What is a Sports Massage?

What is a sports massage? Something i`ve noticed in my work as a therapist is a lack of clarity about Sports massage and Deep Tissue with people thinking they are the same thing and using the terms interchangeably. While there is definite overlap and similar techniques, they are also two seperate modalities with different benefits and outcomes. I`ve written a little piece to clarify (hopefully!) and answer some common questions… Here goes!


What does a Sports Massage involve?

A Sports massage is a type of massage commonly, but not exclusively, used by athletes or those with an active lifestyle. It usually has a particular aim and a very specific physical focus. It is often used to address specific injuries, a lot of the time Sports related but they can also be from overuse or basic daily activites. Sports massage can be used to help alleviate pain from injuries and it can help restore injured tissue back to normal. It can be used by athletes before sports events to warm up tissues and prevent injury and post event to cool down, carry waste products away from tissues and prevent excess muscle soreness. It is often used by athletes in between training sessions and events to reduce recovery time and increase efficiency as well as maintaing a good range of motion and muscle elasticity.


What is a Deep Tissue Massage?

A Deep Tissue Massage is a tyoe of massage that concentrates on deeper layers of muscle and fascia in the body than Swedish or Holistic massage. It uses deeper pressre than Swedish massage and aims to relieve tension build up and promote relaxation and wellbeing. It helps improve the overall quality of soft tissue and helps to “unstick” the muscle from fascia ( a thin protective sheath that surrounds and contains the muscle.) It can help improve posture where the postural imbalances are soft tissue based.


The difference between a Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage

While there are many similarities in Sports massage and Deep Tissue massage they are actually quite different. But just to confuse things I like to incorporate bits of both! Generally speaking though I think of Sports massage as having a specific physical and functional purpose. The consultation is usually a bit more in depth and can involve postural checks and special tests to isolate the injured muscle/tendon or joint. Think Achilles tendinopathy, rotator cuff injury, plantar fascitis, tennis elbow etc… Or an athlete looking to improve or recover from performance. But don`t rule out a Sports massage just because you`re not intensely active either, overuse and repititive strain are a common complaint with those seeking this massage. 

Deep tissue massage will address deep and chronic tension and resulting stiffness and soreness and also be more relaxing. 


Deep Tissue and Sports Massage techniques


There is definitely a lot of crossover here and I will use some techniques associated with Sports Massage during a Deep Tissue massage if needed and where appropriate. I don`t consider the techniques to be the thing that makes these massages what they are. Generally speaking though, a Deep Tissue massage will use deep, sustained pressure and longer, flowing strokes. Some of the techniques i use in both massages are: 

  • Myofascial release: releasing the connective tissue or fascia that surrounds the muscle which sometimes get stuck to the muscle.

  • Neuromuscular Technique: deep, sustained pressure on the source of pain or the problem area in the muscle, also known as trigger points. 

  • Deep stripping: deep and longitudinal pressure in the direction of the muscle fibre to release and elongate the muscle fibre.

  • Cross fibre frictions: horizontal deep movements across the muscle fibres which is good for breaking up scar tissue and strengthening the muscle or tenson

  • Muscle energy technique: a form of active stretching where the client contracts the muscle against resistance before stretching acheiving a greater range of motion.


Benefits of Sports Massage

There are lots of benefits to Sports massage and they will be different depending on what you are using the massage for. Injury prevention, rehabilitation, increased range of motion, decreased recovery time, increased muscle efficiency, pain relief and increase of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles while carrying away metabolic waste are the main benefits. In the case of injury, sports massage can be empowering for the client to feel active in their recovery and remain physcologically positive also. 


Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

Deep Tissue Massage is also extremely beneficial but the benefits are more general. It relieves tension and pain in the muscles and is often helpful in pain reduction for chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis (although care must be taken with pressure and the clients needs taken into consideration.) It is helpful for anxiety and depression and just boosting feelings of well being overall as feel good hormones serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are released while the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are decreased. It can help the nervous system and promote natural healing as the body is in a more relaxed state.

So there you go!

Hopefully that clears up some confusion, if you have any doubts about which is best for you, speak to a practioner you trust. They should be happy to suggest the best course of action. Till next time …