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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