What is Sports Massage?
Defining Sports massage Therapy in my own words is fairly straightforward: -The practice of using various applications of soft-tissue manipulation to enhance the recovery of athletes with the purpose of improving performance, range of motion, and decreasing soreness/pain from training and competition. The actual implementation of how to do this is where confusion begins to set in, both for the client and the practitioner. The majority of my training for sports massage while I was in school actually happened outside of the classroom. Yes, I took classes with well-qualified teachers and therapists to learn what I needed know. However, one of the most beneficial moments of my training happened when a few of the teachers at Stark State encouraged me to begin using the video library in my free time. So during the lunch hour, I started to watch as many DVDs and videos as I can get my hands on: Russian sports massage, Olympic Training Center therapists, advanced forms of myofascial release, neurodynamics and more. I delved as deeply as I could at the time into whatever books I could find about the art of recovery in relation to soft tissue manipulation. Semester after semester of doing this, I quickly became obsessed with the various aspects of sports massage. I learned that many of the benefits of this form of massage are overlooked and underutilized. Therefore, because of this underutilization, most of the clients that I began working with had walked away from previous sports massage experiences feeling as if they had received exactly the same service as any other massage. These patients wanted to know why they had spent extra money when they could’ve simply gone to any chain of massage therapy spas and received, what they felt, would have been essentially the same thing for a lower cost. Watching this miscommunication happening made me excited for the opportunity to help patients understand about what other therapists may not have been explaining to them. The first thing that needs to explained in order to truly understand sports massage is to break down the four different components that make up the field: 1. Pre-Competition Massage: a 10-20 minute massage that occurs prior to the competition event for the purpose of speeding up the central nervous system. 2. Intra-Competition Massage: a 5-10 minute concentrated massage that highlights key areas for the athlete that need specialized attention between events. 3. Post-Competition Massage: a 30-60 minute massage performed within 24 hours of the competition in order to promote the return of the nervous system to a rest/recovery state more effectively. 4. Rehabilitative Massage: all other massage performed to help with day-to- day training soreness and injuries. Understanding that there are the four different types of sports massage that need to be performed with an athlete, it’s now much easier to understand that the same athlete could
receive three very different types of massages in one day from their therapist: pre-, intra-, and post-competition. This, in turn, allows for three separate and synergistic benefits. How are those massages going to be different? The therapist will use various speeds, intensities, duration, and choice of manipulation with each. Learning how to use all of these different variations as a therapist to the advantage of the athlete is the true art of sports massage. So, to put this in perspective of training… Let’s imagine that an athlete was going to do three things at every workout: 1. Warm-up 2. Training 3. Cool-down But instead of changing the activity for each portion, they just did the same thing for all three (warm-up with body weight squats for 5 minutes, training with body weight squats for 10 minutes, and cool down with body weight squats for 3 minutes). Perhaps, instead, the athlete immediately begins the warm-up as if they were training and finishes without a proper cooldown (jump into a warm-up of back squats at 85%, train at 90%, and cool down at 80%). These scenarios illustrate the importance of maximizing the benefit of each training component. To have no variation in the application or execution of these principles introduces an array of undesired results. The most notable among those results being a lack of improvement and increased risk of injury. Sports massage is similar. There are multiple options, all of which benefit the athlete in different ways. If the therapist only provides one type of massage with no variation for the different scenarios in which the athlete finds him or herself; the athlete will see very little benefit from the soft-tissue work. Additionally, it’s possible that massage actually becomes a detriment to the athlete’s training and performance during competition. Over the next couple of months I will be giving my interpretation of each of these categories. I will be talking about my past experiences with them, how I make the best use of them, and how I communicate their use to the athletes with whom I work. It is my desire to explain the information that I have researched and learned over my relatively short career. I want to help other therapists, coaches, and athletes know what to expect when it comes to sports massage. There needs to be a new bar set for what we as therapists are able to do to benefit our athletes. I intend to raise that bar.