Massage for Sports Injury: Sports Massage vs. Sports Injury Massage

Updated: Nov 12, 2019





What is Sports Massage vs. Sports Injury Massage?


A Sports Massage is designed to focus on helping the athlete perform better at their sport through improved Range of Motion (ROM) and muscle flexibility. For example, a runner will want a massage that works on hips and legs to help increase speed and mobility. The type of massage that is to be done will depend on when, before or after an athletic performance, the massage takes place. Some athletes will want massage before an event to help loosen the muscles and get rid of adhesions prior to an event in order to provide more speed and mobility. After an event, the athlete will be more focused on flushing out the muscles so that they can recover quickly. A quick recovery will help the athlete improve performance at their next event. Stretches may also be needed in order to get rid of adhesions and inflammation, depending on the condition of the muscle after the event.


Sports Injury Massage is all about helping athletes heal from a torn muscle, twisted ankle, muscles cramps and recovery from surgery or to prevent surgery. Athletes tend to get repetitive injuries from overuse of a muscle group while performing in their sport. There are many injuries that can happen as a result of overuse. One such injury, plantar fasciitis, is a common sports injury for runners. Plantar fasciitis causes the foot and calf muscles to lock up and make it difficult to walk. Another common sports injury is tennis, or golfer’s elbow. There will be more discussion on the different sports injuries and how Sports Injury Massage can alleviate these issues below. In short, a Sports Massage is utilized to increase performance, and a Sports Injury Massage is important in healing and recovery of a sports injury.


Sports Massage


Sports Massage is different from other types of massage because it is focused on increasing athletic performance. Your massage will be focused and targeted on certain areas, helping muscles to move with more ease. Sports Massage incorporates different massage techniques, and it is also benefited by the use of different stretches. Some Sports Massage Therapists will use Cupping to help with muscle recovery. This technique reached the mainstream public eye and gained notoriety when Michael Phelps used it during the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The circles from Cupping caused concern, and the media did a lot of coverage on the technique because Phelps earned so many gold medals. A therapist will need a deeper understanding of anatomy to be able to get all the muscles that are used to move in certain ways to work together. Some muscles are active and some are inactive, depending on the movement that is being produced. It is important to have the correct muscles firing so that an athlete is not overusing a dominant muscle. In comparison to a Sports Massage, Relaxation Massage is just meant for stress relief and is not focused on improving athletic performance.


Medical Massage Therapy vs. Deep Tissue Massage for Sports Injury


Medical Massage Therapy, in comparison to Deep Tissue Massage for Sports Injury, is used more for injury recovery. If an athlete has injured a muscle, then Medical Massage Therapy techniques will be useful in muscle recovery and bringing blood flow to the area to help heal the injury. Injuries such as a torn muscle or ligament need pain relieving techniques instead of techniques that help the muscles move easier.


Deep Tissue Massage is more useful for active, non-injured, muscles that need help recovering for the next event. Working out adhesions and getting the muscles to move is a big part of Deep Tissue Massage. Sometimes, Deep Tissue Massage can cause more injury to the muscle. You will want to make sure your therapist is focused on pain relief AND movement, not just movement. Just doing Deep Tissue Massage may fix the issue short term, but it will lead to bigger issues down the road. For example: You have tennis elbow. Medical Massage Therapy will help decrease the pain and help with movement. Deep Tissue Massage will dig into the muscle helping it move yet causing more pain and inflammation in the tissue. This will result in another injury and slower recovery time. Starting with Medical Massage Therapy first will be more beneficial if you are injured.



Benefits of a Sports Massage


Reduce muscle tension


Sports Injury Massage reduces muscle tension by working on adhesions in the muscles that may feel like knots or guitar strings. Knots are balls of fiber that need to be smoothed out. Guitar strings need to be flattened out so they are smooth and flow with the other muscles. This is working on a specific muscle to help it work better with the rest of the muscle group.


Increase range of motion


When you relax all of the muscles that move your shoulder, you are able to move it further than before. This is the case with any joint in the human body. This is more about focusing on a group of muscles to work better together, rather than a specific muscle. It is the whole group, all of the muscles around a joint, that allow it to move to its fullest ability. This is what would increase flexibility. Passive stretching is a great addition to Sports Injury Massage, as both can help increase range of motion.


Enhance athletic performance


When an athlete has full range of motion and relaxed muscles they are able to run longer, throw better, and keep this up for a longer amount of time without fatigue, strain or injury. Think of it like a spaghetti noodle. If the noodle is dry it will break easier. If the noodle is wet (has blood flow), then the noodle moves easier and risk of injury is decreased.


