What is an Athletic Event Massage
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
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.”
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.
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*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.
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