The Road to Sports Massage: A Recovery Journey is about the various benefits and styles of sports massage and my own recent study of the therapy.
Since I was young, I’ve had an interest in massage. Perhaps a little due to some skin sensitivities, and being a generally impressionable kid, I remember it was always on my radar as something I’d like to learn more about and maybe even practice one day.
As I got older and pursued other interests, I never found the time to study it, but I continued to feel some affinity for the therapy. Being prone to a little anxiety and stress, I made it a personal goal to try some professional treatments.
Through work, travel, and the people I’ve met, I’ve experienced several styles of massage, including Swedish, Thai, therapeutic, and sports. I found them all to be incredible, each with unique benefits.
Swedish helped to relieve aches from head-to-toe, particularly after long periods of standing in my early marketing career. Thai helped with re-alignment through the remarkable range of techniques and pressures applied. Gentle, therapeutic massage has significantly eased sciatic nerve pain in my leg, and sports massage has aided rehabilitation from weightlifting strains.
I’ve naturally drawn increasingly towards massage in recent years after multiple bouts of chronic pain, some positive encounters with alternative therapies, and a growing interest in the advantages of regular stretching and yoga. It’s now one of my go-to methods for taking care of my wellness.
To gain a deeper understanding of the core principles of the ancient art, over the last year, I finally decided to enrol in courses including full-body relaxing massage, therapeutic massage, toning massage, and lymphatic drainage. The courses have been invaluable in terms of understanding etiquette and learning the range of movements and formations required to structure effective routines.
Sports massage is the style that has gripped me the most, as many of the physical problems and chronic pain I’ve experienced have stemmed from poor alignment, bad posture, and a lack of education in terms of fitness and weightlifting. Through studying in my spare time, I recently qualified as a sports massage practitioner with a Level 3 Diploma in Physiology and Anatomy of the Human Body.
Sports massage style
A sports massage involves the manipulation and stimulation of the body’s soft tissues and is widely employed by athletes, bodybuilders, and sportspeople. It aims to help resolve issues such as chronic pain, recurring injuries, and restricted ranges of motion. It can also help warm up or relax the body before and after exercise.
It’s become an essential component for athletes worldwide in the maintenance of their wellbeing. To sustain peak physical condition, they integrate frequent sports massages into their training and fitness regimens. Regular sports massages can help those who frequently exercise to release the tension and exhaustion that builds up in their muscles, as well as ease pain in their soft tissues.
The predominant movements utilised in a sports massage are effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, vibration, and myofascial release.
Effleurage uses smooth strokes along the length of the anatomy, and petrissage involves ‘kneading’ motions to activate dormant muscles and deep tissues. Tapotement consists of stimulating percussions and chopping movements, and vibration uses invigorating, shaking, and rocking actions.
Myofascial release is focused on feeling for muscular fascia tensions and identifying hardened collagen spots using the finger tips, then applying pressure and stretching to loosen them.
Sports massage falls into four sub-categories that are used in different stages of activity, with each employing varying combinations of the core movements.
Pre-Event sports massage aims to warm up and oxygenate the body in preparation for the adrenaline rush of high-intensity activity.
In addition to its physiological advantages, pre-event massage helps anyone involved in competitive sports to develop a positive, focused mind-set that enables them to perform at their peak. Pre-event sports massage often consists of a combination of the main techniques with a strong emphasis on tapotement to warm, motivate, and “wake” the muscles.
Post-event sports massage principles are similar to those of a “cool down” following exercise. A post-events massage is usually conducted within 12 hours following activity and primarily prevents excess adrenaline from causing symptoms such as spasms, shaking, breathlessness, and cold sweats.
Post-event aims to ease muscle tension, reduce soreness, and facilitate the body’s return to its normal state. Techniques such as petrissage and effleurage help to regulate the blood flow and reduce exhaustion. This type of massage can also help athletes with relaxation and improve the efficiency of their immune systems.
Restorative sports massage serves to resolve musculoskeletal complications and issues related to muscle pain, stiff joints, and restricted ranges of motion. The goals of this type of massage are to relieve muscle tension and preserve an athlete’s optimal condition.
Stretching is incorporated into the major movements, making the procedure similar to a Swedish-style massage. While restorative massages can be soothing, they can also be akin to “oiling a machine” in that they continuously stimulate blood flow and muscles, which helps the body become more resilient to high-intensity exercise.
Rehabilitative sports massage aims to alleviate strong pains related to injury and bring the body back to a competitive state. The style usually complements ongoing physiotherapy or long-term muscular problems and utilises a combination of common movements but with added myofascial release techniques.
In rehabilitative massage, the pressure used depends on the injury that has occurred, and a treatment is commonly planned in advanced consultation. Rehabilitative styles can also help with other health issues, including insomnia and migraines.
There are many physiological, physical, and psychological benefits to a well-crafted sports massage:
Blood circulation is increased which helps to expel toxins from the lymphatic system and increase the levels of oxygen distributed via the sympathetic system.
Tensions in nerves are relaxed so that energy can be released and muscle swelling, knots, and spasms reduced. Balance of the skeletal system and joints can be restored, range of motion improved, and skin tone and appearance enhanced.
Sports massage can relieve frustration and angst and help lower inhibitions. It also induces clarity, confidence, and focus. Furthermore, it can alleviate symptoms of serious mental conditions such as ADHD, depression, and PTSD by providing social interaction and release of energising hormones.
Sometimes, people can be dismissive of massage as an effective therapy, as, unfortunately, there are some seedy connotations associated with it. But a single-minded attitude can be reductive, as massage is science-backed and has provided pain relief for thousands of years. Sports massage itself can be traced back to the Greek and Roman Empires, when it was customary for gladiators before and after combat.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, busy, and loud, I believe it’s important to take time for ourselves, to switch off, and to reconnect with our bodies and inner selves. Many of us are so used to living in the fast lane that, even while exercising regularly, we can easily neglect the importance of mental recuperation and physical restoration.
For me, there is something naturalistic, healing, and comforting about massage. I also enjoy practicing and find giving a massage to be almost as therapeutic as receiving one. In addition to a planned and methodical approach, I’m a big believer in creating a nurturing ambience by using lighting, music, and scents to build a complete sensory experience.
I’m only getting started with sports massage and am keen to learn more. As I prepare to begin practicing, my main motivation is to use my ignited passion, new knowledge, and understanding from past experiences to help other people who have discomfort and chronic pain.
Have you tried a sports massage? Or would you like to try one? Let me know in the comments! For any questions or enquiries reach out at email@example.com or Instagram @mr_j_tee_
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All text ©J. Thomson, 2023