Sports Performance and Massage Therapy

Neil O’Brien, LMT
Integrative Care Center
Hospital for Special Surgery

Vlada Yaneva, LMT
Integrative Care Center
Hospital for Special Surgery


Introduction

Massage therapy plays a number of roles in improving sports performance and decreasing the risk of injury by increasing range of motion, assisting with soft tissue recovery, and increasing circulation and nourishment in muscle tissue.

A 15-30 minute session before performing athletic activities will raise the body temperature and increase range of motion. If necessary, a therapist can focus on the area that will require exertion during the athletic activity. Therapeutic massage within an hour after the activity will help relieve muscle cramps, reduce edema by restoring the natural blood and lymph flow, and speed up the recovery process.

Techniques

Massage techniques vary from light touch to deep tissue. Most massage treatments incorporate a variety of modalities into the session:

  • Swedish massage uses long flowing strokes, gentle kneading, circular movements, and vibratory tapping to increase blood and lymph circulation through the body. This type of massage is good for pre- or post-sports events or on some regular, ongoing schedule to keep the soft tissues of the body well nourished, in collaboration with regular physical workouts.
  • Deep-tissue massage uses slower, more forceful strokes targeting deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, including short strokes in the direction of the muscle fiber, and cross fiber friction. This modality is used to assist with muscle adhesions from repetitive use or injury.
  • Sports massage is a combination of Swedish and deep-tissue with assisted stretching techniques to improve the range of motion of the joints used in a client’s particular sport.
  • Trigger Point massage focuses on tight, sensitive muscle fibers that create referred pain in specific muscle patterns. This modality involves deep, focused compression with some stretching to release the injured segment of muscle fiber.

Treatment after Injury

If an athlete is injured, the first thing that we recommend is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. After 48 to 72 hours, massage could be used to reduce blood stagnation and lactic acid build up, prevent adhesion formation, and stimulate the neuromuscular pathways. Lymphatic drainage techniques may be applied to reduce swelling and help the whole body relax and re-integrate after the stress associated with injury.

Once the initial, acute stage of the injury has passed, deeper tissue work can be used to increase circulation and re-establish body awareness. If a strain or sprain is present, light stroking in the direction of muscle fibers and gentle twisting of fiber above or below the injury can reduce adhesion formation.

In cases of tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon), light friction techniques across the injured fiber with alternating intensity can be used, followed by icing.

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