Updated: Mar 16, 2020
You don't need to be an athlete to benefit from one
Sports massage was developed to help athletes prepare their bodies for optimal performance, recover after a big event, or function well during training. However, contrary to what the name suggests, you don't have to be an athlete to benefit from sports massage. Sports massage emphasizes prevention and healing of injuries to the muscles and tendons and can be beneficial for people with injuries, chronic pain or restricted range of motion.
In sports massage, the massage therapist generally concentrates on a specific problem area that you present, usually associated with some sort of sports activity, such as running, tennis, or golf. The most important thing with sports massage is that you find a specially-trained massage therapist who has mastery of a wide range of techniques and knows when to use them. In the past, many spas used to put sports massage on their menu as a way to appeal to men. As spas have become more sophisticated, however, they realize they shouldn't list sports massage unless they have some therapists with specialized training.
What Happens During a Sports Massage
Sports massage therapists will use a variety of techniques to achieve the desired goal. There are four types of sports massages:
Pre-event sports massage: a short, stimulating massage 15-45 minutes before the event. It is directed toward the parts of the body that will be involved in the exertion.
Post-event sports massage: given within an hour or two of the event, to normalize the body's tissues.
Restorative sports massage: given during training to allow the athlete to train harder and with less injury.
Rehabilitative sports massage: aimed at alleviating pain due to injury and returning the body to health.
The therapist might use Swedish massage to stimulate circulation of blood and lymph fluids, and trigger point therapy to break down adhesions (knots in the muscles), and stretching to increase the range of motion. Other techniques could include myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, lymphatic drainage and orthopedic assessment. The therapist should also have a good foundation in hydrotherapy modalities including cryotherapy and thermotherapy, which can help with recovery, repair and healing processes.
When to Get a Sports Massage
A sports massage is a good choice if you have a specific problem—a tender knee from running, for instance. It is also a good idea to see a movement therapist, who can help you identify and correct the movement pattern that might be causing your injury in the first place.
The therapist generally focuses in on the problem area—a frozen shoulder or pulled hamstring, for instance—rather than giving you a full-body massage. Sometimes men who are new to the spa are more comfortable getting a sports massage because it sounds more masculine. That's fine, even if they don't have an injury.
No matter what type of massage you choose, the therapist should check in with you about what your needs and expectations are for the massage.
Sports massage can be an interesting career choice for therapists who want to do it full time. Professional sports teams often have massage therapists on staff to keep athletes' bodies working at their very best. It helps to have a keen interest in anatomy and physiology, advanced training and experience in sports massage, an interest in sports, and a desire to work with athletes.