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What is Sports Massage?

What is Sports Massage?

What is Sports Massage?

Broken down into its acronym let’s explore what ‘sports massage’ is:


It is a common misconception that sports massage deals predominantly with athletes.  In my eyes we are all sports people as life is one ever increasingly competitive, intense physical activity.  To live life to its fullest we all must have ‘fit’, well functioning muscles that are prepared for fight or flight, whether that be performing to your best ability in a weekly tennis match, chasing after your kids or gardening with ease.


In today’s society postural misalignment is often the origin of chronic aches and pains within the body.  Bad posture, from sitting at a desk all day, playing sports and also general life, can lead to under/over developed muscular tissues as imbalanced forces are exerted upon the body.  My role as a sports massage therapist is to work closely with you to regain the healthiest posture for you in whatever you do.  By relaxing over-used muscles and re-engaging under-used muscles, your postural awareness increases and your neuromuscular (nervous and muscular)  system functions better.  More on posture another week!


All the cells in our muscles are living and responsive to the physical and emotional state of our body.  They are essential to our complete, holistic functioning and sometimes these cells need encouragement.  Muscle therapy creates an involuntary relaxation response carried out by our peripheral nervous system.  There is also a mechanical response, issued by our sympathetic nervous system, which cleanses and improves cellular health.  *If you have had the pleasure of attending our Health Class you will understand the connection between the spine and our neuromuscular system.

Recovery and prevention

In day-to-day life and when exercising we have a tendency to overuse particular muscles, which is a frequent cause of musculoskeletal problems.  Sports massage is an excellent way to aid the recovery of injured and/or stressed out muscles; it is also an incredible way to prevent injury from arising.  With your muscles in their peak condition you can function and perform at a higher level and recover more effectively.

Post race recovery running

Our team after the Bath Half Marathon 2015

Tailor-made treatment

Sports massage focuses on the individual.  A well trained massage therapist, like those at The Chiropractic Centre: Bristol, combines the knowledge given by the client with information offered by the body to create treatment plan shaped to fit your independent needs.  This is more than just how many massages you need; it includes how the treatment is carried out, the advice given and the stretches/strengthening exercises issued.  Quick tip, always drink plenty of water after a sports massage – it’s joy juice.

Specific techniques

Specific massage techniques are used to work the body; different styles are used to address the reasons why you are having treatment, e.g pre/post-event; postural issues; injury recovery; chronic tension.  Below are the main techniques used by a massage therapist:

  • Effleurage – A slow, stroking techniques designed to warm up the muscles and stimulate blood/lymph flow helping to relax the muscles.
  • Pettrisage – A deeper technique similar to that of kneading bread.  These are used to break down waste products, such as lactic acid and fatty deposits, these techniques allow an interchange of body fluids within the muscles.
  • Broadening strokes – To lengthen muscles and increase range of movement (ROM).
  • Cross fibre friction – Working against the grain of the muscle to clear bio-mechanical stress.
  • Compression – Locating trigger points and applying direct pressure in order to break down nodules.
  • Stretch and release – Active contracting and relaxing of affected muscles.
  • Myofascial release – A subtle but powerful technique that releases restrictions within the fascial network and as a result increases the body’s own restorative power.

Muscle memory

muscle_memoryYour muscles remember, whether correctly or not, how you use them and just like retraining our brains, we must reteach our muscles.  Sports massage is about regularly communicating with the muscles and conditioning them to remember what it is like to be relaxed and functioning at an optimum level.  It’s rather like training a dog, though in my eyes you can always teach an old dog new tricks.  It can just take time, so patience and a close, reciprocal relationship is vital.  So, if you stay hydrated, do your stretches/exercises and follow up recommendations – you can be less patient ☺


Also known as: knots; trigger points; congestion; nodules; lesions.  There are oh so many ways to describe the build up stress and tensions within our muscles.  Sports massage locates these precise areas and uses techniques to break and unravel these ‘knots’, a little bit like untangling rope.  It can be quick and easy or a patiently worked process depending on what we find.


The real, sustained benefits occur with frequent, structured treatment plans.  If you have booked in for a sports massage, it is likely that you are in pain and want results quickly.  In some cases, if there is chronic tension or an injury, high intensity treatments are necessary with weekly or fortnightly sessions.  This intensity is needed to repeatedly ‘jog’ your muscles memory, increase consciousness towards your posture, bring about constant circulation and promote deeper relaxation and healing.  Regular re-assessments occur until your bodies own capabilities kick in, cellular health is restored and you are moving freely without discomfort.

The question is short or long-term satisfaction?  Sustainable muscular health and a ‘free and easy you’ come through monthly, magical boosters.  Just like exercising or eating the right food, sports massage does wonders for you if you engage in it often.  (Soon to follow is a story of my brains explanation of long term, regular sports massage treatment…)

muscle fascia

The fuzz you see is myofascia


Sports massage has a reputation for being a painful, deep-pressured massage that has people leaping off couches and waking up with bruises.  There should always be a clear understanding of pain threshold and muscular desires.  The pressure used during sports massage is adaptable and varies – there is incredible benefit from slow, sustained, myofascial release techniques.


The origins of sports massage and bodywork stem back before Christ (BC).  In the old, Indian Ayurveda system touch therapy (skin) was one of the five sensory ways used to treat health imbalances. In Ancient Egypt inscribing’s have been found that convey the kneading of another individual, whilst in Ancient China, massage therapy was found to be an important technique in stimulating muscular-energetic path ways and as a consequence heal the body.

And, if you know some Latin, you can break down all those scary looking anatomical terms into self-evident descriptions of your muscles – cool!  An example, subscapularis broken down into sub and scapularis translates to underneath your scapula (your shoulder blade in layman’s terms).

Egyptian ancient massage


There in an intention set at the start of a deep tissue treatment and plan; this has a direct relation to why you are getting treated.  Ultimately we work together to achieve your own goal and this may be as simple as being able to pick up your children with ease or having the energy and strength to swim twice a week.  Common, non-specific goals of massage are set below:

  • To increase blood flow and hence muscle function
  • As a warm up pre-event
  • To aid recovery post-event
  • To aid recovery from exertion
  • To enhance posture
  • To increase flexibility
  • To stimulate neurological pathways and neuromuscular relationships (one of many reasons why Sports massage goes so beautifully with Chiropractic treatment)
  • To improve strength


There can be a great stigma attached to ‘energy’ and it’s often thought of as of too ‘out there’, nonetheless we are complete energetic beings and we require ‘full power, 24 hour’ energy to flourish in life.  Our muscles use energy.  Muscle therapy generates energy and clears areas where there has been stagnant flow due to lack of use or injury, making you move and live more freely.


That is ‘what is Sports massage?’.  One last little thing, my advice for you today is something my sister told me some years ago; Remember to breathe.