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What to Expect From a Sports Massage (Before, During & After)

What to Expect From a Sports Massage

Knowing what to expect from a sports massage appointment can help to reduce any fears or anxieties surrounding a first appointment. As a first time client, you’ll naturally have questions like does a sports massage hurt?or what does a sports massage even do?

This article seeks to shed light on this topic, in order to ensure that you’re adequately prepared for a sports massage.

But before we begin, why not enrol on OriGym’s Level 3 Sports Massage therapy course to fully experience everything sports massage has to offer? This has been recognised by CIMSPA and regulated by Ofqual, certifying it as an industry-leading qualification.

Alternatively, download our free prospectus in order to learn more about every course we have to offer.

Contents:

Sports Massage vs. Regular Massage

What is a sports massage

Before we delve into what to expect during a sports massage, let’s outline what the key differences are between a sports massage and a regular massage. 

With a regular massage, you’re likely to receive a light-to-medium intensity, full-body massage. You’ll find that your muscles feel looser and perhaps less sore following this specific treatment. 

Regular massages are also an opportunity to feel pampered. Most masseuses will use candles, play soft music and experiment with different mediums (like oils and muscle rubs) to ensure that your experience is relaxing and calm.

But, what does a sports massage consist of? 

A sports massage, on the other hand, uses a wide range of techniques to manipulate soft muscle tissue to enhance the performance of someone who engages in regular physical activity.

What to expect from a sports massage

Qualified sports massage therapists help to rehabilitate muscle or tendon pain, untie aching knots and speed up recovery time of an injury. For these reasons, sports massages are particularly beneficial for athletes and regular gym-goers. 

Each individual’s experience with getting a sports massage will vary depending on where their aggravations lie. 

This is due to the fact that massage therapists will typically focus on a specific region of the body in order to alleviate soreness, compared with a regular massage which tends to be a gentler full-body session. 

But, what else does a sports massage consist of? There are 4 types of sports massage - check out the next point to discover more. 

 

Enquire now to become a Level 3 Sports Massage Therapist

Enrol on OriGym's industry-leading Sports Massage Therapy course today! 

The Different Types of Sports Massages 

What to expect from your first sports massage

If you’re wondering what to expect from a sports massage session, you will need to establish what type of sports massage you’re going to have. 

If you’re an inexperienced client this process is vitally important, as each different massage type can influence how you can adequately prepare for your session. 

There are 4 types of sports massage: Pre-Event, Post-Event, Restorative, and Rehabilitative. Within this section we’re going to detail each one individually and discuss how they differ from each other. 

#1 - Pre-Event Sports Massage

Pre-event sports massage what to expect

A pre-event sports massage is conducted immediately before, or in the weeks leading up to, a sports event or competition such as a triathlon

These particular massages focus on the areas of the body that will be exerted during the activity to prevent muscle soreness and injury. 

If you’re wondering ‘what does a sports massage consist of during the pre-event period?’, you can expect it to warm up your muscle’s tissue. 

For example, massage therapists will use friction techniques to create heat which will warm up the superficial tissue, the layer of tissue beneath the skin. This will promote blood flow to the targeting muscles and help to decrease stiffness and pain. 

Meeting with your massage therapist regularly before the event will result in muscles which will have greater elasticity to undergo intense exercise. 

#2 - Post-Event Sports Massages 

Post-event sports massage what to expect

A post-event massage is typically done within a 2-hours time frame following the completion of sporting activity. These sports massages are not painful but will include light pressure massage techniques and passive stretching to promote blood circulation to worked muscles. 

The post-event massage technique will help to prevent muscle stiffness and soreness, whilst also assisting in reducing recovery time significantly.

Whilst on the topic of recovery, for more information on how you can recover in your own time check out our article on the importance of rest days.

However, in order to learn how to prepare for a sports massage following an event, you need to be aware of proceeding evaluation. This is conducted in order to see if an athlete's muscles are damaged before deeper pressure is applied.

So, if you want to know what to expect from a sports massage, recognising that a post-event massage must be delivered 2-hours after your physical activity will help you to prepare for your appointment. 

