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Benefits of Sports Massage (2019 Guide)

Benefits of sports massage: header image of sports massage therapist with client

Want to know more about the benefits of sports massage? If so, you’re in the right place!

Perhaps you’re trying to get an idea of what sports massage techniques do for your performance, or you want to weigh up deep tissue vs sports massage?

Whatever you’re here for, we’ve got it covered right here in our ultimate guide.  

If you’re interested in kick-starting your own career in sports massage therapy then be sure to check out OriGym’s Level 3 Sports Massage Course!

Who reaps the benefits of sports massage?

There is a common misconception that sports massage therapy is purely for professional athletes, and this is why we’re going to answer the question ‘who benefits from sports massage?’.

benefits of sports massage: a man questioning who benefits from it

Although the treatment was originally intended for preventing and relieving pain in athletes, it is now sought out by amateur gym-goers and even those who suffer from stress.

There are two simple reasons for this:

  • Sports massage therapy can improve performance and prevent injury (so those that exercise regularly benefit from this)
  • It releases endorphins (‘happy’ and ‘pain killing’ hormones) from the pituitary gland, and these are known to relieve pain and the symptoms of anxiety and depression

This means that almost anyone can reap the benefits of sports massage if they feel the need to give it a try!

When to get a sports massage if you’re a non-athlete

As we said earlier, you don’t have to be a professional athlete to gain the benefits of sports massage.

However, we’re not surprised if you’re still left wondering when to get a sports massage, especially with the lack of information out there. 

To get straight to the point, you’re most likely to feel the benefits of sports massage as a non-athlete if you are suffering from an injury or pain that is specific to one part of the body.

You may have a pulled hamstring, for example, and sports massage therapy would certainly help with this!

benefits of sports massage: graphic of someone grabbing at sore knee

If you’re not experiencing specific aches or pains, you may want to opt for a more holistic massage technique such as a deep tissue massage (which we’ll talk about later in our deep tissue vs sports massage section!).

That’s not to say that the benefits of sports massage don’t include stress relief, only that it may be more productive to seek alternative treatments that nip this in the bud straight away.

However, if you want to know more about the opposite point of view you can check out this article on why non-athletes should get a sports massage

When to get a sports massage if you’re an athlete

If you’re an athlete you might already know the answer to this question, so feel free to scroll down if so! 

If you’re unsure, then stick with us.

There are actually four different types of massage in sports massage therapy, and they are as follows:

  • Before exercise
  • After exercise
  • Restorative
  • Rehabilitative

If you’re debating when to get a sports massage as an athlete, then it’s completely acceptable to seek sports massage therapy in any of the listed scenarios.

In fact, many athletes reap the benefits of sports massage on a regular basis, as it is an effective method of injury prevention.

Sports massage therapists can usually pre-empt injuries in clients, as they can single out abnormalities in the muscle tissues and treat them before they become one.

The short answer to when to get a sports massage as an athlete is whenever!

benefits of sports massage: consult to a doctor

NOTE: (This is providing that in the case of an injury your doctor has given you the all clear to go ahead with this, and that you yourself are comfortable with what a sports massage entails. If in doubt, seek medical advice first!).

Sports massage techniques

When we talk about the benefits of sports massage, they tend to depend on the specific needs of the client and which of the sports massage techniques need to be used in treatment.

It sounds slightly complicated, but this is why we’re here to simplify it!

Let’s jump in to the fundamental sports massage techniques, and what each of them are used to achieve when it comes to the benefits of sports massage.

 

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What is Effleurage?

When finding the answer to ‘what is effleurage?’ the first thing you should know is that as far as sports massage techniques go, it is the foundation to a successful massage treatment.

The word effleurage literally means ‘to flow or guide’, and this is exactly what it should do!

Purpose

To keep it short and sweet, here’s a quick-fire list of the purpose of effleurage:

  • Introduce sports massage to the client through light touching
  • Relax the client’s muscles pre and post-massage
  • Apply the massage lubricant
  • Warm up the soft tissues
  • Encourage a decrease in waste products through lymphatic and blood circulation
  • To sense the condition of tissues as part of palpation
  • Create a link between subsequent massage techniques (used as a rest period)

When done correctly, effleurage will provide a good foundation to the treatment and link together each of the sports massage techniques that are used.

benefits of sports massage: sports massage therapist working on clients back

Effleurage should be done thoroughly and with a regular and gentle rhythm, so as not to miss any irregularities within the tissue.

