Sports massage is best thought of as a treatment strategy which incorporates massage and bodywork techniques for the goal of supporting the specific needs of anyone who regularly pushes their physical abilities through sports and exercise.
A massage practitioner will first take into consideration how the athlete’s body is used (or abused) in their particular sport and use that information to help create an individualized treatment strategy. The second consideration is timing as the goals of the massage will change depending on whether the massage is taking place before an event, after an event, or during a training/maintenance period.
Pre-event massage sessions are short and the intent is to aid the warm-up process. Light pressure massage strokes may be used with fast pacing to help stimulate the nervous system and increase blood flow. The athlete may also be assisted with an active/dynamic stretching routine after which he/she would begin their sport specific drills. Pre-event massage may also help give a psychological boost for the athlete as they prepare for competition.
Post-event massage is used to aid recovery following exertion, relax the body, and calm the mind. As a former recreational level triathlete, I can personally attest to how valuable massage at this stage can be. There are two ways in which you can take advantage of the benefits of post event massage.
1 – Get your mini massage session right at the event within 20-60 minutes of crossing the finish line. First give yourself some time to catch your breath, re-hydrate, and get post race nutrition. If you’re injured or feel “weird” after crossing the finish line go, immediately to the first aid/medical tent. It is typical these days to see massage offered at triathlons, 5k, 10k, half and full marathons. With the help of a well trained and experienced massage therapist, that 10-20 minute post-race massage and stretch treatment can really work wonders for your tired and achy body.
2 – If possible, get a full-length massage treatment later that day either in the late afternoon or early evening before you go to bed. A good massage will not only address your tired muscles but also calm the nervous system and mind and help produce a good nights sleep – absolutely essential for recovery.
Maintenance Massage Sessions
For those times between events or during regular training, massage can be used as a maintenance strategy. The general goal is prevention of injuries by maintaining flexibility, joint mobility, muscle pliability, and aiding recovery following strenuous training. Sports massage during the training/maintenance period is best utilized on a recurrent schedule.
In my practice, I offer sports massage for the post-event and training/maintenance periods. Clients who come into my office for sports massage push their physical limits, albeit at a recreational level, in sports activities such as running, triathlon, cycling, weight lifting. Many of the same clients also play a sport called “the office” where sitting all day in front of a computer can take it’s own unique toll on the body. So factors such as desk ergonomics, posture, repetitive actions, are taken into consideration as well.
When applied with the proper intent and goal oriented approach, sports massage treatment strategies can help you maintain or enhance your performance potential, prevent injuries, soothe tired and sore muscles from the demands of high volume and/or intensity of training, and support your general well-being.
Disclaimer: Massage therapy works great as a prevention strategy and can remedy many aches, pains, and stresses. However, it is no panacea and not an alternative for medical care when needed.