#3 - Restorative Sports Massages 

Restorative Sports massages what to expect

Restorative sports massages are regularly scheduled appointments, which will help during an athlete's training process. 

When questioning how to prepare for a sports massage of this kind, you should be aware that the primary objective behind restorative practices is to assist an athlete in reaching their personal best. 

During this process, massage therapists will incorporate both light and deep techniques into a session to help reduce muscle soreness. This also helps to improve muscle elasticity so athletes can train more intensely and frequently. 

Restorative sports massages, therefore, can help to support an athlete for optimum performance by reducing inflammation in the muscles and increasing endurance. 

#4 - Rehabilitative Sports Massage

rehabilitee sports massage what to expect

Rehabilitative sports massages are conducted to treat those who are recovering from an injury. During these appointments, therapists will use a combination of light and deep massage techniques to promote flexibility and blood flow to the injured region. 

Upon hearing that this practice is used to treat injuries, many of you may be questioning ‘are sports massages painful when following the rehabilitative process?’. 

There is no easy answer to this question, some clients report feeling mild discomfort during their initial sessions, but they are guaranteed ease with time. 

Furthermore, please remember that the primary objective is to reduce pain over the course of time, which will ultimately allow you to resume training. 

So, if you’re wondering what to expect during a sports massage, you’ll first need to outline your intentions behind the appointment, as this will influence what type of massage you will receive. 

What to Expect From a Sports Massage Session

what to expect from a sports massage

Determining what to expect during a sports massage session can be somewhat challenging, considering that there are multiple variations of the practice. Furthermore, clients will seek out these practises for a variety of differing reasons.

For example, one individual may want to get a rehabilitative sports massage to target a back injury. Whereas, someone else may need a pre-event sports massage to prepare their body for a marathon. 

However, regardless of these individual differences, every sports massage session will nevertheless include some of the same general aspects. 

This section is dedicated to sharing these commonly occurring similarities, in order to give you a general understanding of what to expect during a sports massage. 

#1 - Consultation 

consultations sports massage expectations

As a client, before you even lay down on a massage table, you’ll be invited to an initial consultation with a qualified sports massage therapist. During this meeting you can expect to undergo various assessments in preparation for your first sports massage. 

Such assessments will involve you performing a range of exercises and stretches, with your therapist observing the following: 

  • Posture
  • Flexibility
  • Mobility
  • Symmetry

From this, your sports massage therapist will also help to assess any pains, aches or injuries both from the assessment and through a series of general lifestyle questions. 

Such questions will cover a variety of topics, such as:

  • Existing health issues
  • If you’re currently taking medication 
  • Existing allergies and their severity if applicable 
  • Your current exercise regime

consultations form sports massage expectations

When determining how to prepare for a sports massage consultation, our best piece of advice would be to be as honest as possible.

This will ensure that you get the necessary treatment that you require. Whilst withholding or giving incorrect information could lead to receiving a sports massage that won’t benefit you in the long run.

For more information relating to this topic, head on over to our article analysing how personal trainers can conduct consultations.

#2 - Pre-Massage 

what to expect from your first spots massage clothes

Before the massage begins, you’ll be asked to remove any outer clothing, as massage therapists typically prefer for clients’ to just wear suitable underwear. 

However, if you’re not comfortable with this be sure to bring up this topic during the initial consultation. This will allow your massage therapist to work with you in order to determine what you should wear for the sports massage.

You can then expect your therapist to invite you to lie on their massage table. 

Please note, if your massage has to target a specific area of the body that would otherwise be unreachable, a massage therapist may use equipment such as bolsters or pillows in order to provide your body with better support. 

what expect before your sports massage oils

Therapists will also have towels and massage mediums (oils, creams and gels) to use whilst they are massaging you. 

Which medium your therapist uses will depend on the type of massage you’re scheduled to have. For example, a post-event massage may use gels for a lighter intensity massage, whereas oils and creams would be used to target deep-rooted knots in rehabilitation sports massages. 

