Oct 14, 2016
A Look at Sports Massage Therapy


Written by Steve Jurch, MA, ATC, LMT

Sponsored by The Athletic Edge

The field of sports massage therapy is a very popular specialization within medical professions; however, massage therapists are often challenged when it comes to defining it. So, what is sports massage therapy and how will it benefit us?

Challenges in Sports Massage Therapy

We all want to look at the glamorous side of sports massage therapy and dream of standing on the sidelines, traveling around the globe, or sharing in the celebration of a world championship. While those things are great perks, there are plenty of times when the job is not all that fun. First of all, this work is tough. The necessary physicality of the work requires a massage therapist to be in good shape and conscious of working smarter to prevent injury. Another reality of sports massage is the hours can be quite long. Schedules can change at the last minute, which can be very frustrating, so you must be able to be flexible with your day.

Defining Sports Massage Therapy

When we start to define sports massage therapy, we see that it is targeted toward support fitness, to help reduce the demands of sport, increase performance and shorten recovery time. The ultimate goal of sports massage therapy is to contribute to the health and well-being of the athlete; therefore, considerations such as timing, setting, common stress areas, training schedule and other therapies the athlete is receiving are factored into treatment decisions.

Sports Massage Therapy is for Everyone

It is a common misconception that sports massage is only for elite athletes. This is certainly not true. While this type of treatment can improve the performance of an athlete and help keep him in his sport, it is beneficial to anyone who suffers from chronic pain or has an injury, whether from running a marathon, playing tennis on the weekend, or working in the garden. When it comes to the musculoskeletal system, we all have the same anatomy. A sore muscle is a sore muscle regardless of what caused it. When treating athletes, a common wisdom exists that certain techniques should not be applied and that pressure and pace should be adjusted depending on what training phase the athlete is in. 

Sports Massage Therapy Benefits

A better tactic is to apply a critical-reasoning approach to the four main areas of training and timing that the sports massage therapist will work in:

1. Event preparation. This is when the athlete is in competition and is more of the traditional pre-event massage. This type of massage is utilized as part of the overall warm-up and is ideally performed within 90 minutes of play. It is quicker, lighter, and more general and should not last more than 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Prevention and maintenance. This type of massage is best done when the athlete can recover from any soreness. This is the time to work a bit deeper to remove any restrictions in the tissues and make corrections to the body without disrupting the training cycle.

3. Injury treatment. This phase of sports massage therapy can occur while the athlete is still in competition; or, if the injury is bad enough, she will be out of training and competition. Techniques can range from lymphatic drainage to scar massage. Depending on the situation, the athlete may be in rehabilitation, so it is important to communicate with the other members of the health care team

4. Recovery. This is an extremely important time for the athlete to receive sports massage therapy. This phase can include the traditional post-event massage and the more thorough recovery massage. This type of massage is ideally done one to three hours after competition

Opportunity for You

Sports massage is much more than working on runners at the end of a race; it is a powerful type of therapy that can benefit a wide variety of ailments and should be looked on as a primary method in treating musculoskeletal conditions. The skill sets that are developed through this specialization can create opportunities that might not occur with other types of training.

While the intent is to work with athletes, the in-depth understanding of how injuries occur, the structures that are involved, assessment techniques and critical thinking skills are tools that can be utilized in a variety of settings, allowing for tremendous versatility.

The Athletic Edge offers a free eBook to gain additional insight about sports massage therapy to benefit you, clients, and athletes when providing sports massage services.  Click here to download.


Steve Jurch, MA, ATC, LMT

Steve has over 20 years of experience as a massage therapist and athletic trainer. He currently serves as the Director of Health and Human Services at The Community College of Baltimore County, overseeing the delivery of healthcare programs. Prior to Baltimore, he was the Director of Massage Therapy for the Women’s Tennis Association helping ensure the players received comprehensive care.  Outside the treatment room, Steve served as the Director of the Massage Therapy Program at Trident Technical College and taught in the Physical and Occupational Therapy programs at the Medical University of South Carolina.  Steve is published author of both articles on massage therapy and a clinical massage therapy textbook and is on the Editorial Review Operational Committee for the AMTA Journal. He is accredited as an approved provider of continuing education through both the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and the Florida Board of Massage Therapy.

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