What is massage?

Massage is the term applied to the discipline of using massage for the specific benefit of both sports and non sports participants. It covers the management, manipulation and rehabilitation of the soft tissues of the body e.g. muscles, ligaments and tendons. It can be used to benefit those of a less sporty persuasion as it focuses on the individual needs of the client, with massages being tailored to positively enhance one’s ability to perform either on a daily basis in the home and workplace or in a sporting arena.

With the ever growing number of people taking part in sport, combined with the increasing competitiveness and intensity of physical exercise, the demand for sports massage is also increasing and has become recognised as a skill which may aid recovery and enhance performance.

Benefits of massage

Massage, applied skilfully, is the most effective therapy for releasing muscle tension and restoring balance to the musculo-skeletal system. Received regularly this may help athletes prevent injuries, which might otherwise be caused by overuse. A constant build-up of tension in the muscles from regular activity may lead to stresses on joints, ligaments and tendons, as well as the muscles themselves.

These muscle imbalances may develop and often go undiagnosed until they are serious enough to cause the athlete discomfort or impede performance. The skilled massage therapist will be able to detect variations in the soft tissues and by using the correct techniques, help the sports person maintain a much healthier physical state.

Sports massage should play an important part in the life of any sportsman or woman whether they are injured or not. Massage has a number of physical, physiological and psychological benefits.

Physical effects of massage:


The stroking movements in massage suck fluid through blood vessels and lymph vessels. By increasing the pressure in front of the stroke, a vacuum is created behind. This is especially important in tight or damaged muscle tissue as a tight muscle will squeeze blood out like a sponge, depriving the tissues of vital nutrients and energy to repair.

Increased tissue permeability – Deep massage causes the pores in tissue membranes to open, enabling fluids and nutrients to pass through. This helps remove waste products such as lactic acid and encourage the muscles to take up oxygen and nutrients which help them recover quicker.


Massage can stretch tissues that could not be stretched in the usual methods. Bundles of muscle fibres are stretched lengthwise as well as sideways. Massage can also stretch the sheath or fascia that surrounds the muscle, so releasing any tension or pressure build up.

Breaks down scar tissue

Scar tissue from previous injuries or trauma can negatively affect muscle, tendons and ligaments leading to inflexible tissues prone to injury and pain.

Improve tissue elasticity

High levels of training can make tissues hard and inelastic. This is one reason why hard training may not result in improvements. Massage helps reverse this by stretching the tissues.

Opens micro-circulation

Massage increases blood flow to tissues similar to exercise but it also opens or dilates the blood vessels and by stretching them this enables nutrients to pass through more easily.

Physiological effects of massage:

Pain reduction

Tension and waste products in muscles can often cause pain. Massage helps reduce this in many ways including releasing the body’s endorphins.


Muscles relax through heat generated, circulation and stretching. Mechanoreceptors which sense touch, pressure, tissue length and warmth are stimulated causing a reflex relaxation.

Psychological effects of massage:

Depending on the speed and techniques used, massage can be invigorating, which is particularly important for those in pre or inter event competition and need to be alert and muscle tone increased (sprinters for example).

By administering slower techniques and combining them with the physiological and physical effects, relaxation and anxiety is induced.

Increases awareness of the mind-body connection.

Types of massage 

1. Maintenance Massage

An effective maintenance programme can help athletes and non athletes maintain or improve range of motion and muscle flexibility. The overall objective of such a programme is to help the athlete reach optimal performance through injury-free training.

2. Event Massage

Pre-event sports massage is given within the twenty four hours preceding an event to improve performance and help decrease injuries. Within a couple of hours of an event It is used as a supplement to an athlete’s warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition.

It is normally shorter (10-15 minutes) than a regular conditioning massage, and focuses on warming-up the major muscles to be used, and getting the athlete in a good mental state for competition and calm or stimulate an athlete depending on their sport. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance.

Inter- and intra- event massage is given between events or in time-outs to help athletes recover from the preceding activity, and prepare for the activity coming up. It is also short, and focuses on the major muscles stressed in the activity.

Post-event sports massage is given after a competition and is mainly concerned with recovery. It is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Recovery after competition involves not only tissue normalization and repair, but also general relaxation and mental calming. A recovery session might be 15 minutes to 11/2 hours in length.

3. Rehabilitation Massage

Even with preventive maintenance, muscles cramp, tear, bruise, and ache. Massage can speed healing and reduce discomfort during the rehabilitation process.

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