What Is Sports Therapy Massage?

 

Where Was Sports Therapy (British Sports Therapy) Massage Developed?

Sports Therapy Massage has its origin in the original Swedish Massage that was developed for Swedish gymnasts around 1812.  European practitioners used variations of this method for well more than 100 years before it made its way across the Atlantic in the 1970’s.  James Cyriax, M.D. Who was instrumental in the development of orthopedic medicine introduced techniques that were then refined about a decade later by Jack Meagher who published the book Sports Massage.  Since then, the discipline has grown significantly.

 

Pressure and Technique in Sports Therapy Massage

Sports Therapy Massage is a specialized form of Deep Tissue Massage.  Like Deep Tissue Massage, it focuses on accessing muscle groups that lie deep beneath surface muscles.  However, Sports Therapy Massage focuses specifically on the muscle groups involved in particular activities.  Sports Therapy also integrates aspects of Myofascial Massage and Trigger Point Therapy.

The aim of Sports Therapy Massage is to release tension in overused muscles and identify and correct compensation patterns in the athlete by activating muscles that should be used, but are either underutilized or not used at all.

What a Sports Therapy Massage is will depend on the individual getting the massage.  A golfer, for example, might need muscles in the hips released in order to allow proper pivoting motion.  At the same time, it is important to stimulate muscles such as the Quadratus Lumborum (QL) to help support the lower back during rotation in order to prevent injury.

A cyclist, by contrast, will have very different needs.  Obviously, the quadriceps are very strenuously worked during cycling and massage helps them to heal quicker.  However, cyclists also form very tight IT (iliotibial) bands and the TFL (tensor fascia latae) muscles along the outside of the leg and hip which are often overlooked and can cause referred pain in the knee.  Likewise, cyclists commonly need special massage techniques for the upper back (thoracic region) and the neck because of how they hold their upper body and head while cycling.

So, it depends on what you do as to what your massage will be like, but generally the Sports Therapy Massage involves compression along with stretching and rotation.  Pressure is moderate to very deep, depending on what is being treated and whether the massage is prior to or following an event.  Typically, pre-event massages are light to moderate pressure, and post event massages are moderate to deep pressure.

 

Why Sports Therapy Massage Works

Sports Therapy Massage is effective because it is very specific to the athlete being treated.  The objective is for the massage therapist to enable the athlete’s body to function without restriction of motion, to prepare the athlete’s body for competition/exercise, and to facilitate the healing process.  Healing is enhanced by moving blood, lymph, and waste by-products of muscle exertion away from the muscle fibers and bringing fresh, oxygenated blood to those areas.  Performance is enhanced through a quicker recovery cycle which permits athletes to train more aggressively.

Compression and stretching are effective because they help prevent the formation of adhesions in the tissues damaged from strenuous use.  The Myofascial Release and Trigger Point Therapy techniques that are used in Sports Therapy Massage locate and release stuck tissues that may be causing impingement, swelling, and pressure on the nerves.

 

What Conditions Can be Treated with Sports Therapy Massage? / When is it Appropriate?

  • Muscle Strains
  • Pre-event Conditioning (preparation for competition)
  • Post-event Recovery
  • Speed Injury Healing
  • Improvement of Flexibility
  • Strengthening / Activation of Weak Muscles
  • Injury Prevention
  • Repetitive Stress Injury
  • Relief / Prevention of Muscle Soreness
  • Swelling Reduction
  • Easing of Post-Exercise Fatigue
  • Part of a Basic Training Regimen

 

Who Should Not Get Sports Therapy Massage?

Sports Therapy Massage is appropriate for most healthy people who participate in physical activity, whether it is a daily walk or a triathlon.  However, persons who have open wounds should wait until the wound has closed before getting a massage.  Likewise, if a person has muscle or tendon ruptures/partial tears, clearance by a physician is needed, and a minimum of 72 hours should pass from the onset of injury.  Persons who have blood clotting problems should also avoid Sports Therapy Massage.

 

How Sports Therapy Massage is Performed

Sports Therapy Massage can be performed on either a clothed or unclothed person.  Often, regions being treated can be pinned, stretched, and rotated through clothing.  However, massage therapists may decide that the use of gliding strokes would be useful to a client, so the massage may be set up more like a Swedish Massage with sheets to cover the unclothed client.  (Clients may choose to keep underwear on if it makes them more comfortable.)

As previously mentioned, the treatment is different for each client, but a typical session of Sports Therapy Massage involves an assessment of the athlete’s range of motion, determination of which muscles or connective tissues are causing the restriction, and an appropriate set of stretches and/or resistance exercises that will loosen the tissues in question.  These techniques often involve the use of pressure along different points of the muscle followed by stretching.

Cross-fiber friction is another common technique used in Sports Therapy Massage wherein pressure is applied going against the grain of the muscle or connective fiber in order to break up tissues that have become stuck together.  Additionally, the massage therapist may use resistance techniques where the athlete is asked to press against resistive force in order to cause a muscle to relax.

The therapist may decide to employ techniques from Swedish Massage which help overall circulation in the body and can reduce swelling.