If you were expecting the pampering experience of other massage styles, you might be in for a shock during your first sports massage.
Forget the aromatherapy oils, soft music, and dimly-lit spa setting. Sports massages can be uncomfortable and even painful at times. But most importantly, they work.
For athletes, gym-goers, and desk-bound workers alike, this style of massage offers a wealth of benefits, from injury prevention to pain relief. And, while the experience will vary due to the personalized nature of sports massage, the results are sure to have you going back time and time again.
Keep reading to learn more about sports massage, including what to expect from your first session.
Why Get a Sports Massage?
Whether you’re a ‘weekend warrior’ or a professional athlete, you put a lot of time and effort into training. But few take as much care as they should of the body that helps them perform.
Regular sports massage can make a huge amount of difference in how your body performs, reacts, and recovers. Even scheduling in a sports massage once a month can highlight areas that need extra stretching or reinforcement.
For example, runners may have ongoing conditions such as tight calves. And regulars on the tennis court could be suffering from shoulder pain. Sports massage can also help relieve migraines and tension from bad posture.
What’s more, unlike other forms of massage, sports massage offers a customized experience. Before beginning the massage, the therapist will often carry out an assessment. This assessment allows the therapist to observe your flexibility, posture, and range of movement. The therapist will then use these observations to guide your personalized sports massage.
Types of Sports Massage
Now you know how a sports massage can help, but what is a sports massage anyway? Within the general area of sports massage therapy, there are four specific types of massage designed to maximize performance and cut recovery time:
This type of sports massage focuses on stimulating the areas of the body the athlete will use during the upcoming activity. It usually involves stretching and compression and aims to increase blood flow and muscle warmth. An athlete will usually get a pre-event massage 15-45 minutes before the event.
Getting a sports massage within several hours of an event can help calm the nervous system and encourage the body to begin repairing itself. In fact, a recovery-focused post-event massage up to 48 hours after the event can be very beneficial for those used to sports massages.
Although post-events sports massages use lighter techniques to decrease inflammation, they can be too much for massage newbies. First-timers should wait up to four days after the event before getting a massage to reap the full benefits of the experience.
Athletes training for an event or looking to improve their personal best will have regular restorative sports massages. This kind of sports massage works to improve ability and prevent injury through ongoing, personalized massage therapy.
This type of sports massage aims to ease pain from an injury, assist in the proper formation of scar tissue, and return the affected tissue to its normal state. When using sports massage to overcome an injury, weekly sessions are often preferred.
Different Sports Massage Techniques
Sports massage therapists work just below your pain threshold to ensure their technique has the desired effect without causing pain. But what is a sports massage technique? Here are some of the most common:
Myofascial Release – Most sports massage work involves stretching the fascia. Physical trauma and poor posture can harden the fascia or cause it to lose elasticity. Manipulating the fascia through massage relaxes the fascia, enabling it to regain flexibility and movement.
Soft Tissue Release – This technique involves stretching localized areas of fascia, tendons, and muscles to relieve tightness. After identifying the tissue and direction of fibers, the therapist will use either an active, passive, or weight-bearing technique.
Muscle Energy – This technique encourages muscle contraction and uses it within resistance therapy to stretch, relax, and strengthen tight muscles.
Trigger Point Work – Muscles will often have trigger points that cause pain without any obvious reason. This technique uses cycles of isolated pressure to identify and remove these trigger points.
Preparing for Your First Sports Massage
If you’re interested in having a sports massage, there are some factors to take into account to ensure you get the most out of your experience. Here’s what to expect before, during, and after a sports massage:
Before the Massage
Dehydration, which causes stiffness in the muscles and fascia, can be one reason why massage hurts. Sip on water before your massage and you’re more likely to reap the full benefits of the sports massage.
But don’t eat too much before your massage. Massage slows down the body’s systems, including the digestive system. This can cause internal sluggishness and discomfort.
During the Massage
While it’s your body and your session, putting your faith in your sports massage therapist and their years of experience can often be an eye-opening experience.
For example, it’s typical for runners to expect sports massages for legs. But runners can often suffer from soreness in their upper body due to tension and compromised form. Targeting the arms, shoulders, and back can improve both form and flexibility.
You should also expect to move around and interact more than you would during a typical spa-style massage. Your therapist may also give you ‘homework’, such as tips on how to massage calves post-workout as a way to reduce pain.
But one thing you shouldn’t expect is intense pain. If you’re tense and bracing yourself against the therapist, the massage won’t be effective.
Relax and use breathing exercises to manage the slight discomfort you might feel. Of course, if the massage hurts a lot you should let your therapist know straight away.
After the Massage
Just as you might expect to be sore after deep tissue massage therapy, a little tightness and soreness are typical after a sports massage. Allow your body to process the experience and avoid exercising until at least the following day.
Instead, enjoy a warm bath to offset any soreness. And within 24 to 48 hours of the sports massage, you should feel rejuvenated and refreshed.
Your Guide to Sports Massages
The main thing you should expect from sports massages is a more personalized and targeted style of massage therapy than other massage styles.
Instead of providing general tension release and relaxation, sports massage therapists work with their clients to achieve specific goals for recovery, improving performance and preventing future injuries.
For more information, feel free to contact us today!