No matter if you play sports recreationally, you are an athlete or someone who is recovering from an injury. Its likely to benefit in some way from getting some form of soft tissue work. Sports Massage has been used for thousands of years across many different disciplines like Osteopathy to relieve people of physical and mental/emotional stress.
Sports and Remedial Massage techniques are an effective way to help treat a variety of conditions such as back pain. It also helps with problems that arise by sitting at a desk, anxiety and it can help manage more long term medical conditions.
[NOTE: In Osteopathy, sports massage is sometimes referred to as “soft tissue work” or “soft tissue manipulation” as sometimes these techniques can be applied to other soft tissue structures in the body, not just muscles.]
The objective of sports massage and all other soft tissue techniques are to reduce pain and alleviate discomfort. Alongside Osteopathy and Naturopathic principles, it helps improve the bodies innate ability to heal itself.
In this blog I am going to explain what, exactly, sports massage is about and also the ways it can benefit your body and mind.
What Is Sports Massage?
Sports massage involves the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body, including the fascia, ligaments, tendons and the visceral organs. Compared to other types of massage techniques such as a swedish massage, sports massage is designed to help prepare and recover from a sports event and to help people with injuries and more specific areas of dysfunction.
Benefits of Sports Massage:
1. Beating back pain
Hands on manual therapy such as spinal manipulation, mobilizations, stretching and massage are common treatment methods for neck and back pain.
According to research done at the Group Health Research Institute and the University of Washington in Seattle found massage helped reduce pain and improve function more rapidly than usual medical care in people with chronic low-back pain. (1)
Participants of the study were assigned to 3 different massage groups and received 1 hour of massage once a week for 10 weeks. The participants’ symptoms, medication use, and ability to perform daily functions were measured after receiving 10 treatments, then at 6 months, and again after 1 year.
The participants showed a significant improvement in disability and a reduction in the bothersomeness of symptoms after 10 weeks in both massage groups when compared to those who received usual care.
2. Helps Lower Blood Pressure
Deep tissue massage was found to have positive effects on systolic, diastolic and mean arterial blood pressure readings in adults with those who were in pain and who had high blood pressure symptoms. (2)
Patients who took part in the study had moderate to severe muscle spasm and or strain and received massage for a duration of 45-60 minutes. Out of the 263 volunteers who took part, there was an average systolic pressure reduction of 10.4 mm/Hg, a diastolic pressure reduction of 5.3 mm/Hg, a mean arterial pressure reduction of 7.0 mm/Hg and an average heart rate reduction of 10.8 beats per minute following massage treatment.
Whereas in another study by Cambron et al (3) showed that patients saw the most significant reduction in blood pressure post Swedish massage when compared to other forms of massage such as Sports and Trigger point massage. They concluded that due to sports massage being more “vigorous” and “less desirable” than Swedish in the athletic and sports performance environment it was maybe not be suitable to all situations.
3. Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Chronic stress and muscle tension can lead to poor health, reduced recovery from exercise or stress, reduced immune function and cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure. Research has shown that massage can help reduce stress and anxiety (4)
Having increased stress and anxiety will therefore raise the bodies cortisol levels leading to a cascade of problems such as blood sugar imbalances, impaired cognitive performance, dampened thyroid function, poor sleep quality and increased abdominal fat.
Massage is also known to improve relaxation by stimulating a branch of the autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system. It is the opposite part of the “fight or flight” response that is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system.
4. Sports Injury Treatment
Sports massage is often utilized following a sports injury to help break up scar tissue that can make recovery more difficult and lead to stiffness. Massage can help reduce inflammation and calm down muscle spasm by stimulating blood flow and calming down the nervous system.
Following sports injury, and especially during times of stress, inflammation and muscular tightness caused by trigger points can prevent proper blood flow and the use of muscular inhibitions by Neuromuscular Therapy can help.
5. Improves Sports Performance
In a comprehensive review by Moraska (5) sports massage is effective at improving athletic recovery and performance. Studies have shown that deep tissue sports massages can help improve lactate clearance, delayed onset of muscle soreness, muscle fatigue, injury prevention and injury treatment.
Sports massage techniques however are designed more to help prepare athletes for a sporting event or game, as a tool to improve athletic performance and as a treatment modality to help athletes recover after exercise or competition.
Soft Tissue Sports Massage vs. Osteopathy
As part of treatment for any particular problem such as back or neck pain, it is difficult to differentiate what is soft tissue work and what is Osteopathy as the objectives are all the same. To help the person recover from injury.
There are only two ways in which you can help someone recover from injury.
1, Decrease the rate of micro-trauma
2, Increase the rate of healing
Osteopathy primarily focuses on the manipulation of joints but also that of the muscles, fascia and the bodies fluid dynamics.
Sports massage and soft tissue work, like Osteopathy can be beneficial for lowering pain and improving recovery.
Compared to massage therapists, Osteopaths receive much more formal training. They’re primary health professionals who need four-five year training to qualify and be registered legally with the General Osteopathic Council.
Sports Massage is a treatment modality to help prepare athletes for sporting performance and enhance the healing process after an event. That said, sports massage is another term for soft tissue therapy which in the industry is being used more and more to describe the more overarching benefits and treatment aims in the use of musculoskeletal care.
Sports Massage is not only for athletes but can be used for the everyday person from weekend warrior to business owners who sit at a desk all day.
The benefits of sports massage are endless but more notably the releasing of chronic muscle tension, lowering spasms, treating anxiety, reducing arthritis symptoms, lowering blood pressure and improving recovery from injuries.
(1) Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, et al. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low-back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2011;155(1):1–9.
(2) Kaye AD1, Kaye AJ, Swinford J, Baluch A, Bawcom BA, Lambert TJ, Hoover JM.
The effect of deep-tissue massage therapy on blood pressure and heart rate. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Mar;14(2):125-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2007.0665.
(4) Eivadi S, Hernandez-Reif M, Field T, et al. Massage therapy and relaxation effects on university dance students. J Dance Med Sci. 1999;3:108-112.