What exactly is sports massage?

Last time I wrote about what sports massage can and can’t do when your muscles get really sore. But what exactly is sports massage? Does it really do anything that “regular” massage doesn’t? Can any massage therapist do it? Is it only for athletes? What should you expect? For that matter, what should you wear?

So for this week’s Technique of the Week, here is your

Sports Massage FAQ

What exactly is sports massage and why is it different from relaxation massage?

Sports massage and orthopedic massage, which I always use together, are very different from the massage you’re probably used to, even if you’ve gone to a massage clinic and asked for sports massage. They incorporate strokes and techniques from a variety of massage modalities, and focus closely on locomotor tissues (the ones that help you move) and movement patterns. Orthopedic massage includes assessment, goals and other long-term aspects. Sports massage is not just very firm pressure massage.

Sports massage isn’t relaxing. Sorry! You won’t lie under sheets, listen to music quietly and get a full-body massage. I need your participation because there are some techniques that can make a huge difference in your body very quickly, and they involve your brain as well as your muscles. Why? Think about a tight muscle. Why is it hypertonic? Because the nervous system is telling it to be. So we need to involve that to correct the problem. Other mechanical techniques are far more effective when you, the client, are doing certain types of muscle contraction (read more about this on my page.)

Assessment is an important part of this kind of work, so be prepared to spend a short time at the beginning of the massage providing information about your condition and testing some of your movements. Many clients want to rush through this part of the massage so they can get on the table, but please don’t think of this as time away from your massage. Assessment is part of sports massage and will vastly improve your actual time on the table.

What should I wear?

It’s best to wear flexible bottoms (such as running or biking shorts) that allow complete access to your leg muscles if you need leg/gluteal work (no tights, long boxers, etc.). Women who need upper body work should bring a sport bra or (preferably) a string-tie bikini top. You’ll probably be clothed during the massage. Please improve the quality of your massage by dressing appropriately.

Do only athletes and dancers get sports massage?

If you run, work hard, dance hula, paddle, garden, love to take evening walks, or are concerned about your wellness and how your ability to move fits into that, sports and orthopedic massage are for you. We focus on your goals and the muscles and other soft tissues that support you in the specific movements you do on a regular basis, as well as the ones that might make you hurt.

What about injuries?

One of the great things about sports and orthopedic massage is the different techniques that we use to handle injuries. There are many ways to approach a muscle injury and some of them are firm, some are light, some cause a little tenderness, some are totally painless but very effective. Because the goal of sports massage is recovery, not relaxation, it’s ideal for handling many injuries because I’ll choose a touch that’s right for your condition.

Athletes and active people should consider that sports and orthopedic massage can be very effective in helping you recover from chronic injuries or conditions that you feel have ended your ability to participate in an activity, or made it chronically painful.

I approach injuries cautiously. Sometimes, either for your benefit or mine, I feel we need a diagnostic assessment of your injury, and I might suggest you see a physical therapist or other practitioner. I have a network of referrals with whom I’ve had personal experience and trust, or you can ask around to see who your friends and teammates trust.


Does it hurt? Will I be sore?

I do not believe that manual therapy needs to be painful in order to be effective, and I am opposed to the widespread use of analgesics like menthol-based products after bodywork to mask muscle pain. If your massage changes the way you move because it made you sore, it caused damage beyond what it was attempting to fix (I wrote about this in my last post on soreness.) At times, your muscles may feel tender to the touch, but you should not have bruises or feel additional pain as you move because of a massage.

Some deep tissue techniques only work if your body is consciously relaxed – this goes back to the involvement of the nervous system in “resetting” muscle tone. Some techniques do cause some short-lived pain, but you should be able to stay relaxed under the pressure being used.

How often can I get massage? Can I get too much?

Athletes, people with chronic health issues, and others get massage up to several times a week and sometimes more. Others make a plan for massage leading up to an event and come less frequently during their off-season. The decision is yours and your therapist should always be willing to answer questions and provide a rationale if she thinks you need more work.

I am lucky to have a network of other practitioners who can treat a variety of physical and psychological issues and I would be happy to introduce you!

Where can I get sports massage?

Good question! Go ahead and book here:

Book a Massage

Is there anything in the world of sports massage, training or wellness you’re interested in learning more about? Let me know what you’d like to read about in Technique of the Week.

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