These mediums can also be influenced by personal preference and/or allergies, too. Again, this is a topic that should be approached within your initial consultation. 

#3 - During the Massage 

what to expect during a sports massage

Now, you’re likely to be curious as to whether sports massages are painful. Unfortunately, in order to see effective results, the answer is yes - sports massages can be painful, in some regards. 

When an individual learns how to become a sports massage therapist, they’re trained to find your pain threshold. 

From this, they will aim to work just below it, in order to ensure that you get an effective treatment that doesn’t put you through an immense amount of pain. 

Whilst some sports massages are painful, it’s important to persevere and to recognise that it’s only temporary. 

Try to keep the beneficial properties of the massage at the forefront of your mind at all times, it may hurt now but will benefit you in the future.

Therefore, when determining what to expect from a sports massage we can say to some degree there will be an element of pain. 

However, if this becomes too much of a discomfort inform your massage therapist immediately.

This will allow them to adjust the treatment accordingly, whether that be:

  • The amount of pressure they’re applying
  • The area they’re targeting 
  • The massage measure they’re using

Adjusting even the smallest aspect of the massage can greatly ease the pain you feel. But the important thing to remember is to verablise how you’re feeling to the therapist, if things get too uncomfortable don’t remain silent.

#4 - Massage Techniques 

what to expect during a sports massage 2

For those wondering ‘what is a sports massage like?’, we can provide some insight into the 3 most commonly used techniques in the field:

  • Deep Tissue Massaging
  • Trigger Point Therapy 
  • Soft Tissue Release

In order to provide you with a greater understanding of these techniques, we’ll take a detailed look at each of them.

Deep Tissue Massaging - For this treatment a massage therapist will apply intense pressure to specific regions of your body, in order to target deep-rooted knots.

Deep tissue massages may also require tools, such as massage balls, in order to assist within this process. Therapists will only be able to do a limited amount of work with their hands alone, so tools can help reach knots that are rooted even further within the tissue.

what to expect during a sports massage 3

Trigger Point Therapy - This technique is used to take a client close to their pain threshold, and is executed by applying pressure to a targeted region. 

This pressure is then maintained until a client feels like the pain level begins to reduce. This is another technique that is known to speed up the rate of recovery and relieve muscle tension. 

Soft Tissue Release (STR) -  Massage therapists often turn to STR in order to help restore normal flexibility to an otherwise sore or injured muscle. 

When a muscle is stiff, it shortens in size, and can become difficult to move. STR can be used in response to this, as it promotes muscle elasticity and helps the muscle to stretch back to normal.

With any of these techniques, as soon as your therapist takes off the pressure, you’ll be greeted with instant relief both from the force of the massage and from a reduction in muscular tension. 

equipment to expect from a sports massage

Hopefully, you now know what to expect on your first sports massage. Even though this process may alter slightly from client to client, the process will typically always adhere to the same pattern:

  • A Consultation
  • Massage Prep
  • The Sports Massage Itself

Following this, we’re going to provide you with some of our top tips, which you can implement in order to help you prepare for your first sports massage. 

How to Prepare for a Sports Massage

#1 - Do Your Own Research 

Do your own research What to expect from a sports massage

Doing some research before your appointment will help you to get a better understanding of the processes involved in getting a sports massage. 

You may have your own personal intentions behind this research, such as wanting to find out more about various massage techniques. However, the primary objective of conducting this should be to ease any fear or nerves that may plague you.

The first place you should always look is the studio’s or massage therapists’ personal websites. This is where you will find all the information that will be specifically relevant to the massage you’ll receive.

You’ll have a chance to share your wants and needs during the consultation, but research beforehand can help to provide you with a greater sense of clarity on what to expect during a sports massage.

#2 - Check The Studio is Accredited 

check studio is accredited before sports massage

Another way to prepare yourself for a sports massage is to ensure that the studio is accredited. But, what does this mean? 

Business accreditation refers to the process of a business being assessed and evaluated by an accreditation body. This means that a business's services/products will be reviewed to ensure that they are safe for consumers.

