FAQ’s about Sports Massage

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Several of my clients enjoy running and other sport activities. I also get a lot of questions from parents of high school athletes about sports massage and whether or not getting a massage will help them before workouts or after a game or an event.  Here are some of the basics about sports massage:

What exactly is Sports Massage?

Sports Massage is a style of bodywork that addresses the particular needs of athletes. Sports Massage is a special form of massage and is typically used before, during, and after athletic events, as well as off-season, pre-season and post-season massage. The purpose of the massage is to prepare the athlete for peak performance, to drain away fatigue, to relieve swelling, to reduce muscle tension, to promote flexibility and to prevent injuries. Sports Massage utilizes a mixture of techniques ranging from Swedish, Deep Tissue, Neuromuscular Therapy, Structural Integration (similar to Rolfing®), Myofacial Release, and Facilitated Stretching. The final ingredient is a therapist that understands the demands that your sport has on your body, and how do address those demands with Sports Massage.

What are the benefits of Sports Massage for an athlete?
Some of the most exciting benefits of Sports Massage are: enhanced athletic performance, faster workout recovery, fewer injuries and faster recovery from injury, restored flexibility and range of motion, removal of lactic acid buildup, extending the overall life of your athletic career, reducing feelings of stress, and maintaining the body in better condition.

Will Sports Massage help my injury?
Yes. Sports massage is proven to reduce recovery time, sometimes dramatically, by shortening the time it takes for injuries to heal, and makes the after effects “better”. Sports Massage reduces the swelling and edema associated with soft tissue injuries. After a serious injury, Sports Massage helps form strong pliable scar tissue instead of the usual random stiff scar tissue, so that range of motion and tissue extensibility are maintained.

A short list of benefits are:

  • Shortens the time it takes for an injury to heal.
  • Helps to reduce swelling and edema.
  • Helps to form soft, pliable scar tissue.
  • Maintains or increases range of motion.
  • Eliminates splinting in associated muscle tissue.
  • Locates and deactivates “trigger points” that form as a result of the original trauma.
  • Helps get the athlete back into training sooner with less chance of reinjury.

Will Sports Massage really make me stronger or faster, or increase my performance?
Yes, in an indirect way. Sport Massage tweaks your body to a state of higher efficiency so that you can get an extra 20% more – more speed, more strength, more performance. Sports Massage breaks down muscle adhesions, relieves knots, increases range of motion, decreases pain, increases circulation, stretches tight muscles, reduces stiffness and generally reduces the negative after effects of hard training. This means you can train harder than you ever have before. You can excel to higher levels than you thought possible.

Will Sports Massage help me extend my sports career?
Yes. The prominent cause of diminishing athletic ability with aging is due to years of microtrauma from maximum exertion coupled with the cumulative results of old unresolved injuries. When Sports Massage is used on a regular basis, the effects of these traumas are lessened. The effects of injuries are overcome. The muscle tissues and facia remain supple and pliable much longer. The musculoskeletal system keeps full range of motion. Couple these benefits with the extra 20% performance that Sports Massage gives you, then the natural “slowdown” associated with aging is pushed back to a much later time.

How often should I get a Sports Massage?
That depends on several factors such as training volume and intensity, whether or not you have chronic pain or acute injury, and other factors. For some athletes, a weekly massage gives huge results. Other athletes only get an occasional Sports Massage if they’re in pain.

The best way to reduce the effects of hard training is with regular Sports Massage. We suggest you try a series of 5 or 6 Sports Massages to see how you feel when the positive effects accumulate. Then you’ll be able to decide how often you need a Sports Massage. However, it is a fact that even getting massaged once a month regularly has long lasting positive impact.

Will one single Sports Massage “fix” my problems?
Sometimes yes. If you have a tight painful neck and shoulder complex you can expect to come away from a Sports Massage experiencing a lot of relief, at least for a while. But it probably took you months or years to get that way. It’s not reasonable to expect permanent relief from an hour session of Sports Massage.

The effects of Sports Massage are very much like the effects of athletic training. Your first bike ride won’t turn you into Lance Armstrong. But a consistent training program will turn you into a competitive cyclist. So it is with Sports Massage. Consistent Sports Massage can offer very positive results to chronic issues and painful conditions.

What is lactic acid buildup and how does Sports Massage help with that?

Lactic acid is a constituent part of the cellular metabolic cycle. During strenuous anaerobic exercise the levels of lactic acid can rise to high levels, causing fatigue and a burning feeling in the muscle tissues. The high levels of lactate can linger longer than most of us would wish for.

One way to diminish that burning feeling in our muscles is with a recovery style Sports Massage. The long strokes of a recovery Sports Massage aids circulation. The stagnant blood and fluids are “pumped” toward the heart and liver. Freshly oxygenated blood rushes into the muscle tissue, giving a refreshed relaxed feeling to sore muscles.

Is Sports Massage painful?
No, not usually. If your therapist is mindful and experienced they will work up to your individual capacity for pressure. For example if you’ve just ran a marathon they know you can’t take a lot of pressure on your legs. If they see you wincing or resisting their strokes, they know to back off. But sometimes individuals develop knots, contractures, or trigger points that require stronger bodywork and may cause discomfort. If this is the case, the therapist and client communicate about pain levels, working together to make the session as productive as possible, as pain free as can be. But all of this aside, a typical Sports Massage is a pleasurable experience, not a painful one.

I have a big race tomorrow. Should I get a deep Sports Massage just before it?
No, absolutely not. Deep work is reserved for conditions and issues that call for it. It’s typical to be sore for several days after a deep Sports Massage. That would interfere with an athletic event or competition. A pre-event Sports Massage would be the right choice before a race. Pre-event Sports Massage boosts circulation and flexibility. It leaves muscles relaxed and ready for action. Pre-event massage can help prevent muscle and tendon injuries and improve performance.

Are there times that I shouldn’t get a Sports Massage?
Yes. Contraindications are conditions when you should not be massaged. The most common condition among athletes is that of an acute injury or inflammation. Usually the first 72 hours after an injury are the acute stage. After the swelling and pain begin to diminish, massage is indicated.

A partial list of contraindications are: fever, vascular conditions, severe heart disease, contagious skin conditions, inflammation, abrasions, cuts, hematomas, cancer, neuritis, recent surgery, infectious diseases, diabetes with vascular dysfunction, fractures, and acute injury. There are too many possible conditions to list here so it is your responsibility to alert the therapist of any medical condition or injury before a massage begins. Some conditions are localized so massage may take place except in the affected area.

Can I just massage myself?
Yes, by all means. Self massage and stretching are two of the best things an athlete can do for him- or herself. There are some excellent books on the subject at amazon.com. But even though self-massage is beneficial, it doesn’t replace a good Sports Massage by a trained therapist.


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