If these are missed and not treated correctly, then you run the risk of causing the client more pain later on through deeper sports massage techniques.

If done right, effleurage provides a great foundation to the overall treatment and helps the client to feel the full benefits of sports massage!

What is Petrissage?

Now that you’ve discovered petrissage’s more superficial counterpart, it’s no wonder you’re questioning ‘what is petrissage?’.

Petrissage actually means ‘to knead’ and is one of the deeper sports massage techniques, which is why it’s vital to introduce effleurage prior to using it. When done correctly, petrissage will provide the client with invaluable benefits!

Purpose

  • Increase muscle mobility
  • Ease tension in the muscle fascia
  • Reduce congestion within the muscles
  • Assist the withdrawal of waste products

Now that we know the purpose, what is petrissage in comparison to effleurage?

Petrissage actually comes in different forms, and the sports massage techniques used in a particular session depends on the client and their individual needs.

benefits of sports massage: a sports massage therapist with a client

The variations of petrissage consist of the following: kneading, picking, wringing, rolling, and pressures.

Kneading

When it comes to the benefits of sports massage, the kneading used during petrissage certainly earns its spot under this title.

When keading is performed, the soft tissues in the skin and muscles are moved against each other, as well as against the bones underneath them in the target area.

The elbows should be kept low during this technique, as well as the palms facing inwards towards the massage therapist.

Picking

Picking is a form of kneading where one hand is used to grasp, squeeze, and lift soft tissues whilst the other hand simultaneously supports the limb and holds it in place.

benefits of sports massage: a sports massage therapist working on a clients arm

Wringing

Not surprisingly, wringing is similar to what it sounds like (although a little less aggressive!). During the wringing section of petrissage, the soft tissues are wrung in a side to side motion.

The movement begins with the hands on opposite sides, and they then change sides repeatedly whilst squeezing the tissues.

Rolling

A deeper choice of the sports massage techniques within petrissage, rolling can actually be performed on the subcutaneous layer (which is the deepest layer of skin).

This is done by using the fingertips and thumbs to gently grip the skin, and then literally rolling the tissues between the fingers and thumbs across the target area or limb.

Pressures

The pressures technique can be used to treat either a large or small surface area of the body. It is performed by placing compression on the tissues until the therapist reaches a natural ‘stop’, holds it for a couple of seconds, and then releases the area.

A moderate force is used to attain this stop, otherwise you could injure the client.

benefits of sports massage: attention! sign to consult to a doctor before having a sports massage

NOTE: Never attempt to use any of these sports massage techniques outside of a professional sports massage training course.

What is Tapotement?

Taptement probably fulfills some of the assumptions that you had about sports massage therapy before you stumbled upon this article!

And by that we mean, yes. Tapotement describes the group of sports massage techniques that are a little rougher on the client in comparison to effleurage. These include hacking, cupping, pounding, and beating.

As violent as it may sound, tapotement is one of the most successful techniques in terms of providing the greatest benefits of sports massage, and is safe when performed by a fully qualified sports massage therapist!

Let’s jump right in and answer the question ‘what is tapotement?’ for all of you wondering!

Hacking

In the hacking section of tapotement the sports massage therapist will use both hands with the palms facing each other, and use their fifth fingers on each hand to strike the skin. This should look like a chopping motion, but done with acceptable force!

benefits of sports massage: sports massage therapist performing tapotement

Spreading the fingers on each hand will allow for a lighter application of the technique, whilst closing the fingers will have the opposite effect.

During hacking, the skin and the soft tissues are activated. This is why many athletes opt for this technique before they compete in sports or athletics. We’ll talk about these benefits of sports massage in the following section!

Cupping

Cupping is done using both hands in a cup shape (the fingers forming an arch). The hands alternatively strike the focus surface area and create a vacuum as they are pulled away from the skin.

To make the technique effective, it's important for the therapist to ensure that their hands are cupped in an airtight position!

Beating and Pounding

Overall, both beating and pounding are used on larger surface areas of the body, and are performed using loosely clenched fists.

benefits of sports massage: tapotement

Beating is done by using the heel of the hands and the mid-section of the fingers to strike the target area alternatively. (The fists are facing the target area during this technique).

Pounding is a slightly different technique, and is done by turning the fists inward and circling them over each other as they alternately strike the area. The fists are still held loose so as not to injure the client!

Both techniques are typically used on larger muscular areas, such as the thighs or glutes. The fact that the fists are held loosely means that blood circulation to the area is improved, and muscle tone is enhanced over time.

