This may occur consciously or subconsciously. For example, where stretching a muscle causes pain, the body will seek to avoid the pain by utilising muscles which are not commonly used or suited for this purpose.
The benefits of sports massage therapy
- Massage improves the circulation, conveying nutrients to the cells and tissues and conveys waste products away into the blood and lymph circulatory system for elimination
- Massage speeds the process of recovery, allowing athletes to attain higher levels of performance without assigning the same periods of recovery time
- Identifies and addresses areas of over-use injury, enabling the athlete to modify their training programme before it becomes a problem and interrupts training
- Highlights and addresses areas of tension, enabling the athlete to modify their stretching programme
- Specific massage techniques can be employed to break down old scar tissues and fibrous adhesions which can impair function / joint movement
- Specific stretching techniques can be employed to improve joint range and function
Quite apart from the obvious physical benefits sports massage confers, there are psychological benefits. Massage promotes relaxation and wellbeing. In some sports, deep relaxation prior to competing can be beneficial.
The mainstay of sports massage therapy is treating minor soft tissue injuries: aches, sprains and strains which, if left untreated or poorly managed, can develop into chronic conditions.
All muscular-skeletal injuries will have a soft tissue component, so massage can have a complementary role to play in treatment. In Finland for example, massage is used in conjunction with orthopaedic treatment to reduce the associated muscular tension, reduce symptomatic pain, prevent secondary problems and accelerate the rate of healing.
Sports massage therapy differs from other forms of massage. This is because in addition to the superficial strokes and deeper petrissage and friction work, it can also incorporate neuromuscular techniques (NMT), muscle energy techniques (MET) and soft tissue release (STR).