Massage has been used as a therapy for many years. There is evidence that it was used 3000 years ago in China, India and Greece. Per Hendrik Ling (1776-1839), developed Swedish massage in the Western world. His work became the foundation for sports massage. The therapy has been widely used in the UK since the 1990s. Sports massage involves the manipulation of soft tissue, with the aim being to promote mobility and movement, to release tension and to reduce pain and discomfort. It can be used as a preventative treatment to help maintain healthy muscles and connective tissue, as well as helping with mobility, posture and balance. Sports massage may also be necessary if you have been injured. The therapist would talk to you about how it was sustained in order to establish the root cause. As well as for serious sportsmen and women, sports massage can be helpful for people engaged in other activities such as gardening, DIY, casual exercise and housework. The deep and concentrated treatment is able to reduce or remove knots in the muscles.
Photo of a sports massage therapist treating patient
There are many benefits to be gained from a programme of sports massage. If you exercise or train regularly, your muscles can tighten. A therapist can massage the muscle fibres to ensure they do not stick to each other or the bones. As you train, muscles build up and can become hard. This makes it difficult for blood and nutrients to get in. Massage encourages the circulation, and enables the nutrients to enter the muscles. This process would also encourage healing and repair when an injury is present. As well as allowing nutrients in, massage also allows waste products such as lactic acid to be excreted more easily. As the muscles are loosened, there will be a decrease in pain. Endorphin (natural painkillers made by the body) release will also help this. When muscles are tense and hard, stress can be put upon joints, ligaments and tendons. By tending to the muscles, the load is reduced upon the supporting structures. Massage has a relaxing effect which will help to reduce any stress or anxiety being felt, and lighten the mood.
Diagram of musculature of the body
DOMS, or ‘delayed onset muscle soreness,’ is a common phenomenon experienced by individuals who exercise. It occurs a day or so after training, when the muscles start to ache. A sports massage encourages the circulatory systems of blood and lymph. This brings oxygen to the tissues and helps prevent muscles tiring. The overall effect of targeting specific stressed areas results in enhanced performance.
There are four basic techniques used during a sports massage:
Petrissage. This is derived from the French word ‘petrir’, meaning to knead. Muscles are squeezed then relaxed, using pressure or picking up the skin and muscle then releasing them. To perform a deep massage, the muscles are kneaded, squeezed, shaken, wrung and rolled. The technique encourages the muscles to stretch, relax and become more flexible. As circulation of blood and lymph increases, nutrients are encouraged in and toxins taken out.
Tapotement. This term covers several techniques, such as cupping and hacking, which encourage relaxation. Hacking involves using the edge of the hand to hit the skin surface. It stimulates the skin and muscles and warms them up. Cupping involves cupped hands being applied to the skin. The air trapped in the ‘cup’ is compressed and is felt in the muscle. When the hand is released, a vacuum is created which stimulates the top layers of the muscle.
Friction. Friction involves the pads of the fingers and thumbs being applied across muscle fibres in a back and forth motion with the aim of disrupting then realigning them. The aim is to break down any adhesions, break down scar tissue and realign it, increase the flexibility in the muscles and to stimulate blood flow to encourage healing.
Effleurage. The term is derived from the French word ‘effleurer,’ meaning to skim. Stroking movements are used over the skin surface using the hands. It is a technique used to warm up the muscles at the beginning of a massage, and at the end, as well as being incorporated into the massage itself. The movements are smooth, rhythmical and relaxed. Different speeds may be adopted. Movement is built up then slowed down, in order to encourage the stretching of tissues and increased circulation. The technique encourages relaxation, and is used to explore and discover potential problems such as knots in the muscles. As with all massage techniques, it encourages the circulatory system and stimulates the peripheral nerves.
In your first visit to a massage therapist, your medical history would be examined and if you have suffered an injury, how it occurred. You would discuss your goals for therapy, and would be examined. This would include a posture assessment, and an active and passive examination. The therapist would formulate a plan of treatment, using soft tissue techniques. You need to think about what you hope to achieve from therapy, how you feel during treatment, and whether you feel progress is being made. The therapist will be keen to hear your feedback, in order that the therapy plan may be altered according to your needs.
Therapist and client talking
Massage therapy has been shown to be of help for sufferers of anxiety and depression as a result of the effect on body chemistry. It provides a positive benefit physiologically1, and enhances lasting pain relief from “mechanical promotion of circulation, the breakdown of adhesions and from improved sleep” (Psychological Bulletin). Sports massage has been shown to be effective at reducing delayed onset muscle soreness when administered 2 hours after termination of eccentric exercise2.
- Hemmings, B et al ‘Effects of Massage on Physiological Restoration, Perceived Recovery and Repeated Sports Performance.’ Br. J. Sports Med. 2000 Vol 34 p109-114.
- Smith, LL et al ‘The Effect of Athletic Massage on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, Kinase and Neutrophil Count: A Preliminary Report’. J of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy Vol 19 (2).