Similarly to hacking, beating and pounding stimulate the soft tissues which is why they are popular pre-event sports massage techniques!

Friction

We’re venturing into the more advanced sports massage techniques now. Why, do you ask?

The more advanced technique, the greater it contributes to the benefits of sports massage! This is definitely true when it comes to some of the trickier-to-fix problems that clients approach massage therapists with.

benefits of sports massage: a sports massage therapist applying frictions

We’ll spare you the hefty info and keep it short, but friction is definitely something to read up on if you want to know about its benefits in detail.

Purpose:

  • Rearrange collagen fibres
  • Remove excess scar tissue and muscle adhesions
  • Increase range of motion (ROM)
  • Improve blood circulation

One of the complications with the friction technique is that even when it is done accurately, it can still cause discomfort to the client and leave their skin bruised for up to 48 hours.

This should always be explained to you by the therapist, and you should always be required to give written consent.

Now that that part is out of the way, let’s focus on the benefits!

Although there can be pain and discomfort during the process, frictions are known for being very effective in treating sports injuries, scar tissue, and acute pain in clients. You know what they say, no pain no gain!

The technique used in friction is very specific and focuses on small areas at a time, unlike most of the other more holistic sports massage techniques.

It breaks down scar tissue and adhesions due to this, and because of the force that is used to apply it.

benefits of sports massage: sports massage therapist working on clients foot

Whilst applying friction, the therapist keeps a close eye on the effect that the treatment is having on the client by palpating the area and using effleurage at intervals to assist the lymphatic system in its processes, and give their own joints and the client a break from the intense treatment.

Frictions should therefore be used in short bursts to monitor how the client's body is responding. They should be transverse, meaning that they are applied across fibres to give the best results.

This will ensure that they truly feel the benefits of sports massage post-treatment, rather than going through needless discomfort!

Vibration and Shaking

Purpose:

  • Relax both deep and soft tissues
  • Activate nerves by being used at intervals (breaks up the massage so it doesn’t get repetitive)
  • Boost blood circulation
  • Ease any pain or discomfort during the massage

Vibration and shaking are quite versatile as sports massage techniques, as they can be used to either relax or activate the muscles.

In vibration, if lighter vibration strokes are used then the parasympathetic system is activated, which releases tension in the muscles. However, if speedy vibrations are used then the circulatory system is activated and the soft tissues are relaxed instead.

benefits of sports massage: vibration and shaking relaxes the client

The shaking technique starts off with lifting and pulling motions, and progresses from smaller movements to more forceful shaking.

Both techniques are popular pre-event treatments, especially due to their main benefits including the relief of tight muscles and improved circulation, leaving the client’s body ready to deal with the wear and tear of competition!

Benefits of sports massage: Pre and post-event

Now that we’ve taken you through each of the sports massage techniques and their advantages, it’s time to have a closer look at a topic we’ve only touched upon so far.

If you’re an athlete, then you’ll definitely want to stick with us for this section! If not, then skip ahead to learn about deep tissue vs sports massage. This could help you with selecting which treatment is best for you!

Pre event massage

As you may have heard, a pre event massage can certainly boost an athlete's performance during whatever training session or competition they have planned.

One of the main ways that a pre event massage can do this is through its bespoke nature!

benefits of sports massage: pre event massage

It’s not uncommon for an athlete to have a certain injury or area that is used frequently during physical activity. The good news is that with a pre event massage, this area can become the sole focus in order to ease strain on it or prevent further injury during the event.

Conversely, a pre event massage can also be used to stimulate certain areas of the body so that the athlete can give maximal performance. It works like a sports massage version of pre workout!

A pre event massage designed to activate the muscles and prepare the client to reach new personal bests will make heavy use of the tapotement technique.

The therapist will likely introduce kneading, hacking, beating, and pounding to the specific area in order to prepare it for what lies ahead. If the area is smaller then vibration and shaking may replace this.

benefits of sports massage: post event massage sports massage therapist

On the other hand, a pre event massage designed to heal and prevent injury will usually make use of the petrissage techniques, often zoning in on the methods that will provide the client with the benefits most tailored to their needs.

Post event massage

On the other end of the spectrum is the post event massage, which is classed as post event when completed up to 3 days after physical activity.

In terms of the sports massage techniques used in this instance, it really depends on the client’s individual needs.

However, the pressure technique is a common choice in this instance as it allows the muscles to return to their usual resting lengths.

