Sports massage and soft tissue therapy have become a vital part of the preparation and recovery process for both elite and sub-elite athletes and the non athletes who have experienced the incredible benefits of effective hands on therapeutic massage and treatment. In this article we will explore the benefits of Sports Massage and Soft Tissue Therapy.
Soft tissue therapists, masseurs, licensed massage therapists or specialised sports massage therapists have become a vital part of the backroom staff in sports clubs and the support staff for athletes.
Amongst other things these professionals deliver pre event massage, release tension, reduce pain, deliver trigger pointing, aid the healing process and generally work to relieve muscle tightness and aching muscles for virtually every top athlete in the world of performance in and around their chosen sporting event!
What is a sports massage?
A sports massage is a highly specialised form of therapeutic massage which combines the benefits of deep tissue massage with targeted and specifically tailored soft tissue and joint mobilisation techniques. Massage therapists skilled in sports massage are uniquely qualified and experienced manual therapists with a special interest and expertise in releasing soft tissues including muscle, tendon and ligamentous structures indeed any of the connective tissues which make up such a significant part of the musculoskeletal system .
To truly appreciate the benefits of sports massage is to experience one!
What can a sports massage help with?
It is important to state that a sports massage isn’t just for people who are competing in or playing sport. Although associated with sports due to the prevalence of tight muscles, muscle spasms, muscle tension and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) when training for and competing in sport the fact is anybody can and will benefit from appropriate soft tissue therapy delivered by a qualified massage therapist or ideally by an experienced sports massage therapist.
Soft tissue and massage therapy
In recognition of the fact that sports massage is indeed more than a therapeutic massage reserved just for those that compete in sport, there has been a movement towards changing the name towards soft tissue therapy and massage therapy rather than “sports massage” ultimately however the experience for the individual would be the same.
Soft tissue therapy which includes a sports massage as part of the treatment could include other modalities aimed at maximising the treatment. The additional treatment techniques may include joint mobilisation, trigger points release with acupuncture needles or specific pressure point release with therapy guns, cupping techniques or tools.
Sports massage techniques are constantly evolving; an expert sports massage therapist will be both qualified and experienced in the latest sports massage techniques and be able to determine the most effective sports massage technique depending on the clinical presentation.
Physiological benefits of sports massage
A good sports massage combines both physical and psychological benefits but what is actually happening physiologically when a sports massage is delivered to the soft tissues.
Increasing blood circulation
Maximising blood flow to aid the tissue healing process
Lactic acid mobilisation via flushing procedure
Muscle tissue mobilisation
Increased muscle flexibility
Nervous system regulation (de-sensitise)
Scar tissue mobilisation
In truth the list could go on but what is clear is that the benefits of sport massage don’t end with physiological effects, there are lots of psychological ones too, in essence you should get off the bed feeling much better than when you got on!
Sports injury and sports massage
Effective rehabilitation following sports injury is a complex process underpinned by clinical assessment, accurate diagnosis and prognosis aligned with a gradual reloading of injured tissues. We wrote about it previously here.
Sports massage can be a hugely important part of injury rehabilitation following sports injury when it is delivered as part of a co-ordinated MDT approach to recovery. Working alongside physiotherapists and sports doctors allows the sports massage therapist to deliver targeted techniques to support the rehabilitation and recovery process.
Injury Prevention and Sports Massage
Can a sports massage prevent injury? Probably not, but it can certainly reduce the risk of injury and impact the severity of injury. In truth most sports injuries occur in response to loading issues. Just started running again and have sore achilles tendons? First game of football for a few months and the groins are sore? Gardening all weekend and now have back stiffness and muscle tightness?
All of those above issues are clearly due to what you have subjected the body to and to truly prevent injuries would be through a combination of appropriate loading (eg monitoring mileage of the running), strength training to increase the robustness of the muscles and mobility training and stretching to prepare the body and soft tissues for the positions you want to get them into.
Sports massage will be hugely important in the use of specific mobilisation techniques to further aid the capability of the tissues to withstand either acute or chronic changes in load. Whilst ultimately it is those unexpected increases in load (eg hitting that first football for the first time in a few months or getting out in the garden in spring time), we can certainly be better prepared to cope with the spikes in load and can aid recovery with sports massage therapy.
Can we prevent future injury with sports massage? Yes, but only as part of collective approach to load management and guidance on injury mitigation alongside targeted deep tissue massage.
What makes a good sports massage therapist?
Good sports massage therapists are hard to come by, firstly it is important that the therapist works within the scope of their practice, be wary of therapists who claim to be able to cure all injuries with their hands and make sure they are a licensed massage therapist!
Depending on the particular sport you are working in will determine the required specific skills of the therapist. Some therapists will be particularly specialised in upper or lower limb muscle groups, it is natural for example that those who work in football will be particularly skilled in lower back and lower limb treatments whilst those in Rugby will be more specialised in the neck, shoulders and upper limbs.
The massage therapist will work on releasing muscular tension and restoring muscle balance, they will support athletic performance through the identification of tight muscles and joints. Effective treatment will relieve pain by reducing the body’s pain signals via the pain gate theory, it will increase blood circulation and can even reduce chronic pain conditions (temporarily) and the impact of chronic injuries on athletic performance for both professional athletes, amateur athletes and the weekend warriors who want to maintain an active lifestyle!
The techniques used in sports massage vary slightly but the ability to deliver deep tissue massage, target specific muscle fibres, increase blood flow and tailor the treatment to the demands of the specific sport bring sports massage benefits to all!
Sports massage and marathon training
A sports massage is an excellent way to keep you feeling good during the training and preparation phase for a marathon. Massage therapy can also be used during the countdown for the big day so you arrive to the event feeling as good as possible.
Once the marathon is over, a sports massage is the perfect way to relieve those tired, tight muscles and achey joints and get you back feeling good and training for the next one as soon as possible.
Book your sports massage for the day after the event to maximise its effectiveness and combine it with nutritional and cold therapy recovery strategies. In the build up make sure you follow training guidelines and use sports massage to help you stick to it by preventing aches and pains from knocking you off course as the miles build!
Sports massage at R4P
We offer Soft Tissue Therapy and Sports massage treatments here at R4P. Our sports massage therapy service compliments our other specialists, can be booked in isolation or as part of a series of treatments.
A massage at R4P is guaranteed to make you feel good whilst supporting your rehab or performance journey.
What more could you ask for?