What you need to know before getting a sports massage

Using massage therapy to safely treat and prevent sports-related injuries

Whether you play sports professionally or leisurely, you probably know how it feels to push your body to its absolute limit. If you spend enough time on the field, in the gym, or on the ice, chances are you’ll come across an injury or two.

Although being an athlete comes with certain occupational hazards, sports massage could be just the thing to help you manage these issues. Sports massage is a useful tool to address those aches, pains, and strains that keep you from performing at your best.

There are a number of injuries that can be treated with sports massage, including but not limited to:

  • Tennis Elbow
  • Swimmer’s Shoulder
  • Ankle sprains
  • Shin splints
  • Knee injuries
  • Pulled, torn, or strained muscles
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Tendon and ligament sprains
  • Torn rotator cuff

Read More: 8 reasons why you need massage therapy

What is a sports massage, and how does it work?

A sports massage is performed by a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT). Similar to a deep tissue massage, a sports massage combines deep, sustained pressure and fast strokes to encourage muscle release. Your massage therapist may supplement your treatment with other techniques like compression, pressure point therapy, and joint mobilization.

Sports massage has a wealth of physical health benefits, depending on the problem you’re experiencing and what you want out of the treatment.

These include:

  • Pain reduction
  • Better focus
  • Relaxation
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved athletic performance

The key difference between a sports massage and a deep tissue massage is that a sports massage targets specific groups of muscles that an athlete uses according to their sport. Not only does sports massage help your injuries heal faster, but it also increases blood flow around your soft tissues and improves your range of motion, decreasing your risk of future injuries and helping you perform better on game day.

This is why it’s important to see a licensed massage therapist in your area who specializes in treating sports injuries. They will work with you on a treatment plan based on your physical and biomechanical needs as an athlete. Some RMTs receive specialized training beyond general sports massage – for example, a frequent runner may want to see a massage therapist with specialized training in orthopedic treatment and assessment. When booking your appointment, don’t be afraid to ask about their background and experience with your type of sports injury.

What to expect

When you arrive for your appointment, the most important thing is to make sure you’re well hydrated. Dehydration causes stiff muscles, which can result in a more painful massage. You should also avoid overeating before your appointment. Massage naturally slows down your digestive system, which could cause unnecessary discomfort on the table. Keep your pre-massage snack light and save that hearty meal for after your appointment.

When it comes time to hop up on the table, remind yourself that a sports massage is different from a relaxation massage. There may be some discomfort. Your massage therapist will likely have you interacting physically and moving around during your session. Remember to communicate and let them know if the discomfort is becoming too severe.

After your session, your RMT will most likely teach you techniques and exercises to perform at home on your own time. This is the best way to maintain the progress you’ve made during your appointment. Neglecting to keep up with your “homework” could cause your injury to flare up again, and you’ll be back at square one.

Soreness after a sports massage is completely normal and will ease up after around 48 hours. Take it easy for the first little while following your appointment. If a week goes by and you’re still feeling sore or tight, that could point to an area of weakness that needs more attention. In that case, it might be time to discuss the issue with your massage therapist.

Restorative vs. rehabilitative sports massage

When booking your appointment, it’s important to be specific about what type of treatment you’re looking for. Restorative sports massage is preventative and performed on a regular basis during training. It focuses on loosening specific muscle groups that are used most often, allowing you to train harder with less risk of injury. It also focuses on techniques that will improve circulation and range of motion. Rehabilitative sports massage, on the other hand, is only used after sustaining an injury. The main focus is to alleviate pain and get your body back in top shape.

When should I get a sports massage and how often?

How frequently you see your RMT is completely dependent on you as an individual. While some athletes use massage therapy strictly to rehabilitate injuries, some choose to go more frequently on a preventative basis. If you are prone to discomfort or sore muscles, this may be the route for you. Your massage therapist will get to know you and your body and will then design a treatment plan accordingly.

Don’t wait until you’re in unbearable pain

Don’t confuse your RMT with your physician. Sports massages are not designed for diagnosing problems. Massage is a preventative treatment and a recovery tool, but some injuries – like broken bones – are not effectively treated with massage therapy.

If you are in a lot of pain and your injury has not been diagnosed, a doctor’s assessment may help you decide whether massage therapy is the best way of managing your problem. Likewise, if you are still experiencing serious pain in the days and weeks following your sports massage, you may want to consider consulting a doctor instead. Most times, your RMT will be happy to point you in the right direction if they feel a different treatment route is necessary.

Don’t get a sports massage immediately before a big game or race

Those who are familiar with massage can benefit from a quick visit to their massage therapist in the days and weeks leading up to a big event, but it’s not a good idea to go for a sports massage immediately before the big day. If this is your first time experimenting with massage therapy, give your body extra time to recover before putting strain on it again. Generally, 48 hours is a safe window to wait, as any post-massage soreness should have cleared up by then.

The takeaway

For many athletes, sports massage therapy is a safe and effective way to treat injuries and prevent them from happening in the future. Consider incorporating massage to your training regimen and be open with your RMT about your problems and goals. Massage is no longer just a luxury – it can be a worthwhile investment into your own health and future.

Morgan Asquini, Registered Massage Therapist

Morgan Asquini is a registered massage therapist and a certified lymphedema therapist. She takes pride in ensuring that her clients are informed at every step of their treatment plans. Morgan also loves to educate people about what’s happening with their impairments, and the benefits of treatments.

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