Athletic Event Massage

Athletic Event Massage
Athletic Event Massage

What is an Athletic Event Massage

Developed to help with muscle systems used for a particular sport, sports massage uses a variety of approaches to help athletes in training — before, during, or after sports events. You might use it to promote flexibility and help prevent injuries. Or, it may help muscle strains, aiding healing after a sports injury.


Athletic Event Massage

Massage just prior to or during an athletic event may seem counterintuitive. To begin with, there’s zero time to recover from potentially sore muscles. There’s also the possible relaxation response to massage—precisely when an athlete wants to be most alert and focused.

Good points, and precisely why pre- and mid-event sports massage is far different than what’s done when an athlete is in training or recovery. As some sports teams resume competition after months of modified conditioning—and to potentially very different competitive environments—making sure the basics are covered is more important than ever.

Keep Your Eye on the Goal

Athletic Event Massage
Athletic Event Massage

Pre- and mid-event sports massage therapies share an overarching goal and the same range of techniques. The overlap makes sense when you consider definitions.

  • A pre-event sports massage typically happens between 10 to 60 minutes before an event to prepare an athlete’s body for activity.
  • A mid-event sports massage typically happens between 10 to 60 minutes before an athlete resumes activity, whether that’s heading back to the field after halftime or getting set for a second track and field event.

In both instances, it’s about prepping the body for activity, which means maximizing blood flow to the muscles that an athlete will use most in competition, explains Jim Earley, LMT, licensed sports massage therapist. “When blood flow is at its best, it takes longer for a muscle group to fatigue and makes recovery after competition easier,” he says.

Sports massage techniques that best achieve this goal are quicker, lighter strokes that help loosen soft tissue, reduce adhesion, and steer clear of any invasive strokes used to make adjustments during the off-season. “That means no deep tissue work,” says Penny Capps, board-certified massage therapist, and a certified sports massage therapist. “The last thing you want to do before or during competition is to make a modification that throws off the athlete’s game.”

Capps offers these as the go-to traditional pre- and mid-event sports massage strokes:

  • Pump compressions or compressions
  • Gliding or effleurage
  • Broad cross-fiber friction

Depending on an athlete’s personal preference, Capps adds, strokes may include jostling or shaking, petrissage or kneading, and direct pressure. Some athletes and sports massage therapists also feel that stretching is integral to a pre-event sports massage—although the topic remains open for debate.

Nicola a certified sports massage therapist offers stretching pros and cons. “It can help improve an athlete’s range of motion, but to accomplish this, the massage therapist should know how an athlete’s body responds to stretching techniques. On the other hand, if I’ve never worked with an athlete before, it’s possible to do more harm than good. So unless requested or it’s part of an established routine with a specific client, I leave stretching to the athlete.”

Emerging Proof

While pre- and mid-event sports massage is commonly supported among athletes, trainers, physical therapists, and, of course, sports massage therapists, research demonstrating its efficacy is scarce. Here are a few limited and smaller studies.

At the very least, studies indicate a need for additional research.

  • A review of documented injuries and treatments incurred by athletes during the United States Track and Field Olympic Trials, June 28 through July 10, 2016, reports that 41.8 percent of medical services prescribed by physicians involved massage therapists.1
  • After testing the effect of sports massage on strength for eight amateur boxers, findings provide support for the psychological benefits of pre-and mid-event sports massage.2
  • In a study including 11 female high-intensity cycle sprinters, some women passively rested in between sprints and some received a 10-minute massage in between sprints. Performance recovery was significantly better in the massage group.

Does massage help athletic performance?

Most athletes experience increased flexibility and range of motion, greater endurance, and reduced muscle pain after a massage. Research indicates that even a 30-second session can improve the hip-flexor range of motion. This therapy emphasizes healing and prevention of injuries, leading to faster recovery.

Are sports massages painful?

The discomfort you feel during and after a massage is completely normal and, on the whole, it means it is working. But a sports massage should never cause you so much pain that you feel the need to tense up in order to bear it. If your muscles are tense then they won’t be getting much of a benefit from the massage.

Are sports massages worth it?

“For the everyday person who is active and partakes in exercise, sports massage can be a great tool to aid recovery and maintain flexibility. It can help to maintain muscle length and flexibility by breaking down adhesions in the muscle belly that form the following training.


Therapeutic Massage, Sports Massage Therapy in Santa Barbara, Goleta
Therapeutic Deep Tissue, Swedish Massage, Sports Massage Therapy in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Ca.


*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to the scope of practice, medical diagnosis, or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company, or specific massage therapy technique, modality, or approach. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.