How Sports Massage Enhances Your Athletic Performance

Does a long run make you feel stiff and achy? Do you sometimes worry that a hard session in the gym will leave you unable to ever move again? Well, let us inform you the benefits of sports massage you never knew about.

We all know that exercise comes with lots of health benefits. At the same time, it often leaves us feeling sore and tired! If you are a keen athlete who wants to reduce your risk of injury, sports massage may be the treatment for you.

What is sports massage?

According to Pacific College, the purpose of sports massage is to enhance athletic performance. It does this by reducing muscle tension and encouraging minor injuries and lesions to heal faster.

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from sports massage. It can help anyone with repetitive injuries and muscle tension. It’s also useful for people who need to regain use of muscles and tendons following surgery or illness.

Techniques used in sports massage

As outlined by Dr. Pramod Kerkar, therapists use several types of movements when giving a sports massage. These include:

1. Effleurage

Light strokes that move towards the heart. This encourages good blood flow. Effleurage usually makes up the first few minutes of a massage. It prepares the body for deeper tissue work and is the most relaxing part of the massage for most people.

2. Petrissage

The therapist uses their hands, including their knuckles, to knead the muscles. They pull one half of the muscle forward using the fingers of one hand. At the same time, they push the other half away using their thumb of their other hand.

3. Stripping the muscle

The therapist will use their thumbs to apply firm pressure to the middle of the muscle. They then use their fingers and thumbs to smooth out muscle knots and scar tissue. This technique can be used with petrissage.

4. Trigger point massage

Sometimes, a client will report that a particular part of a muscle feels particularly painful. These are known as “trigger points.” Applying pressure to trigger points can alleviate tension and reduce pain.

The therapist will apply firm pressure to the trigger point. They will hold the pressure for several seconds, which usually reduces muscle tension. They may repeat this process two or three times. It is normal and necessary for a client to feel some pain when receiving trigger point massage.

How often can an athlete get a sports massage?

This depends on the degree of pressure the therapist uses during treatment. If the problem can be treated using gentle pressure, it’s fine to receive them every day. If the therapist needs to apply a lot of pressure and perform deep tissue work, recovery time is essential. The client should take one or two days in between deep massage sessions.

How it can benefit athletes

Sports massage is an effective remedy for delayed-onset muscle soreness, colloquially known as “DOMS.” As the name implies, DOMS starts to cause pain a few hours or even a day or so following exercise. Massage helps soothe muscle inflammation and tension associated with DOMS. The increased blood flow to the area reduces pain.

Massage not only reduces swelling, but it promotes good lymphatic drainage. This encourages the body to break down and eliminate waste products that accumulate around muscles.

In this video, you can watch a sports massage on a client’s neck:

Elite athletes usually receive massages immediately before and after events. Prior to competing, massage treatments are given to loosen muscles and tissue. After an event, sports massage is used to reduce tension and enhance lymphatic flow. Finally, massage also has a positive psychological effect. It reduces stress and can increase confidence.

How sports massage can help treat common injuries and health conditions

Sports common injuries

1. Tendonitis

Your tendons connect your bones and muscles. If you overuse them – for example, via repetitive movement – they can become injured. In most cases, resting the area resolves the issue.

However, if you continue to use inflamed tendons surrounding a joint, you may develop chronic tendonitis. In some cases, the resulting scar tissue and chronic inflammation can cause joints to seize up. Sports massage can help break up scar tissue and improve flexibility.

2. Back pain

Sports massage can ease muscle knots and tension in the back, reducing pain. It can also release muscle energy with a technique known as “assisted stretching.” This encourages the back muscles to unlock, thus reducing painful spasms.

3. Sciatica

Sciatica consists of pain, tingling, and other abnormal sensations that radiate from the lower back and into the legs. Sciatica is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica usually resolves itself within six weeks, but sports massage can relieve the symptoms. Massage triggers the release of endorphins, natural painkillers that reduce discomfort. In reducing muscle tension, it also lessens pressure on the sciatic nerve.