For example, at OriGym all of our courses including the Level 3 Sports Massage qualification are accredited and regulated by Ofqual. This certifies us to be an industry leader, and proves to our customers that we are a trustworthy business. 

ofqual sports massage article

When a company has been accredited, it will receive an accreditation body stamp. These are typically displayed in their physical place of work, and on their personal/company website.

Be sure to do accreditation research before attending a sports massage appointment as some spas and massage parlours don’t actually have a governing body’s approval. 

We’d advise checking out the Federation of Holistic Therapists’ (FHT) register for any sports massage therapists you intend on visiting. All measures on this list have been fully accredited and regulated, so you can rest assured that they’re a consummate professional.

This may result in you receiving a sports massage by a non-professional, thus wasting your time and money. 

#3 - Make Sure You’re Well Hydrated 

staying hydrated before a sports massage

Whilst discussing what to expect from your first sports massage, you may be surprised to learn that they can be dehydrating. This is due to the pressure and squeezing involved, as this releases fluids from their muscle tissue into the vascular system,

Therefore, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids before any appointment, a factor which even the most experienced of massage clients miss.

Additionally, when your body is dehydrated your muscles will cramp and tighten. This effectively makes the job of the massage therapist much more difficult, as they will have to work deeper into your muscle tissues than before.

With this in mind, physician for Harvard Athletics, Dr. Francis Wang notes: “Athletes who have had muscle cramps may need to drink extra, and may need more electrolytes.” 

This suggests that if you’re prone to cramps already, drinking water, or beverages that are high in electrolytes, will greatly benefit you before the massage.

drinking before a sports massage

If you’re looking for a beverage that will boost your electrolytes, check out our article analysing the benefits of drinking coconut water

While sports drinks are beneficial for replacing the sugars and electrolytes lost through exercise, some drinks still contain excessive amounts of sugar. This can lead to inflammation which can further hinder how well your masseuse performs. 

So, if you approached this article wondering “does a sports massage hurt?” - it will hurt more if you’re not well hydrated. Make sure to drink at least 1 litre of water before your appointment to reduce the risk of muscles stiffening and cramping up. 

#4 - Wear The Right Clothes

Tips what to expect during a sports massage

Another way to prepare for a sports massage is to wear the right clothes. 

You’ll be expected to remove outer garments before your massage begins, but please note this isn’t a vital necessity. Doing so, simply allows your therapist to access all the necessary muscles to perform an effective and thorough massage.

It’s encouraged to wear suitable undergarments to your session or loose-fitting items such as a tank top or shorts. 

You’ll be provided with a sheet or towel to cover areas of your body for added comfort. For example, massage therapists will typically cover the glutes with a towel when they’re massaging other areas of the body so you don’t feel exposed. 

If you’d like more information relating to how to prepare for a sports massage, head over to our article dissecting the topic of what to wear to a sports massage.

#5 - Avoid Heavy Eating 

What to eat before a sports massage

Another way to prepare for a sports massage is to avoid heavy eating.

You’re going to be spending the majority of your session lying face down on a massage bed. This will be very uncomfortable should you eat a heavy meal before your appointment, and may even make you feel sick. 

Another reason to avoid heavy eating is during massages, metabolic processes such as digestion, slow down. 

This means that your metabolism isn’t able to break down the foods as easily which means foods will likely be stored as fat. 

Instead, opt for having a healthy snack before your appointment. That way, you’ve still lined your stomach with food to have enough energy to see you through your session.  

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If you’re enjoying learning what to expect from a sports massage, we think you may also enjoy these other OriGym articles:

What to Expect After a Sports Massage

what to expect after a sports massage

With the information shared within the previous section, you may now be questioning

“Does a sports massage hurt even after the appointment?” 

Once again, whilst pain levels vary from person to person, many clients do report feelings of pain following a sports massage. These achy, stiff pains are caused by the way in which the body metabolises waste products from the soft tissue.

You may also experience inflammation in the muscles that need healing. For example, if you have a sports massage to relieve back pain, you may experience additional tension in your back for a few days. 

