The practise of massage is at its essence a healing art lead mostly by the intuition and experience of the therapist, but, as the use of massage in professional sport has grown, so the massage industry has aligned itself with science in the form of sports massage. Many sports people will include a regular sports massage in their training and recovery programme. Studies show that massage is effective in helping athletes to feel less sore and less fatigued however the mechanism of effective sports massage is hard to pin down. Theories such as flushing lactic acid have now been shown to be incorrect, however this hasn’t changed the effectiveness reported by sports people in terms of lessening DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and less fatigue.
Studies have shown that massage improves sleep which is a critical time for the body to repair itself especially after exercise and has positive effects on reaction times, motivation and focus, stress regulation, muscle recovery, longevity as an athlete, memory and learning and injury risk to name a few!
Sports massage will differ from other forms of massage depending on your goals and where you are in your training schedule. In general you can expect a more interactive experience as your therapist will use techniques that require your participation. Feedback from you is also important during a sports massage, your therapist will use information on how you are experiencing the massage to tailor it to your particular physical and mental state. To my mind a sports massage should also be a completely positive experience and as much as possible not centre around perceived problem areas - any acute injury should be deal with by a physio or osteopath in a separate session. Even with ongoing ‘niggles’ a sports massage should explore these areas with the goal of making the you feel a sense of expansion, lightness, that you have more available movement and that your own perception of your body is improved. Especially before competition you should not leave the clinic feeling like you have more problems than what you arrived with!
A sports massage should also be adjusted according to your training schedule. In the early phase of training a massage session can be a shorter duration and firmer (but not painful) and as training progresses you may want to schedule a longer session that can be slightly less firm and include more joint mobilizations, active stretches and similar techniques that increase your own awareness of how good your body can feel, even though you are putting in a lot of training miles. Don’t schedule a massage just before a race - not within 48 hours prior is the recommendation - and massage directly after a competition should be used with caution. If you are particularly sore after a competition it is advisable to wait 48 hours to get a good handle on what is DOMS or what is a potentially serious injury that should be dealt with more cautiously.
It’s always an inspiration to work with people who are challenging themselves in any sporting field whether a pro or an amateur. My role as a sports massage therapist is always to try and give you a little bit more of what you need whether that is relaxation, increased range of motion, stretching out a hamstring that is leaving you feeling worried and stressed with discomfort and ultimately making your time on the massage table effective, beneficial and positive.