What is Sports Massage?

Sports Massage – What Is It?


There are several important differences between sports massage and Swedish massage – and even a regular session of ‘deep’ massage. That’s not to say there isn’t any crossover of techniques or benefits. A sports massage will be more vigorous, more specific in muscles / joints worked with, they can involve even deeper work than deep massage (but not always and only as indicated), are often at a 5 – 7 on a pain scale up to 10, and are generally more intense with shorter, faster strokes. There can be much more attention paid to stretching.


As a client, you can expect a much more rigorous pre-session interview, where your therapist will be listening carefully to detailed descriptions of the work you are requiring, the type of lifestyle / sports you have, your goals wit therapy, and your areas of pain or dysfunction.

In order to warm the muscles, either to work deeper, or in a pre-sports event massage, strokes will be much faster and should actually cause excitement, rather than relaxation.

Because sports massage is about warming muscles, therefore using friction, much less oil is used than in Swedish massage. There are also certain muscle-lengthening methods, such a ‘pin-and-stretch’, that are best done with no oil at all – or even over the drapes or clothing. Many sports massage therapists prefer lotion over oil is it is less viscous.


In the case of performance athletes, pain at some level is expected in sports massage. It’s part of what you get, and expect, for being an athlete. Sports at a higher level will eventually cause pain anyway with over-exertion of muscles; pain will eventually decrease performance. So it makes sense to prepare the body to last longer before getting to this stage – and that can be painful. However, on a pain scale of 1 – 10, where at 1 there’s not even awareness of touch, and 10 in unbearable pain, somewhere between 5 and 7 is the zone of therapeutic effectiveness. The therapist should keep in touch with you constantly about the pain level, watching your breathing, finger-twitching, and restive body motions. There is no need or good reason to endure pain beyond about a level 7.


Participation is a big part of sports massage. Forget about setting your face in the cradle and falling asleep. You will be asked to assist with stretching moves, roll onto your back, side or front several times, lift this or push that while the therapist resists in the opposite direction – and constant feedback about your experience.


In next week’s post I will be discussing what to expect from sports massage at performance-sports events specifically.


Be well,

Hamish and Rochelle.

Massage Professionals of Jackson Hole.