Whilst discussing what to expect after a sports massage, you should be aware that it can take approximately 48 hours to feel the full effects, and for the aches to subside.

However, you’ll be pleased to know that there are some methods to help relieve soreness after a sports massage:

what to expect after a sports massage 2

#1 - Stretching: After your sports massage, you can do some light stretches to help release muscle tension and improve flexibility. Doing a combination of gentle static and dynamic stretches will help some of the aches to subside until the muscles have fully recovered. 

For further examples of what stretches you can incorporate into your routine, OriGym has you covered with our definitive list of the 13 best hamstring stretches for back pain and tight muscles

#2 - Heat Therapy: Heat therapy is another great way of easing tension following a sports massage. You can put this into practice any way you see fit and mold it to your personal preference, this includes activities such as:

  • Taking warm baths/showers
  • Using a sauna 
  • Resting heated pads on the sore area

teas what to expect after a sports massage

#3 -  Drink Herbal Teas: Many fitness lovers have claimed that regularly drinking these beverages help muscles to quickly recover following a training session. Ideally in order to ease sore muscles and reduce inflammation you should be looking to consume the following flavours:

  • Ginger 
  • Turmeric 
  • Chamomile 

 

#4 - Use Essential Oils: If you’re still experiencing pain following your sports massage, you should consider using essential oils to help relieve the soreness.  You can either add a few drops into a diffuser or bath, to expose your muscles to the oils healing properties. 

There are many different oils available, but the best types for muscle pain are:

  • Lavender 
  • Eucalyptus 
  • Chamomile 
  • Rosemary 

hydration after a sports massage

#5 - Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids following a sports massage is just as important as doing so before. This will assist your metabolism in flushing away any harmful toxins from the muscles.

Plenty of water will also help to promote elasticity back into the muscles, thus reducing soreness while recovering from a sports massage. It may be worthwhile carrying a water bottle with you whenever possible, in order to ensure you stay hydrated throughout the day. 

Therefore, whilst we can say that whilst the question “does a sports massage hurt?”, is rather subjective, there are means you can put in place to avoid this pain from becoming too severe. 

Once you’ve had your sports massage, consider referring back to the list above for a reminder on how to increase muscle elasticity and shorten the recovery process of your massage.

How Much is a Sports Massage Session?

How much is a sports massage

Before we delve into this section, it’s noteworthy that each massage therapist and/or parlour charge their own rate for their services. For this reason, you may find that the sports massage services you opt for have different prices.

As mentioned in the ‘What to Expect From a Sports Massage Session’ section, you’ll have a consultation before your massage appointment. 

Consultations are essential for ensuring that you get the most out of your session, and for your therapist to get an understanding of your needs. 

Some establishments charge for the consultations while others include a complimentary one in the price of the massage. For businesses that charge for consultations, these can cost anywhere between £25-£50. 

As for the cost of the massage, establishments will either charge for the duration or the type of sports massage you receive.

money for a sports massage

The following prices are averages taken from several businesses to provide an insight into how much sports massages cost. 

The average cost for time of massage

  • 30-minute massage: £30-£40
  • 60-minute massage: £40-£50
  • 90-minute massage: £60-£70

The average cost per massage type:

  • Full body treatment: £70-£90
  • Upper OR Lower body massage: £40-£60

How Long Does a Sports Massage Session Last?

what to expect from a sports massage time

Now that you know what to expect on your first sports massage and the average cost per session, you may also be wondering how long a sports massage lasts. 

As with costing, sports massage sessions have different durations depending on individual masseuses and parlours. However, the average time per massage service is as follows: 

On average, an upper/lower body massage will last between 30-50 minutes.

A full body massage will typically last between 60-90 minutes.

Since the whole experience can take between 1-2 hours altogether, it’s important to ensure you allocate enough time into your schedule for your appointment.

be on time for sports massage

The amount of time that your massage therapist will spend on specific regions of your body will also vary depending on your goals for the session. 

If you’re having a rehabilitative massage, your masseuse may spend most of the session on and around the immediate area of injury.