Improve soft tissue function


Ease of movement is important in soft tissue function, and that is what Sports Injury Massage is useful in improving. Blood flow is also important in how soft tissue functions. The Massage Therapist applies pressure in a way that causes blood to flow. This allows muscles to become warmer. By stretching the tissues and working out adhesions Sports Massage Therapists flush out swelling in joints and allow soft tissue function to return to normal as a result.


Decrease muscle stiffness and fatigue


Sports Injury Massage keeps muscles from locking up after extended use. Cramping is a major issue in every athletic endeavor. Cramps effectively stop the ability of the muscle to work properly. Sports Injury Massage increases blood flow, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen that is delivered. This decreases fatigue and enhances muscle recovery. Sports Injury Massage’s ability to increase blood flow to the area also keeps inflammation down so muscles can recover faster.


Benefits of Sports Injury Massage


In addition to the benefits that are listed above, reducing muscle tension, increasing range of motion, improving soft tissue function, and decreasing muscle stiffness and fatigue, Sports Injury Massage also incorporates the following benefits:


Decreasing Inflammation


Properly trained massage therapists are able to assist in the recovery of sports injuries by helping reduce the amount of inflammation that is present in certain injuries. Massage increases blood flow and moves swelling out of the injured area. It increases absorption of swelling in the area, and excess fluids are reduced as a result. Reduction of swelling also helps with pain reduction.


Decreasing Scar Tissue


Reducing swelling allows the Sports Injury Massage therapist to get in deeper as well. This means scar tissue can be reached and broken up. Increased blood flow and swelling promote healing, and the addition of pliable scar tissue help immensely. Regaining of feeling and lessening of tingling and soreness are a result of causing scar tissue to break up or become more pliable.

Improved Mobility


As a result of scar tissue work and reduction of swelling, mobility is improved in a Sports Injury Massage as well. If there is nothing stopping the joint from being flexible, which scar tissue and swelling both do, the range of motion becomes greatly improved.


How to Prepare for a Sports Injury Massage or Sports Massage


Arrive well hydrated


Arriving to your Sports Injury Massage well hydrated allows the therapist the ability to work with muscles that are not dehydrated. Dehydration causes the muscle to be more brittle, and therefore, harder to work with. Dehydrated muscles are more sensitive and easier to hurt. In addition to this, it is important to be hydrated so that muscle soreness after your massage is reduced. In order to get the most out of your Sports Injury Massage, you should come into it well hydrated and continue your hydration needs after the massage as well.


Don’t eat a heavy meal before your appointment


If you eat a heavy meal before your Sports Massage, your body will be focused on digesting food instead of focusing on muscle recovery. In order to be as comfortable and focused on recovery as possible, it is best to eat light or plan to have a meal after your Sports Injury Massage. Again, not a heavy meal though. It is also important to avoid large amounts of caffeine or alcohol around the time you are intending to have your Sports Injury Massage, as both of these can be a catalyst for dehydration.


Don’t expect a spa session


You have chosen to get a Sports Injury Massage in order to get muscles moving after overuse, or in order to repair issues that need to be fixed. Muscles will be more tender, and will have more inflammation. It is normal to have a level of soreness during your Sports Injury Massage. Be sure to let your therapist know if the pressure is too much, or if a technique is painful. This is a target massage, meant to improve function of your body, not a full body massage meant to relax you.


Wear clothing that is easy to get in and out of


It is beneficial for you to wear clothing that you are able to easily manage for a few reasons. You don’t need undue time stresses when coming to your massage or when leaving afterward. Having clothing that is easy to get in and out of allows you to have the bulk of your time spent on the table, improving the function of your body or healing from a sports injury.


Common Sports Injuries that sports massage can help



Tennis Elbow


Tennis Elbow is an issue involving the outside of the elbow. The lateral epicondyle is affected by overuse of the wrist, arm, and elbow. Epicondylitis is the inflammation of the tendons that attach to the elbow. Overuse and muscle strain of this type can be caused by more than playing tennis, and the injury is also a common occupational injury for plumbers, carpenters, painters, and cooks, as well as in anyone with a seasonal gardening hobby and other things of that sort.


Symptoms of Tennis Elbow include pain that radiates from the outside of the elbow, down the forearm toward the wrist. A constant ache in the area or sharp pain during activities that aggravate the injury are both symptoms.


Golfer’s Elbow


Golfer’s Elbow is an issue involving the inside of the elbow. The medial epicondyle is affected by overuse of the wrist, arm, and elbow. The attachment of the tendons to the elbow is injured, and this injury is commonly referred to as epicondylitis. This injury is caused by repeated downward motion of the wrist. Many sports can cause this issue, including golfing, of course, but also throwing a ball, racquetball, baseball or softball, and weightlifting.


