sports massage
What Is It?
How To Choose a Practitioner

What Is It?

Sports massage is an area of massage therapy that is specifically designed to address the needs of athletes. For centuries, athletes have used massage to optimize their performance. The ancient Greeks and Romans combined massage and exercise in their training, as did many Asians who practiced the martial arts. In the 1960s, Russian athletic teams introduced the modern discipline of sports massage, when they employed massage therapists to travel to events and work regularly with their teams.

While encompassing all of the basic principles of bodywork that general massage therapy involves, sports massage focuses on athletic training, performance, and recovery, using different massage techniques at specific times. Sports massage can greatly decrease recuperation time after athletic activity, combat fatigue, and improve performance by easing pain and reducing tension. It can prevent muscle and tendon injuries, reduce the strain and discomforts of training, and forestall many of the common problems athletes develop from repetitive motion. Treatments are individualized to both the athlete and the sport, with concentration on areas of the body that are subjected to the greatest stress.

Along with classic massage techniques such as effleurage (stroking), kneading, and vibration of body tissues, some sports massage therapists also do a specialized form of "trigger point" massage called myotherapy. In addition, some physical therapy modalities may be used, including heat and hydrotherapy.

In general, sports massage is done during three specific time frames most important to athletes. Therapists use different combinations of techniques for each.

 Training massage. Regular massage during training helps athletes to increase their flexibility and range of motion and recover faster from workouts. It also relaxes and tones the muscles. The focus during training massage is to prevent the development of chronic problems and speed healing from any current injuries.

 Pre-event massage. A sports massage done before an athletic event or activity, stimulates circulation, calms nervous tension, and prepares the body for peak performance. It warms and stretches muscles and increases their flexibility, reducing the chance of serious injury.

 Post-event massage. Tiny tears in the muscles are common whenever athletes exercise heavily. A sports massage one to two hours after an event relieves swelling caused by the damage and encourages blood flow to the muscles. It also helps the body remove excess lactic acid, a waste product of muscle metabolism that accumulates when muscles are stressed (lactic acid is responsible for the familiar deep muscle soreness and burning athletes often experience after a major event). Post-event massage also reduces stiffness and cramping, and helps speed recovery time.

Today many orthopedic surgeons (M.D.s and D.O.s) and chiropractors (D.C.s), who have embraced sports medicine as a specialty, are regularly recommending this type of therapy to their patients. (If sports massage is prescribed by a physician, it increases your chances of receiving insurance coverage.) For related information, see the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entries on Chiropractic, Hydrotherapy, Massage Therapy, Myotherapy, and Osteopathy.

How To Choose a Practitioner

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation regarding the licensing of professional massage therapists and defining what level of education and/or national testing they need in order to practice. While the rules for certification and licensing vary widely from state to state, many states require massage therapists to complete at least 600 hours of classroom instruction in massage therapy or be certified by passing an exam given by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTBMB) in McLean, Virginia.

Although there are no legal guidelines for certification in sports massage, in addition to the NCTBMB certification, a sports massage therapist should ideally have a minimum of 50 additional hours of training in sports massage. Many of the most highly skilled sports massage therapists work in private clinics or with professional sports teams. Word of mouth may be the best way to find a good practitioner.

Some massage therapists also have specialized training in areas such as neuromuscular massage, which can contribute to their skill level in performing sports massage. Although many athletic trainers incorporate some massage into their care of athletes, an athletic trainer is generally not as highly trained as a massage therapist who specializes in sports massage.

Date Published: 04/19/2005
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