Alternatively, if you’re getting a pre-event massage to prepare for a marathon, the masseuse may spend the majority of the session on the legs and some on the back and upper body. 

You can also choose to request that your masseuse spend time on different areas that you want some focus on. This request should ideally be discussed during the consultation, but if you have any requests during the session itself be sure to vocalise it as soon as possible. 

 

Enquire now to become a Level 3 Sports Massage Therapist

Enrol on OriGym's industry-leading Sports Massage Therapy course today! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Sports Massages Worth It?

What to expect from a sports massage overall

Hopefully, you now know what to expect from a sports massage, but does that mean that they’re worth it? 

One of the arguments many make in opposition to sports massages is that they can be costly in both money and time. 

For example, you’ll need to set time for a consultation, which could also cost money, before paying for the massage itself. 

However, we can say that sports massages are worth it, and can be incredibly beneficial for those who are physically active and want to prepare for, or recover from a sporting event. 

Therapists will put pressure on the worked muscles to promote blood circulation and to relieve tension. This will improve the flexibility in the muscles, thus reducing the risk of further injury and muscular stiffness. 

are sports masssages worth it

Equally, sports massages are known to be beneficial for those with muscular injuries. Therapists will use a combination of soft tissue release and deep tissue techniques to rehabilitate the muscle so everyday and sporting activities become easier. 

Should you have asked “what is a sports massage like?” at the start of this article, hopefully you now know exactly what to expect and that they’re most definitely worth the time and money. 

What Should You Not Do During a Sports Massage?

warning about sports massage therapy

There are some general, unwritten rules when it comes to receiving a sports massage that you may want to familiarise yourself with before your session. 

While some of these may seem obvious, they are worth repeating for the sake of the sports massage therapist#s comfort. 

#1 - Turn up late: Make sure to plan ahead so that you get to your massage appointment on time. If you’re running late, be sure to contact the masseuse/parlour to inform them of your new ETA. 

Should you turn up late, you may also receive a shorter massage as your therapist will have to be punctual for their following clients. Therefore, in reality the only person being affected in the long run is you.

#2 - Disrespect Policies: When receiving a sports massage therapy you should be respectful of any rules and regulations that are in place. Be sure to read up on these prior to the massage itself, such rules could include:

  • Set clothing guidelines 
  • How to speak to and address staff members
  • Following any guidelines on health and safety

You don’t want to risk losing your booking by not looking ahead and/or respecting company policies.

negative expectations for sports massage therapy

#3 - Ask Your Therapist Personal Questions: Asking your therapist personal questions may make them uncomfortable. It’s important to remember that they are there to provide a service, and are working in their professional environment.

 

#4- Making Excessive Noises: Massage therapists recognise that you might make noise when they’re putting pressure on a sore muscle or working around an injury. However, it’s also important to be mindful of noise to respect neighbouring clients and to keep your therapist comfortable. 

 

So, as well as an insight into what to expect from a sports massage, you’re also now knowledgeable of what not to do too! 

Please remember your massage therapist is there to deliver the best quality service that they can, and so if you’re able to help them do so, this will only enhance your own experience too. 

Before You Go! 

Knowing what to expect from a sports massage may help you to feel more prepared and confident for your first appointment. When receiving a massage for yourself always think of the bigger picture, it may hurt temporarily but the benefits far outweigh the brief pain.


Remember, to learn more about sports massage therapy, you can always enrol on OriGym’s industry leading course. Here, you will learn from our team of expert tutors who are on hand to ensure you pass the first time around, setting you up to immediately launch your career. 


You can also download our free prospectus where you’re guaranteed to find a course that suits you and your specific needs. 

Written by Emily Evans

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Emily studied English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2021 with a 2:1 BA honours degree. Alongside her degree, she also gained experience in student publication as Forge Press’ Lifestyle Editor and Deputy Editor for Post-Production. This is where her love for content writing stemmed from, which also led her to OriGym. Outside of her work, Emily will either be found on a long hike, at the gym or making a mess trying new healthy recipes in her kitchen!

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