Sports Massage

“Nothing stands still. Our vitality is either increasing or decreasing according to the quality and circulation of our bloodstream.”

– Eunice D. Ingham, PT (the Mother of Reflexology)

As you may already know massage has many benefits. Two of the most important are relaxation and invigoration. Massage therapy can help reduce the severity of cramps, pulled muscles, and chronic pain often due to overtraining. Massage therapy maintains muscles at their optimum resting length, increases flexibility and can help to lower the incident of soft tissue injuries.

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Main types of massage useful for athletes:

  1.  Specialized massage for different sports. For the most part runners and tennis players do not sustain injuries in the same areas; therefore there are massage techniques for tennis elbow and shoulder strain (tennis players) and others for Achilles tendonitis and shin splints (runners). [1]
  2. Pre-event an athlete would use a massage therapist to warm up his/her muscles prior to an event, preserving his/her energy for the race. [1]
  3. Post-event helps with muscle relaxation to improve circulation and increase the flow of lactic acid back to the liver where it can be synthesized. Note lactic acid builds up during strenuous exercise can be removed within three hours post-event.  Massage therapy improves the cell metabolism increasing fluid exchange, nutrients and chemicals across cell membranes.  [1]
  4. Localized areas from previous injury. The pain cycle in the musculoskeletal system is triggered when the initial cause produces muscle spasm, impaired circulation, tension and more pain. Massage breaks this cycle by relaxing the muscle and improving circulation and promoting healing.  Massage breaks down adhesions and scar tissue in muscles.  [1]

Mechanical Effects [1]

  • friction warming
  • pumping the circulation 
  • increased tissue permeability 
  • stretching soft tissue 
  • breaking scar tissue and adhesions 
  • improved tissue elasticity 
  • opening microcirculation 
  • enzyme release 
  • improved tissue elasticity 

Refectory Effects [1]

  • relaxation 
  • pain reduction 
  • opening microcirculation 
  • balancing autonomic nervous system (ANS)


The best time for massage is just after a hard training session and after competition, before muscle
sensitivity and stiffness sets in. At this stage the massage will be more comfortable and effective than if
there were a long delay, and it will also be easier for the therapist. If the athlete waits several
hours they should try to keep the muscles warm and keep moving. If massage cannot be done the same
day one should at the very least aim to have it the day after.


Recovery can normally take anywhere between one to three days, but with sensitive people it may even take as long as a week. If the interval between sessions is too long, the condition, which may have improved could slip back and the therapist has to start again at the beginning. This is particularly important when training is continued between treatments. 

Ideally the athlete should have massage daily or at least after every hard training session.  Each athlete should consider having a massage at least once a week. Ideally this should be done after the hardest training session of the week. Massage should always be followed by one or two days of lighter training, which should be the case anyway after a hard training session.  Amateur or recreational athletes who train regularly but may not push themselves to maximum limits should also consider the use of massage to prevent injury at least twice a month. Many amateurs push themselves regularly to their maximum effort and actually go through more stress than the top elite athlete because they do not have the same conditioning and may also have occupational stress to cope with.  These people should consider having massage more regularly because they may be at even greater risk of over training and traumas.

Duration of treatment

Depending upon the size of each athlete we recommend at least 1.5 to 3 hours to give a thorough full body massage, and it is not a good practice to try and squeeze it into less. If one is short of time it is better to give a half body massage and just concentrate on the most important areas and then treat other areas at the next appointment session.

Massage Techniques [1]

Effleurage (Superficial): long gentle strokes with flat hands at the beginning – introductory, relaxing concluding strokes.

Effleurage (Deep stroking): deep strokes are achieved with increased force and by reducing the contact area by using the edge or heel of the hand, fingers, knuckles, elbow etc.

Longitudinal: thumb strokes in direction of muscle used to lengthen and strengthen

Cross fibre: broad strokes across muscle fibres to separate internal scar tissue

Petrissage: kneading the muscle, to warm, stimulate, increase circulation and drain.

Cross friction: deep friction- Movement of the thumbs in opposite directions across the muscles on “tension bands” without the thumbs sliding over the skin

Compression: localized deep pressure on TrP or muscle in spasm

Percussion (Tapotement): using both hands alternately, working very quickly and rhythmically clapping, hacking or beating.

Jostle-shake: to loosen muscle

Vibrate: to stimulate

Wringing: keeping the hands close to each other, they move in opposite directions across the muscle.

Thumb circle: circular friction on scar tissue

Pummelling: bouncing the palms with raised wrists.


Sports massage might be detrimental to the athlete’s health and wellbeing if they currently have any of the following symptoms.  

  • any form of infection or disease (e.g. fever)
  • under the influence of recreational drugs or alcohol 

We hope this sports massage blog was informative and are here to support you.  We believe in treating the whole person with a holistic approach and blend our knowledge and training to offer you a unique approach specific to you and your needs.  We have additional blog post for you to check out on movement, nutrition and traditional chinese medicine.    

We love teaching mindful movement and are here to support you in your journey. We offer customized online remote training from anywhere in the world. Contact us today to get started and learn to move with less pain and greater ease. We look forward to partnering with you and answering your movement questions and/or concerns.   

Assumption of the Risk: By attempting any of the exercises, you do so at your own risk.  We make no representations, guarantees or warranties that the information or exercises on this blog are appropriate for you or will result in improvements of your medical condition or function.  

Not medical advice or physical therapy.  This content is intended to provide information and instructions on general exercises that may help increase strength, mobility, and function for specific areas of the body.  It is not intended to be a substitute for obtaining a medical diagnosis or medical or physical therapy advice from a qualified licensed provider.  You should seek medical advice from a qualified physician or physical therapist before trying any of the exercises or self-treatment suggestions on this blog, particularly if your pain is from a traumatic injury or event. 


  1. STAFF, 2017. Sports Massage Manual 2017. Madge Wallace International College of Skincare & Body Therapy,