Sports massage is a form of massage involving the manipulation of soft tissue to benefit a person engaged in regular physical activity. Soft tissue is connective tissue that has not hardened into bone and cartilage; it includes skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia (a form of connective tissue that lines and sheathes of other soft tissues). Sports massage is designed to assist in correcting problems and imbalances in soft tissue that are caused from repetitive and strenuous physical activity and trauma. The application of sports massage, prior to and after exercise, may enhance performance, aid recovery and prevent injury. Massage is recorded as one of the earliest forms of physical therapy and was used over 3000 years ago in China, India and Greece. Its popular use in the Western world is largely due to the work of Per Henrik Ling (1776 – 1839), who developed the form of massage now known as Swedish massage. Ling developed his own style of massage and exercise to help fencers and gymnasts, gaining international recognition in the process. Many of his ideas have formed the foundations of modern sports massage. Today, there are many forms of massage available to assist us in maintaining our health and wellbeing. Sports massage has been accepted in America, Canada and Australia for many years now, while in the UK, the practice only became known and more widely used in the 1990s. There are many different techniques that might be adopted as part of your sports massage treatment, all with slightly different benefits. These include (but are not limited to):
The word effleurage derives from the French word, effleurer, which means ‘to skim’. It is a form of massage involving stroking movements with the hands sliding over the skin, and is often used at the beginning and end of as well as in between other techniques during a massage session. The stroking technique of effleurage may be used with varying pressure and speed according to the purpose and stage of the massage. Effleurage should be carried out in a smooth, rhythmical and relaxed manner, starting with a light touch at the start of a session and building up to deeper pressure with slower movements for increased circulation and stretching of the tissues later. The hands must be relaxed and follow the natural contours of the client’s body.
Petrissage comes from the French word, pétrir, which means ‘to knead’. The basic petrissage movement is to compress and then release the soft tissue, using either direct pressure or by picking up and squeezing the skin and muscle. Petrissage is generally used to have a deeper effect on soft tissue than effleurage, and includes kneading, squeezing, picking up, shaking (and other techniques described as wringing and rolling, which achieve much the same results).
Tapotement describes techniques such as hacking and cupping which have their place in massage aimed towards relaxation. Hacking is a technique in which both hands alternately strike the skin with the lateral borders of the fifth finger of each hand. As the other fingers close together on striking the skin, a characteristic sound is made. It is known to stimulate the skin and superficial muscle tissue, preparing the muscle for exercise and hence being an option for pre-competition massage. Cupping involves making an air-tight concave shape with the hand so that, as it strikes the surface, the air caught underneath is compressed, creating a vibration that penetrates the tissues. It may also create a vacuum as the hands are pulled away, and therefore by stimulating the superficial tissue can move blood away from deep tissue, a fact which may be considered counterproductive for sports massage. Other techniques achieve most of the same effects, together with additional benefits, more efficiently so tapotement is not widely used.
Frictions are small forceful movements applied back and forth over isolated areas using the pads of the fingers or thumbs – utilising considerable pressure compared to the techniques described so far. They are applied adjacent to the direction of fibres and hence, are often referred to as ‘cross-fibre’ frictions. It is vital to understand that such techniques actually disrupt the tissues in order to realign new fibres and therefore must be used sparingly and only when the need arises – see below. Several benefits of frictions may be generated by using deep stroking instead; the subtle difference between the two techniques being slightly less pressure and therefore no disruption caused.