Sports Massage – An Introduction

Sports Massage – An Introduction

Copyright 2005 Richard Lane

Many therapists offer Sports Massage on their “Massage

Menu” yet few understand what Sports Massage is about.

When a client comes in requesting a Sports Massage, some

therapists merely react by going in deep. Sports Massage

is so much more.

Whilst Sports Massage does have some aims in common with

other forms of massage therapy, the usual experience in

conventional massage is to aim to restore the normal

function when someone is injured. But in sport there is no

‘normal’ and athletes are always looking to improve and

gain a competitive edge. Most athletes aim to reach a

level of performance they can never achieve.

A Sports Massage therapist has great potential to assist

the athlete to become better, rather than merely normal.

In striving to be better, the athlete attempts to

systematically increase the level of training and thereby

subjecting the body to gradual and controlled overuse.

This overuse can often create imbalances and problems in

the soft tissues, which if ignored may become chronic.

Clearly this may hinder the athlete’s performance and/or

rate of improvement. Sports Massage can become a key

ingredient in an athlete’s success and this is why top

competitors incorporate it as an integral part of their

training regime.

So what is Sports Massage? McGillicuddy(1) defines Sports

Massage as “the specific application of massage techniques,

hydrotherapy protocols, range of motion/flexibility

protocol and strength-training principles utilized to

achieve a specific goal when treating athletes”. He

considers that there are three principles that are vital to

understanding what type of Sports Massage to apply to an

athlete at any given time. These principles are:

 Timing

 Technique and

 Intent

The timing of Sports Massage is related to when the massage

is applied, is it pre-event or post-event, during a

maintenance period or possibly post-injury when

rehabilitation is required. The technique refers to what

massage/stretching/strengthening methods the therapists

employs to attempt to achieve the intent, the desired


The intent of pre-event massage is to warm up the muscles

and to get blood flowing through the muscles. The massage

techniques generally used are petrissage, vibration,

percussion, compression, muscle broadening strokes, etc.

With post-event massage, the intent is assist in the

recovery process by increasing venous and lymphatic

circulation to assist with removal of metabolic by-products

and thereby decreasing muscle soreness so that the athlete

can return to full training faster. The massage techniques

would include effleurage, compression, petrissage, passive

movements and light stretching. The intent of maintenance

massage is to keep the athletes muscles and tissue in

optimum condition and is generally scheduled at a regular

frequency (be it weekly or fortnightly), closely married to

the athlete’s training program.

Thus Sports Massage is not about going deep nor it is

learning one technique. The requirement for the therapist

is to apply the appropriate treatment at the appropriate

time, which takes education, skill and experience.

(1) M. McGillicuddy. “Three Key Principles of Sports

Massage”. May 2003, Volume03 Issue 05.


Richard Lane is a qualified remedial and sports massage

therapist, with a mobile massage practice in Sydney’s Inner

West ( or Health fund rebates. ATMS


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