What is a sports massage?

In a previous article we discussed some of the most misunderstood aspects of massage, the deep tissue massage. In this article we’ll tackle yet another common yet often misunderstood therapy form in the massage world, the sports massage

Below we answer common questions including should you get a sports massage, how is a sports massage different from a deep tissue massage, and common sports massage side effects. If you ever considered getting a sports massage and ask yourself “Is a sports massage right for me? read on to find out. 

Do I need to get a sports massage?

To answer if a sports massage is right for you, we first need to understand what a sports massage is. According to Minnesota School of Cosmetology, a sports massage is a manual manipulation of the muscles geared specifically toward helping people who have physically demanding lifestyles and/or hobbies.”

This definition provides a great start to help understand what Sports Massage Therapy is, but it’s missing an important component, timing. Without consideration for timing, the definition above could be applied to a wide range of individuals, from weekend warriors to professional athletes. A more precise definition of Sports Massage is:

“a massage treatment where the primary goal is to support an athlete in relation to their particular sport.”

Does this mean that individuals who are considered hobbyists are not recommended for sports massage?

So do I have to be a professional athlete to benefit from a sports massage or can a hobbyist also benefit from sports massage therapy? For the purpose of sports massage therapy, many hobbyists may not be performing at a level that would specifically require a sports massage. To  better understand why, let’s look at some of the top benefits of a sports massage including:. 

  • Preparation for a Competition
  • Improvement of Athletic Performance
  • Recover More Quickly from Events
  • It Can Provide Treatment to Injuries

We expand more on the benefits of a sports massage in our 4 benefits of getting sports massage article.

Notice how the list above is in relation to competitive advantage. Why is this important? You would not want a therapist to create micro tears in the muscle, inhibiting your performance, prior to your lifts. Therefore the type of sports massage you would receive prior to a bodybuilding competition would serve a very different purpose than the massage you would receive after the competition. 

Specific conditions that may benefit from adding sports massage therapy include:

  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Muscle strain
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Muscle soreness
  • Muscle sprains
  • Muscle tension
  • Sore spots
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Tendinitis
  • injury prevention
  • Improving blood flow

Comparing Sports Massage vs Deep Tissue Massage

Now that we have discussed the basics of who would benefit from a sports massage let’s dive into the differences between sports massage and deep tissue massage. All types of massage therapy offer benefits including improved mood, reduced anxiety and depression, as found by a clinical study of 17 test trials, according to Web MD.

The primary difference between these two modalities lies in the goals of that particular session. 

For example, if an individual is preparing for a competition, deep tissue therapy would hinder their performance due to the therapy adding micro tears to the muscles needing to perform. (This is why therapists ask that you do not do any heavy lifting for 24 hours after a massage.) But, if the competition has ended and there is no upcoming athletic event planned in the near future, a deep tissue massage may be beneficial to aid with muscle recovery. 

“Sports massage combines neuromuscular, myo-fascial, lymphatic and other techniques for the preventive, rehabilitative and emotional healing of an athlete.” Be Well Post on Sports Massage

In short, sports massage is a catch-all term that includes a variety of modalities (more on this later) in order to support the athlete in their performance. It may include deep tissue work to aid in recovery or increase blood flow to the muscles, warming them up, in preparation for competition. Sports massage can even focus on lymphatic support in between events to promote continued performance at a high level. 

Does sports massage therapy have side effects?

As with any kind of treatment, it is important to consider the possible side effects before beginning therapy. Always consult with a medical professional when seeking advice on whether sports massage or before starting massage therapy. 

Massage treatments including sports massage are generally considered safe for a large variety of individuals. While this is largely the case, there is a small possibility of side effects. 

Side effects may include:

  • Tenderness or stiffness in areas that have received more intense focus
  • Skin reaction to the massage oil or lotion
  • Soreness

The best way to prevent common issues with massage therapy, is to be communicative with your therapist. Talk to them about your concerns prior to beginning a sports massage regimen and continue to communicate throughout your therapy sessions. While it is common for certain types of modalities to lead to soreness due to the therapist purposefully creating micro-tears in the muscle tissue, you should never experience immense pain during or after a session. To learn more about achy muscles and pain, check out our article on what makes muscles ache.

If you are suffering from a condition such as acute infectious disease; aneurysm, heavy bruising, cancer, hernia, high blood pressure, inflammation from tissue damage, osteoporosis phlebitis, varicose veins and/or certain skin conditions, you should consult a physician prior to beginning any massage treatment.

*Please note that this article does not constitute medical advice and that readers should consult a physician to ensure a deep tissue massage is right for them, per FDA guidelines. 

Practical Sports Massage techniques: What to expect.

As discussed earlier the purpose of sports massage is to support an athlete throughout their athletic training and performance. This means that the types of therapeutic massage technique that would be utilized are highly dependent on the goals that are needing to be accomplished. Let’s look at the three typical phases of a competition. 

  1. Warm up or pre competition massage
  2. Competition massage
  3. Post competition massage

The goals during each of these points of time are dramatically different and thus the massage techniques used reflect this. Prior to an event, the athlete needs to warm up and energize the muscles. Techniques that are excellent at accomplishing this are effleurage and tapotement as they warm up the tissue without creating the micro tears associated with loss of performance. 

During competitions when you have events on consecutive days,massage therapy techniques that encourage blood flow such as petrissage have been shown to help improve athletes perform at a high level consistently. 

Following competition your body needs to recover and lengthen the muscles. Deep tissue massage therapy and corrective massage are excellent modalities in correcting the possible issues created during these high intensity activities. . 

Check out our article covering expanded benefits of a deep tissue massage to learn more.

How to find a sports massage therapist near me?

Qualified sports massage therapists will have a current state accredited massage license. These licenses typically require 500 to 1,000 hour of study and practice for completion. This includes post-secondary training as well as a passing of required licensing examination. 

It is important to keep in mind that some states do not regulate licensure in massage therapy, therefore the need for clients to be careful is vastly important. Below is a list of questions that may help you decide if the therapist that you are wanting to work with would be not only qualified but a good match for your needs. A good time to ask these questions is prior to scheduling an appointment.

  • Are your therapists certified and licensed with the state?
  • Are they members of the American Massage Therapy Association?
  • Which therapists specialize in sports massage therapy techniques that take into consideration, pre-competition, competition, and post-competition?
  • Due to the nature of sports massage, practitioners of sports massage should have an above knowledge of anatomy and physiology knowledge. Which of your therapists work superficially? Which works structurally? 

*Note: Colorado does require licensure for any practicing massage therapist.  

Opened in 2011, Be Well Bodyworks has been Longmont’s premier massage sanctuary for over 10 years. Kelly, owner, and therapist of Be Well has not only maintained a practice of her own but has the knowledge and experience to hire only the most qualified therapists. With a combined experience of 50+ years, these therapists have worked with a variety of clients with a focus on results. 

Every therapist at Be Well is licensed with the state of Colorado and many specialize in multiple modalities and care practices. If you would like to schedule an appointment at Be Well, contact us at 303.652.3533.

For additional information about Sports Massage, check out this excellent article from Massage Magazine

Closing Thoughts

What’s the final verdict on sports massage? 

If you are an individual who competes or performs athletically at a rate that may not allow the time for natural recovery, then finding a sports massage therapist would be beneficial to you. When selecting a sports massage therapist, discuss the details of your chosen sport (competition dates, goals, etc.), and most importantly verify their certification and comfort level in working with your sport’s unique challenges. Because as you know, preparation and communication are the keys to your success.