by Nick Lakoff, CMT
Throughout my career when people have asked me about sports massage I know that they usually mean they are looking for something vigorous and deep rather than what Sports Massage really is; a performance enhancing tool for the amateur, semi-pro and professional athlete. Long before steroids and blood doping made their way into sports, massage had been used to warm up, warm down and accelerate injury recovery. Although massage has been associated to sports as far back as ancient Greece, it’s only during the Olympics of the 20th century that we start seeing massage included regularly in the regiment of Athletes. Olympic trainers from many nations looking for any means to improve the performance of their athlete’s, quickly realize the benefits of massage before, during and after competition. It’s in the last 20 years that we have witnessed the evolution of a specific discipline, Sports Massage, focused on the specific needs of athletes. Today’s Olympic contingents often have a team of massage therapists that travel along with the athletes to the host city. They are considered an essential element to the success of the team’s mission and goals.
The two major differences between sports massage and other types of massage are the moment (before or after the activity) chosen to perform the massage and the specific demands of the sport in question. Every sport has particular stresses on certain muscle groups. For example, cycling will have more of a major impact on lower body muscle groups in the legs whereas swimming athletes use both upper and lower muscle groups. Pre and post event massages are typically short (no more than 20 minutes), rapid, vigorous, superficial. Since deep massages can rob an athlete of performance capacity during a competition even, they are only performed when there are at least 3 to 4 days rest in between competitions. It is much the same if work is being done in conjunction with other therapy related to recovering from an injury.
Sports massage consists mainly of advanced therapeutic Swedish techniques and stretching. In fact most massage schools require that you be qualified in Swedish massage before you can take Sports Massage since it is based on Swedish techniques. However this approach can include some Shiatsu, Amma, Neuromuscular, Kinesitherapy and other techniques.
Sports massage helped me understand the demands placed on athletes body’s but also acrobats, contortionists and others whose employment or pass times place great demands on their body. Adding Sports massage to my list of specialties gave me some invaluable tools for my everyday practice and learning how certain sport activities use and impacts specific individual and groups of muscles made me a much better therapist. Discovering techniques like pumping, stripping, trigger points and strain/counter strain gave me some fantastic ways of adapting to various clients needs. It also gave me tools that are more effective when massaging people who have much denser muscle mass than the average person. Hopefully this article clears up the nature of Sports massage and shows you it’s more of a toolbox than an actual separate form of massage.
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.