Lifting things can aggravate the injury. There could also be pain while making a fist, or while doing any activity that involves twisting the wrist. Another symptom includes swelling or pain in the joint on the inside of the elbow. There could also be stiffness in the joint, or your hands and forearms may be weak.


Rotator Cuff Tears


The Rotator Cuff injury is the most prominent of all shoulder injuries in America. There are 3 million cases of this injury every year. Understanding the inner workings of the rotator cuff injury is important as a result of this high injury rate. Knowing how to care for yourself regarding muscle health with injury-related Medical Massage and Sports Massage can benefit you greatly.


Four muscles make up what we know as the rotator cuff, the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, and the Subscapularis. (See Picture Above and Below) The Supraspinatus raises your arm the first 15 degrees before the Deltoid finishes the job. The Infraspinatus and the Teres Minor rotate the arm outward. The Subscapularis rotates the arm inward (swimmers and climbers use this muscle a lot). The overall job of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the shoulder and rotate the shoulder. It does help raise the arm a bit as well. The muscle that is most often torn in a rotator cuff injury is the Supraspinatus. The pain is a deep, dull ache, which makes it difficult to do certain movements. Movements like brushing your hair or reaching behind your back, really anything that involves moving the shoulder up or back, become difficult.


The chances of injuring the rotator cuff increases as a person’s age goes up. As we age, we lose muscle mass and muscle strength as a natural part of life, so the chances of injury go up. There are some helpful hints below that will assist in the lessening of injuries now and as you age. Injuries, though, can occur as early as 14 or sooner due to sports and activities. An injury of this sort can take up to six months to heal without surgery. Successful outcomes of treating rotator cuff injuries with massage therapy include reducing pain, increasing range of motion, and restoration of functional use of the joint.


Keeping your rotator cuff muscles in good shape is important in any case, whether you are aging and your concern is with degeneration of the muscles (risk of injury goes from 13% in age ranges 50-59 to 51% at an after age 80), or your concern lies with how your muscles are reacting to being built up as a result of sports and activity. Massage therapy can assist in either case. Benefits of massage therapy include muscle restoration after sports activity or injury, stretching the muscles to reduce chance of injury to begin with, and the flushing of toxins from the body.


In the case of sports and activity, a muscle can become disproportionately large or small as a result of certain movements or workout regimens. Sports massage techniques are able to stretch and relax muscles in a way that assists in diminishing these issues. A great massage therapist will also know the inner workings of the shoulder through training in anatomy, and they will be able to give you exercises that will assist in balancing out your rotator cuff. Regardless of the issue you are having, massage therapy with a great massage therapist can help alleviate pain and assist in the recovery of damaged rotator cuff muscles. Self care is important in preventing injuries like this. Massage is a great addition to your self care regimen, but we also recommend proper hydration, regular exercise, and stretching regularly.


Shin Splints


Excessive force on the shin bone and on the tissue around the shin is the cause of shin splints. The muscles around the bone swell and cause pressure on the shin bone, which can cause some pretty severe pain. Shin splints are a common runner’s injury, although any sports or repetitive activity that requires consistent starts and stops can cause shin splints. Tight calf muscles and flat feet can contribute to the severity of the condition as well.


Hamstring Injury


Hamstring injuries are very common in many different sports, and usually include a sprain or strain. These injuries can range from mild to severe, and can be the source or considerable amounts of pain. A Hamstring strain is often referred to as a ‘pull’, and this can be the cause of a small tear up to a serious full tear. Often, this is due to overuse, and can happen during almost any athletic activity. The area of pain can range anywhere from up near the buttocks to the back of the knee, depending on where the exact tear or pull occurred.


A sprain is different than a strain. A sprain is an injury to the connective tissue; whereas the strain is an injury to the muscle. The most common area to suffer a sprain is the ankle, but connective tissue can be damaged anywhere that it occurs in the body, including at the top and bottom of the hamstring.


Achilles Tendonitis


Along with shin splints, Achilles Tendonitis is another of the most common injuries caused by the repetitive motion of running. Your calf and your Achilles tendon are the shock absorbers for the entire force of your body. When you run or jump, there is a large amount of force on these parts of your body. Tendonitis is characterized by inflammation of the tendon due to repetitive forceful movements that are accompanied by running and jumping, in the case of the Achilles tendon.


Symptoms of this condition include redness and soreness over the tendon, a creaking sound during activity or while moving the tendon manually, and pain. Pain that accompanies tendonitis can worsen during activity. Swelling can occur over the site of the injury as well. Achilles tendonitis can be chronic or acute, meaning it can be short term or long term. It becomes more difficult to treat if the condition becomes chronic, and this can be characterized by the type of pain you experience, in most cases. Chronic Achilles Tendonitis often results in pain before and after activity with a brief break in pain during activity.


Sprained Ankle


Sprained ankles are a common injury and the most common spr