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What is Sports Massage: Overview, Benefits, and Expected Results

Definition & Overview

Sports massage is a form of treatment specifically designed for soft tissues injuries. It is commonly performed on athletes by certified sports massage is a popular technique of applying different types of pressure on the body. Though generally applied using the hands, other body parts, such as the elbows, forearms, knees, and even feet, can also be used. In the same way, a massage device can also be employed to effectively apply the needed pressure. The overall goal of massage is to provide relaxation and well-being.

Sports massage is one of the numerous types of massages designed specifically to treat musculoskeletal injuries and pain. It is also known as manual therapy since it involves the manual application of pressure to knead the affected muscles. To some degree, it also involves manipulation and mobilisation of joints. Aside from treatment, this type of massage also helps prevent injuries, enhance the performance of muscles, and boost overall athletic performance.

Sports massage can be classified based on when it is performed. There is a pre-event sports massage done within an hour before a game or activity that is usually followed by an inter-event massage for those who need to rest in between games. A post-event massage, on the other hand, is done when the athlete cools down while a restorative sports massage is performed during rest days.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Different types of athletes can benefit from a sports massage. For example, runners suffering from a tender knee can try to strengthen the tendons and muscles in the affected area with a sports massage. This type of massage can also help the athlete correct any movement that can potentially cause injury or limit full function.

Sports massage is not only applicable for those actively engaged in sports. Athletes recovering from an injury can also try this type of massage to improve their chances of getting back into shape and restoring optimal performance. This is one reason why massage is an important aspect of any physical rehabilitation program.

People who are not athletes can also take advantage of some type of sports massage. In some cases, chronic pain can be alleviated and addressed by techniques employed by manual therapy. The same principle applies to those suffering from restricted range of motion.

However, it is important to note that not all people who suffer from sports-related injuries and pain can take advantage of this treatment. Contraindications for sports massage include the presence of open wounds, blood clot, ruptured muscle or tendon, burns, and broken bones. An experienced therapist can typically advise on when a sports massage is beneficial or not.

In most cases, people who underwent sports massage achieve immediate pain relief and enhanced mobility following several sessions. Applying this type of massage after every sports event or game also helps reduce soreness in the muscles. Sports injury patients may find that the recovery time is improved when their rehabilitation programs also include sports massage sessions. Patients also report several psychological benefits following massage, such as feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

How is the Procedure Performed?

There are several techniques used in sports massage therapy, these include:

  • Effleurage technique, which uses different stroking movement with the hand gliding over the surface of the skin. The stroking is done in a rhythmical manner to increase circulation and stretch tight tissues.

  • Petrissage technique, which involves kneading movements. The muscles are essentially grasped and squeezed to stretch their fibres and aid in the exchange of tissue fluids. This also helps relax the muscles and increase mobility. Using the pads of fingers and the thumbs, the therapist applies the friction technique to separate adhesion and realign muscles fibres. This is done over isolated areas and applies considerable pressure designed to break down scar tissues and bring back its elasticity. This technique can also stimulate blood flow and enhance the healing process.

  • Tapotement technique, which is typically done to prepare the muscles for physical activity and uses hacking and cupping motions. The therapist uses both hands to strike the skin and make characteristic sounds. These motions are meant to stimulate blood flow away from the deep tissue and may be used sparingly, according to the need of individual athletes.

Possible Risks and Complications

Common complaints following sports massage include bruising and tenderness in the affected areas. This is usually alleviated with hot baths and intake of painkillers.

There are also rare instances in which blood clots may be released into the blood stream following a massage, especially if it involves deep tissues. This can lead to stroke, embolism, and heart attack.


  • 1895: "The art of massage" By J.H. Kellogg MD (page 9). 2002: "The History of Massage" By Robert Noah Calvert (page 35). 2003: "Careers in Alternative Medicine" By Alan Steinfeld (page 48).

  • Ottosson, A (2010). "The first historical movements of kinesiology: scientification in the borderline between physical culture and medicine around 1850."