Sports Massage:
A Competitive Edge!

Sports massage is becoming an effective part of the training and competition regimens of many athletes. Massage therapy provides benefits during all phases of training and competition, including at the event. Bodywork provides great benefits during all training cycles, before and after competition, as well as in the recovery phases after cycles of competition or demanding sports events.

A knowledgeable and experienced sports massage therapist will know the types of massage to use at all these critical times in an athlete’s yearly cycle. The athlete’s timely needs must be met according to where he or she is in that cycle. Different types of massage strokes are used during training cycles, competition and during recovery stages to gain specific results to meet the individual athlete’s needs and goals.

Goals of Sports Massage

Athletes should expect a massage therapist to help optimize the physical function of their bodies. Secondly, the relief or prevention of existing dysfunction should be a goal of the sports massage specialist. Lastly, massage should contribute to the overall well-being of the athlete.

The therapist should be competent at assessing the condition of soft tissues and joints. If they are trained in structural integration, they will be able to also assess structural alignment. Based on the assessments; targeted tissue manipulation, hydrotherapy, problem solving exercise programs, and self-care plans can be implemented and recommended.

Pre-season: Structural Integration

Sports massage during an early training phase might include Structural Integration, also known as Rolfing. Bodily structural alignment and proper gait or movement would be the goal. See my page on

Structural Integration by clicking here.

At Competition

At a competitive event a sports massage will vary drastically from the slower, longer massages given during training. Within four hours prior to the event a short, muscle stimulating massage is beneficial. It will focus on the main muscle groups that the athlete will use in their sport. Pre-event massage helps to prepare (warm up) the muscles and to prevent sports injuries. Increased circulation and optimal range of motion are goals of pre-event massage.

Another very short massage session is often helpful shortly after the competition ends, or between multiple events at the same competition. A short cool down massage helps to prevent or minimize injuries in conjunction with regular cool down activity. Further muscle damage from the massage itself is avoided with light massage.

Within four hours of the conclusion of the event a much longer massage therapy session of an hour or more is in order. Deep massage is still to be avoided, since damage to some extent has occurred from the harsh requirements of competition. Increased circulation and relaxation are the goals of a thorough massage following an event that has put a lot of stress on the body. Injuries and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be minimized or avoided with massage that is well placed after competition or a hard workout.

During Training Cycles

Training of any kind causes at least microcellular “injury”. When the affected areas heal, strength ensues in that area if acute injury is avoided. A trained athlete is constantly pushing their body to the edge of acute injury. The alternating hard/easy cycles of days and even weeks allows for this “damage” to heal and strengthen the body before the next workout onslaught. See my sports injury page here. 

Sports massage can be a beneficial adjunct to this critical cycle that will help the body to heal and strengthen between hard training days and recurring competitions. The training massage will be longer sessions and may or may not include deep massage, depending on the current cellular damage from training. An “easy” week should include more aggressive pressure massage to help heal from the previous week and prepare for the following hard week’s sessions.

Massages during the training cycle may be able to ward off common injury that an athlete is prone to during these demanding cycles. Recovery and optimal health are goals of sports massage during a strenuous training cycle.

Oftentimes a massage at this period will identify potential injuries. The massage therapist should be ready to change the goals of the massage or technique based on feedback from the athlete. If the athlete knows of a particularly stressed area, the massage therapist needs to know about it before starting each massage session. The “offended” area should be handled with careful attention that is tailored to the state of the soft tissue in that area.

Optimum Functional and Structural Alignment

Optimal bodily function and structure are key goals of a training cycle massage regimen. Again, structural integration (Rolfing) should be a continual potential option for the well trained sports massage therapist to offer the athlete client. Good postural alignment will help any athlete be more efficient and effective in movement and in the use of critical strength and energy.

Not all massage therapists are trained to keep these details in line with an athlete’s individual and changing needs. Look for one that is trained, experienced and mindful of the very different needs of clients who are athletes.

My massage therapy practice in Deer Lodge, MT includes sports and sports injury massage therapy.

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More about Sports Injury and massage 

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By Brenda Rowell Copyright © 2010-2023

Hippocrates said, "The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day."

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