Sports Massage
How is it any different from Therapeutic Massage?

Article last updated 12/24/16

One way to describe sports massage is that it is intended to be a sports injury preventative treatment or a treatment designed to help rehab sports related injuries.  As a sports specific preventative treatment the massage therapist is knowledgeable and skilled in the movement dynamics of multiple active disciplines, individual and team sports, as well as, the health of muscle and connective tissues.  A sports massage therapist advances their personal skill set beyond full body and therapeutic massage to include an understanding of the demands specific sports place on both the male and the female body structure.

A sports massage therapy session may include an analysis of the athletes' current range of motion, ability to easily perform a series of movements without pain or restriction and posture.  The massage therapy session may include active stretching and strengthening work designed to balance muscles length and improve strength in muscles or muscle groups that exhibit any signs of decreased functionality.  The role of sports massage today reaches far beyond the professional athlete to include recreational, amateur, high school and college athletes as well as health and fitness participants such as cross-fit, Yoga, Palates, or spinning classes.

How is Sports Massage Different from Therapeutic Massage?

How is it different or is it even different from therapeutic massage?  On many levels massage for athletes is not fundamentally different to therapeutic massage. Many of the same techniques or modalities used by a certified sports therapist could be utilized by a general therapeutic massage practitioner.  The intentions may vary some when working with individuals that are actively involved in a specific sporting event.  Helping clients feel good, relax and move around in the world in a pain free productive manner is the ultimate goal of any massage therapy.

Many individuals looking to work with a sports specific therapist are looking for what is commonly referred to as deep tissue massage.  Deep tissue massage can mean different things.  In a Spa setting deep tissue can mean the application of increased pressure within a Swedish or classic massage session.  For the athlete it usually means the use of modalities that utilize specific types of technique such as trigger point therapy, neuro-muscular therapy, myofascial release, active release technique, active isolated stretching, and to many others to list here.

Athlete's Usually Specialize in One Particular Sport

Therapists who specialize in working with athlete's will study the demands placed on the body by their clients' sport.  Each type of sporting activity entails the development of controlled motor skills required to succeed at that type of sport. Some sports are more symmetrical than others.  Running, Swimming and Cycling are all symmetrical sports that tend to place the same demand on each side of the body.   

Other sports are asymmetrical in nature, such as Golf, Baseball, Tennis, all racket sports and Yoga for example.  Sports that require the athlete to swing at a ball place different demands on the muscles of each side of the body.  During practice or training and competitive events these motions are repeated over and over again. Repetitive motion can lead to over development of certain muscle groups  and underdevelopment of other muscle groups, making a balanced training program a challenge for coaches, trainers and athletes.  

Taking a closer look at golf, the golfer's swing is a complex whole body movement that places different demands on various muscle groups on either side of the body.  A golf swing that has very little hip rotation and a lot of upper body rotation can lead to injury.  So, why is it the corner stone of the Modern Golf Swing?  A professional golfer has developed their swing to a precise whole body movement that generates a great deal of force to propel the golf ball long distances.

Tiger Woods is a prime example of a golfer who utilizes minimal hip rotation and a lot of upper body rotation with phenomenal results.  His multiple career injuries may be explained by his use of the modern golf swing.  A massage therapist that specializes in treating the golfer or any athlete must have a good grasp of the biomechanics of the body's joint and myofascial systems.  Understanding the golfing world's fascination with the modern golf swing with minimal hip rotation can lead to a greater understanding of common golf related injuries. 

Sports Massage vs Swedish Massage

Swedish Massage is the foundation of other western based massage techniques including sports massage.  What we refer to as deep tissue massage as well as most references to aromatherapy massage are also rooted in Swedish massage.  Fundamentally Swedish Massage is founded in an understanding of Western anatomy and physiology.

On the other hand, Chinese Medicine and its massage techniques are grounded in an understanding of Eastern energetic systems such as meridians.  Ayurvedic Medicine also has its roots grounded in an understanding of how energy moves through the body.  Much of what is considered aromatherapy massage in the United States has come from Ayurveda's use of herbs and essential oils.

Sports massage is intended to prepare an athlete for a sporting event by increasing blood flow and waking up the various muscle groups.  It is also used to help the athlete recover from the intense workout their sport puts them through after the event is over.  In addition, Sports massage is ideal for treating injury, when the initial goal of prevention is not met.

A component of Swedish massage, sports massage pre-event techniques incorporate a quick and rhythmic pumping compression to increase blood flow and responsiveness of core muscles groups within 15 to 30 minutes of a sporting event.  Generally most sports massage therapy can be broken down into four subsets; Pre-event therapy, post event therapy, maintenance (injury prevention) and injury recovery.  Post even, maintenance and injury recovery session may include range of motion and some form of dynamic stretch.

In conclusion, sports massage is an extension of the skill sets developed while training in a therapeutic or Swedish massage therapy.  The sports massage therapists then goes on to improve their understanding of how the body moves, what special demands are placed on the athlete while performing their sport and how to treat common sports specific injuries.  Sports Injury prevention and providing physical conditioning support to the athlete has  become key goals for today's sports massage therapists. 

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