4. Shin splints

Shin splints is a term used to describe pain in the front of the lower limbs. It is usually caused by muscle overuse and is associated with DOMS. The tension in nearby muscles can also be a contributing factor. For example, shin splints in runners can be caused by tight calves or poor form.

Someone with shin splints will often have periostitis – an inflammation of the periosteum membrane covering the bones. An inflamed periosteum can pull away from the tibia, causing pain and soreness.

The nature of the intervention will depend on an athlete’s form, physiology, and the severity of the injury. For example, if the muscles are tight, a therapist will try to loosen them. If an athlete has weak foot arch muscles which contribute to poor form, the therapist will try to strengthen them.

5. Headaches

Sports massage can reduce tension headaches and migraines. Trigger point massage on the head, neck, and shoulders can also improve posture, which also alleviates pain. Massage promotes good sleep and general wellbeing.

Pain and discomfort after a massage

It’s normal to experience tenderness and soreness the first couple days after a massage. It’s actually a good sign that suggests the massage has made a difference. You should wait at least 24 hours before resuming your normal workout routine.

How sports massage can help prevent injuries

Sports massage isn’t just for the treatment of injuries. It can also prevent them by keeping muscle tissue relaxed and healthy. Some athletes regard ongoing sports massage as a key component of their training and wellness program. These are sometimes known as “maintenance massages.”

Athletes – whether amateur or professional – who do a lot of strenuous exercises typically have shortened, tense muscles. In this state, their muscles are more prone to injury. Regular massage maintains flexibility and strength. However, sports massage is not a substitute for pre and post-workout stretching.

A sports massage therapist can identify minor problems before they become full-blown injuries. For example, tight quads can leave a runner vulnerable to knee injury because they can cause the knee muscles to become inflamed. Chronic tension in the hamstrings can trigger pain in the back.

How sports massage complements other therapies

Sports massage can be used alongside physiotherapy and other forms of massage. Massage therapist Leslie Goldblatt Denunzio advises that amateur athletes need to understand the differences between various types of massage.

For example, hot stone massages are relaxing but compared with sports massage do not help release muscle tension. Only sports massage and myofascial release massage offer significant benefits in terms of flexibility and athletic performance.

Sports massage isn’t designed to be relaxing, but it should not cause you much pain. If your therapist is working on trigger points, some discomfort might be inevitable. However, it definitely should not be excruciating.

Sports massage can accompany structured physical therapy or physiotherapy to treat a chronic injury. It can also be given alongside treatment for an acute injury, such as the PRICE protocol. PRICE stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Massage and physical therapists recommend it for the first 24-72 hours following injury.

Finally, it can also be used with complementary treatments such as aromatherapy. For example, if an athlete is nervous about an upcoming event, an aromatherapy treatment with lavender oil may calm them.

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Sports massage and diagnosis

A massage therapist is not a medical doctor. If you suspect that you have a serious injury or a medical condition, make an appointment with your physician. They can advise you whether a sports massage is appropriate. If you have a chronic or severe injury, you may require physiotherapy.

Your therapist will ask for a medical history at your first appointment. Be honest with them; your diagnoses can help them tailor the treatment to suit your needs. In some cases, they might request that you get medical clearance from your doctor. Make sure your therapist has the experience and qualifications necessary to deliver a suitable massage.

So, if muscle soreness and tension is holding you back or injury is getting in your way, why not try a massage? There’s a good reason why lots of athletes swear by it as a regular treatment. It’s a safe, drug-free intervention with few side-effects. Give it a go!


Carmen is an entrepreneur and content marketer. In a former life, as a corporate business executive, she relied on yoga, reflexology and other alternative practices to fight stress, anxiety and find balance. She’s on a mission to build healthy habits for a balanced, healthy life, connecting body, mind and spirit.