What is Sports Massage? Everything you need to know about Sports Massage

Since its inception, massage has mostly been centred around relaxation. The concept of usage of natural oils for their healing properties has been around for thousands of years. The huge architectural remains of the sauna rooms in Pompeii to the paintings of the Renaissance, it can be found everywhere. Fast forward to today's world, the demand for massage has increased exponentially. However, relaxation is not the only goal. Today, people want a massage session for its health benefits, to alleviate mental stress, tension. But another crucial dimension of massage is its connection with sports.

In today's world of sports, the level of competitiveness has increased drastically, all thanks to Science. From the fastest man on earth running a 100 metres in 9.58 seconds to people participating in triathlons, sports today is demanding, gruelling and extremely injury prone. That marked the concept of Sports Massage.

Today, sportspersons all over the world rely on sports massage for their physical woes.

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A sports massage is a form of massage therapy that believes in a holistic approach to providing bodywork for athletes. From preventing injuries to preparing the body for some rigorous athletic activity to maintaining the body in its optimal condition that guarantees performance- sports massage has gained widespread popularity all over the world.

Generally, there are 3 forms of Sports Massage- Pre-Event Sports Massage, Post-Event Sports Massage and Maintenance Sports Massage.

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The modern sports massage that we see today is a result of years of evolution as a brainchild of scientific research. The earliest forms of Sports Massage could be found in the Greek and Roman Civilization. Sculptures, Paintings during the "Ancient Olympic" Era prove that the application of hands-on feet on the body of the recipient to soothe the muscles has been there for ages. There are proofs of many forms of sports massage in various Asian cultures too. They were particularly centred around dancers and practitioners of Martial Arts.

The inception of modern-day Sports Massage can be traced to the 1960s when the Soviet Union and other Communist bloc countries prepared their athletes for International events. The Soviet teams would have therapists that would travel with the sportspersons and work with them on a regular basis. After social and cultural exchanges during international events, the concept grew in Europe and the United States. As it evolved, the massage has now become part of the training regimen of athletes. The American Massage Therapy Association recognizes sports massage as a speciality.

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What to wear:

There is no particular dress code for a sports massage. It depends on many factors like the comfort of the client, the type of sports massage, the specific body part that needs to be targeted. Sports massages like cupping require the athletes to be in their underwear. Other types of massages require them to lie down wearing towels.

What to expect:

Before someone goes for a sports massage session, it is advised to have some degree of understanding as to what to expect. Different types of sports massages use different techniques and the progression is never the same. If an athlete suffers from soreness or any injury, then a lot of emphases is given on the specific injured body part.

Effleurage is a technique that is commonly used in a sports massage session. It involves light stroking using thumbs or palms. The therapist varies the speed and the pressure, deepening on the muscle group and the desired result. It is generally used as a warm-up before preparing the body for an intense massage session. It is supposed to enhance blood flow throughout the body.

Petrissage is another technique that is often followed right after Effleurage. This involves the use of both hands to perform a kneading like motion where the hands pick up the muscle and then compress it. The objective of this technique is to loosen up the muscles and tone them.

Some advanced techniques like deep cross-fibre friction are used to isolate the muscle fibres and break down the scar tissue to relieve muscle tension.

The therapist generally combines the techniques for maximum efficiency. A sports massage generally lasts for 60-90 minutes.

The application of oil depends on the type of sports massage the client is getting.

A pre-event sports massage is generally given 1-2 hours before an athlete is performing an event. The main objective of the massage is to warm up the muscles for the event. Petrissage is often used to ensure that the muscles move freely and reduce muscle tension. Effleurage can also be combined to enhance the relaxation of the muscles. The muscle groups that are targeted varies from sport to sport.

A post-event Sports Massage is generally given 1-2 hours after the completion of a sports event. These massages are often very gentle, to prevent any damage to the muscle fibres that are already stressed. Toxic chemicals like lactic acid are removed from the body to prevent pain and soreness. Gentle Effleurage is often used to flush out the toxins and ease the muscles.

A maintenance massage can also be provided to athletes. This ensures that the athlete stays in their peak form. This may be weekly or monthly.