This means that the post event massage also helps with preventing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is vital for athletes who partake in regular competitions, or who wish to go straight back into training.

Benefits of Sports Massage: Preventing DOMS

Preventing DOMS is perhaps one of the most popular benefits of sports massage, and could even be how you landed on this article in the first place!

benefits of sports massage: a client holding a sore elbow

Let’s get straight to it. Just in case you’re unsure of what DOMS actually is, here’s a quick recap:

  • It stands for delayed onset muscle soreness
  • It hits the body around 1-2 days after exercise
  • The cause of DOMS is very slight trauma to the muscle fibers, which makes them swollen and sore
  • It isn’t caused by lactic acid build up, as many people seem to think - lactic acid is usually present in the process, but the main cause is eccentric exercises and a drop in oxygen stores
  • It isn’t a serious condition, and disappears after 2-4 days at most
  • Sports massage is great for preventing DOMS as well as healing it (healing only consists of soft tissue work though)

So now that we’re all clear on what the condition is, how is sports massage good at preventing DOMS?

The answer is very simple. Throughout the sports massage techniques section, you will have noticed us stressing how the main benefits of sports massage are improved blood circulation and lymphatic flow.

When it comes to preventing muscle fatigue, which is the same issue as preventing DOMS, improving blood circulation to the muscles and lymphatic flow within the body is the most effective method.

This means that sports massage kills two birds with one stone!

benefits of sports massage: sports massage therapist working on clients knee

As well as preventing DOMS, the benefits of sports massage exceed themselves by also providing an effective way to heal the condition.

If you choose sports massage as your go-to DOMS reliever, be sure to notify your therapist! This way, they will be able to administer the correct sports massage techniques, and avoid deep tissue work (as this could irritate the already sore muscles).

Effleurage is likely to be the main focus in this scenario, with some techniques from petrissage.

Deep Tissue vs Sports Massage

As the purpose of this article is to explore all of the benefits of sports massage, it would be a crime not to compare it to its most popular competitor!

Assuming you know what a deep tissue massage is, let’s put them head to head and compare the benefits of each.

If you’re unsure, you can always take a look at this Treatwell deep tissue massage article.

benefits of sports massage: deep tissue massage vs sports massage

The main difference when looking at deep tissue vs sports massage is the focus. What we mean by this is that each treatment focuses on different goals for their clients.

Sports massage is more geared towards:

  • Boosting recovery in athletes
  • Improving their performance during physical activity
  • Alleviating pain and the negative effects that sport has on the body
  • Preventing DOMS and injury during physical activity

In comparison to these goals, the aims that deep tissue massage has are quite different.

Sports massage earns its name from targeting injuries that are specific to sports, whereas deep tissue massage is more specifically focused on chronic muscle tension and stress reduction.

This means that deep tissue massage therapists may not necessarily pick up on sports injuries, but rather injuries from everyday life such as strains, sprains, and whiplash.

Common clients of deep tissue massage therapists are office workers, students, and those who have sustained everyday injuries. People with sports injuries can opt for this treatment, but it would technically benefit them more to choose sports massage.

benefits of sports massage: woman working on a laptop

This is due to the fact that even though sports massage techniques are similar to many in deep tissue massage, the overall focus during a sports massage is to focus on a particular area. It is very bespoke and particular to each client.

Deep tissue massage is more holistic, and therefore not as specialised in the area of sports and athletics.

With this information, it’s easy to see that in the battle of deep tissue vs sports massage, if you’re an athlete then you’re more likely to reap the benefits of sports massage over its competitors!

Before you go!

Liking your new-found knowledge of the benefits of sports massage?

If you’re interested in pursuing a new career in fitness, then your next plan of action should be to check out OriGym’s Guide on Becoming a Sports Massage Therapist.


Want to become a Personal Trainer, or start your route to becoming a sports massage therapist? Go download our free prospectus, or check out our Level 3 Personal Training course for more info on what you could be learning! 

Written by Chloe Twist

Fitness Content Manager, OriGym

Chloe graduated with a BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University and prior to OriGym worked at J&R Digital Marketing Agency on the Liverpool 'Female Founders' series. Since joining the company, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer with a particular interest in circuit training. Chloe’s professional interests intersect content-development and the world of online fitness, especially across social media and YouTube, and Chloe has herself contributed pieces on fitness and weight loss to sites including the Daily Star and The Express. Outside her day-to-day role, Chloe enjoys playing the guitar, gaming and kettlebell training.