Wellness Information

Massage Therapy for an Athletic Edge

American College of Massage Therapy



All athletes look for an edge that can help them train more effectively, perform better or overcome injuries quickly. The last several decades have witnessed a dramatic rise in the level of athletic performance. Advances in training and conditioning techniques are allowing the human body to become a finely tuned machine. The limits of speed, endurance and strength are pushed every day and each year brings new world records.

The leap in performance can be attributed to any number of key factors:

- improved equipment;
- enhanced understanding of how nutrition fuels the body;
- enlightened attitudes about psychological aspects of competition;
- scientific advances in the study of body structure and function.

The growing awareness and inclusion of sports massage therapy has become a key component of the high performance mix — as much a part of an athlete’s training or quest for performance enhancement as a carefully monitored diet. Massage Therapists are an integral part of the new athletic regimen — from clinic to field, Massage Therapists are helping athletes work their way to even greater success.

Sports Massage Techniques

Each sport and athletic event uses muscle groups in a different way. Sports massage therapists are familiar with each muscle, the muscle groups and how they are affected by the specific movements and stresses of each sport. They also are trained in the appropriate uses of hydrotherapy and cryotherapy.

Sports massage therapy is often based on Swedish massage and frequently includes the use of one or more of the following techniques:

Deep Swedish Massage
Muscle-specific applications of the standard effleurage, petrissage, vibration, and tapotement techniques.
Compression Massage
Rhythmic compression into muscles used to create a deep hypremia and softening effect in the tissues. It is generally used as a warm-up for deeper, more specific massage work.
Cross-Fiber Massage
Friction techniques applied in a general manner to create a stretching and broadening effect in large muscle groups; or on site-specific muscle and connective tissue, deep transverse friction applied to reduce adhesions and to help create strong, flexible repair during the healing process.
Trigger Point/Tender Point Massage
Combined positioning and specific finger or thumb pressure into trigger/tender points in muscle and connective tissue, to reduce the hypersensitivity, muscle spasms and referred pain patterns that characterize the point. Left untreated, such trigger/tender points often lead to restricted and painful movement of entire body regions.
Lymphatic Massage
Stimulation of specialized lymphatic-drainage pathways, which improves the body’s removal of edemas and effusion.

Added Performance Edge: The Contributions of Sports Massage

Professional sports massage by a qualified Massage Therapist can provide an athlete with several performance advantages.

Regular sports massage can:

reduce the chance of injury, by relieving stress points in muscles, before they result in restrictions or spasm;
improve range of motion and muscle flexibility, resulting in improved power and performance;
shorten recovery time between workouts;
maximize the supply of nutrients and oxygen through increased blood flow;
facilitate the body’s regular processes for recovery from exercise;
decrease performance anxiety and sharpen mental focus.
Three areas of Sports Massage

Athletic trainers know that keeping an athlete in top physical form requires a regular prevention and maintenance program, as well as on-site treatment before and after an athletic event. And, when strains, sprains, bruises, or other major injuries occur, a variety of treatment modalities may be necessary to speed healing and reduce discomfort. Sports massage therapy can help certified athletic trainers in all of these areas.

Maintenance Massage - An effective maintenance program is based on the massage therapist’s understanding of anatomy and kinesiology, combined with an expert knowledge of which muscles are used in a given sport and which are likely candidates for trouble. By zeroing in on particular muscle groups and working specific tissues, the sports massage therapist helps the athlete maintain or improve range of motion and muscle flexibility. The overall objective of a maintenance program is to help the athlete reach optimal performance through injury-free training.

Event Massage - Pre- and post-event massage therapy are tailored for distinct purposes. Pre-event massage is used as a supplement to an athlete’s warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance. Post-event massage, on the other hand, is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Various sports massage techniques enhance the body’s own recovery process, improving the athlete’s return to high-level training and competition, and reducing the risk of injury.

Rehabilitation Massage - Even with maintenance massage, muscles may cramp, tear, bruise, and ache. Sports massage can speed healing and reduce discomfort during the rehabilitation process. Soft tissue techniques employed by sports massage therapists are effective in the management of both acute and chronic injuries. For example, adding lymphatic massage to the “standard care” procedure in the acute stage of injury will improve control of secondary, edema formation and enhance lymphatic uptake of fluid throughout the healing cycle. Trigger point techniques reduce the spasms and pain that occur, both in the injured and “compensation” muscles. Cross-fiber friction techniques applied during the subacute and maturation phases of healing improve the formation of strong and flexible repair tissue, which is vital in maintaining full pain-free range of motion during rehabilitation.

In all cases, such massage techniques are employed in collaboration with other appropriate medical care. For example, encouraging circulation around a bruise, but not directly on it, through the use of compression, cross-fiber techniques or even long, deep strokes is only used after appropriate medical referral and diagnostics indicate that there are no clots formed in the area which may embolize.