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Cupping therapy is a sports massage therapy that originated during the time of Egyptian Chinese Civilizations and has gained widespread acclaim. It involves warming and placing cups, usually made of glass, silicone or bamboo on various parts of the body. When the warm cups are placed, a vacuum is created. When it is placed, the skin gets sucked into the cup. This enhances the flow of blood, loosens the connective tissues, and stimulates the nerves.

There are many forms of cupping. Sliding cups were traditionally used to glide over the surface of the skin.

Cupping can also be dry or wet. The therapist uses inflammable substances like alcohol, herbs to set the cup on fire and then places in on the body.

Wet cupping combines cupping with acupuncture and focuses on the suction by leaving the cup in place for about 3 minutes. A therapist then uses some sharp object like a scalpel to draw cuts on the skin. The blood with toxins is allowed to escape through the cuts.

A more modern form of cupping is the "needle cupping" where the therapist uses acupuncture needles and covers them with the cups.

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The primary goal of any sports massage is to preserve the balance of the body to ensure that the athletes are performing at their peak. This can be done in various ways.

First and foremost, the massage targets specific muscle groups where the athlete might be having some pain or stiffness. The combination of strokes ensures that the blood flow reaches deep into the tissues of those specific areas to help the body recover.

It also works for muscles that have been under strain for a long time. This is generally the case with many gym-goers. Heavyweight training results in a muscle taking excessive strain and hence becomes prone to a long term injury. A well-performed sports massage ensures that the fluids reach the area and soothes the strain.

Athletes also have a tough time battling soreness. After days of training, there is often deposition of lactic acid in the body that causes soreness and fatigue. This affects the performance drastically. A sports massage takes care of the same.

Athletes also face muscle strain. This can happen due to some accident during practice or any sustained cramp. The sports massage specifically targets the spot and supplies much needed oxygen to help soothe the spot.

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There are various categories of sports massages with different benefits. They target different muscles and the principles behind it are completely different. While there are many cheaper options, cupping and other sports massages can be heavy on the pocket. In Chennai, the cost of sports massage ranges from 2000-5000 INR.

Things to keep in mind:

While a sports massage has many benefits to offer, a client should keep in mind.

Firstly, there are many varieties of sports massage. Some are exotic while others are backed by science. Before a client chooses some massage with a fancy name, they should keep in mind what the massage offers. That's the crucial first step.

Scheduling the massage is absolutely essential. It is better to consult a coach to know the perfect time for a massage, especially before a big event. Experimentation with massages right before an event can prove to be dangerous. It is advised to have the massage session at least one week before the event.

Research has shown that sports massage helps in muscle regeneration. A post-event massage aims to unclog the overused muscles and reduce lactic acid content and soreness. One should keep in mind that the post-event massage should always be gentle, otherwise muscles can be stressed leading to injuries.

Booking an appointment with the therapist beforehand is always a good option to have. It gives the therapist some time to understand your goals, your problems and tailor the massage according to that.

Athletes are often asked to be well-hydrated. Dehydration may result in pain during massage which is not optimal if you are looking to peak your performance.

Athletes are also advised to have a light meal before the massage. A heavy meal can result in some discomfort when you are lying down on your belly.

The athlete should expect a vigorous massage session. A sports massage is not aimed at providing relaxation- like the spa sessions. The aim is to target muscles and reduce pain and soreness.

If you have a serious injury, it is always advisable to consult a doctor before the massage. The therapist may not always specialise fully about the injury you are suffering from.

It is also advised that the client should rest after a sport massage session. The muscles take time to recover from the massage. A workout right after the massage is generally not advisable.

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Common injuries that can be fixed by sports massage:

When it comes to cricket, ankle sprains, lower back pain, rotator cuff injuries are extremely common. A sports massage ensures that the strokes reach the right spot and provide the muscle tissues with oxygen rich blood that helps it recover.

For a footballer, hamstring injuries, thigh injuries, calf muscle injuries are extremely common. Fatigue is also a common issue since football is a lactic acid secreting sport. A sports massage provides the perfect solution for all of these.

In case of badminton, an ankle sprain, Thrower's shoulder, Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome are extremely common. After consulting with a doctor, a sports massage session helps to fasten the recovery process.

No matter what sport you are in, the different varieties of sports massage offers a solution to ensure that your body stays in the best condition before an event, after an event or even during practise.