Sports Massage Techniques
Sports massage may appear to be the latest ‘hot’ thing, but in fact it’s been practiced for thousands of years. The ancient Spartans, enemies of the Athenians in Greece over 2,500 years ago, regularly applied massage techniques to optimize their warriors’ effectiveness.
Many of the techniques used then would be familiar today, since they are an eclectic mixture of Swedish, Shiatsu and other styles. Some basic movements are common across massage styles and across centuries.
Effleurage, for example, is a long gliding stroke applied with medium pressure. Usually done with a flat, horizontal hand using the palm and fingers, the masseur slides firmly over the surface, working the skin and muscle. On the return stroke, the therapist uses light contact along a different path. The hands remain relaxed and follow the natural contours of the back, chest, thigh and buttock – any part being worked.
Effleurage is rhythmic, utilizing increasing pressure that gradually stimulates more blood flow and relaxes tense muscles. During this phase of the session, skin and muscle are warmed, nutrient flow to the muscles is improved and toxins removed as the pressure creates an active area in the body.
Petrissage is next. This is a technique that involves kneading, focusing on more specific areas and going deeper into the muscle tissue. Here lymph fluid can be encouraged to flow well, blood flow is maximized and knotted muscles are worked. As such, the techniques work best on large muscle groups such as the chest, back and thigh. Still, smaller areas such as the forearms, shoulders and neck can definitely benefit from petrissage.
Finally, friction is useful when properly applied. Repeated, harsh rubbing over a specific spot will irritate anyone. But smooth, circular motion that glides but doesn’t tug stimulates skin and muscle. The thumb and forefingers are great tools for sensing trigger points, finding knotted muscles and seek out lesions.
Here it’s important to work with the client to get feedback about where there may be trouble spots. One client’s back proved to be interesting terrain. Working large areas, a great deal of pressure and friction could be endured without discomfort. But nearer the center, just outside the line of the spine, the lightest pressure applied with the thumbs produced a feeling like an electric shock.
Each person is individual and the techniques will need to be adapted accordingly. Each sport uses slightly different muscles, or uses them in a different way. The result is different injuries, alternatives in muscle groups that tend to get stressed and varying rates of healing. Using friction, for example, to separate muscle fibers or loosen scar tissue, can be carried out vigorously for one, but needs to be approached cautiously for another.
Keep in mind that dedicated athletes tend to push themselves too hard. Don’t contribute to the mindset by overdoing the effort. The purpose is to relax and heal, but excessive force can damage joints and muscle connections. Adopt the Hippocratic oath used by physicians ‘First, do no harm’.