Sports massage

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Therapy Directory Content Team

Last updated 3rd January 2023 | Next update due 2nd January 2026

Sports massage is a type of massage designed to help those who play sports and exercise regularly. Using certain techniques, this massage can help with recovery, event preparation and even reduce risk of injury. 

What is sports massage?

Those who exercise frequently, whether athletes or hobbyists, may find over time that their muscles become tense, tight or sore. There are many things they can do to keep their bodies in top condition, including sports massage.

Sports massage can be compared to Swedish massage and deep tissue massage, containing long strokes and kneading techniques. The aim is to help athletes and sports enthusiasts recover quicker, perform better and reduce pain and risk of injury. 

There are several types of techniques used within sports massage, including effleurage, petrissage and frictions.

What is effleurage?

Effleurage is a massage technique that involves stroking movements where the hands slide over the skin. This can be light, firm or deep strokes, depending on what’s needed. Effleurage is a common massage technique, and is typically used to both start and end sessions, as well as between other techniques during the session.

What is petrissage?

Petrissage is a kneading technique that looks to compress and release soft tissue. This can have a deeper effect than effleurage and can help to increase mobility, relax muscles and support the lymphatic system.

What are frictions?

Using the fingers and thumbs, frictions are smaller, more forceful movements that focus on an isolated area. The aim of this technique is to break down scar tissue, help to restore elasticity and stimulate healing and blood flow.

Other techniques that may be used in sports massage include vibration, tapotement (rhythmic striking), compression, stretching and gliding. 

Do sports massages hurt?

Some of the techniques used in sports massage can feel uncomfortable, but it should not be very painful. If you’re in pain during your massage, be sure to tell your massage therapist. 

What is the difference between a deep tissue massage and a sports massage?

Deep tissue massage and sports massage can seem similar as they tend to use the same techniques like effleurage, but the way they use them is different. Deep tissue massage uses deep pressure throughout the whole body, though may focus on problem areas like the lower back. Sports massage is generally more targeted and will focus on the muscles used by the client the most, and this will depend on the type of exercise or sport they do. 

What does a sports massage do?

Sports massage can help you if you are in training, preparing or recovering from an event, and if you are in rehabilitation. There are a number of sports massage benefits, including the following:

Reduces tension and pain

All types of massages look to ease muscle tension, using manipulation techniques that relax tight muscles. Sports massage can also help to reduce inflammation which supports recovery and eases pain. The endorphins that are released during massage are the body’s natural painkiller, while also enhancing sleep and easing stress.

Reduces risk of injury

When you have a sports massage before an event, it can help to warm up the muscles so they are better prepared. Increasing blood flow and reducing tension means muscles are supple and ready to work. Not warming up properly can lead to injury, so a pre-event sports massage can help reduce your chances of injuring yourself. 

Improves recovery time

Helping to reduce any lactic acid buildup that happens after exercise, sports massage can help to reduce post-exercise soreness. It can help with any pulled muscles or cramping you may be experiencing, helping you to recover more quickly. 

Other benefits of sports massage can include increased flexibility and range of motion, improved sleep quality and decreased anxiety.

What are the different types of sports massage?

The different types of sports massage you may come across include training massage, pre-event massage, post-event massage, and rehabilitative massage.

Training massage

Also referred to as ‘maintenance massage’, this type of sports massage is used when an athlete is training. They tend to be carried out between training sessions to help maintain the athlete's performance, increase flexibility, support recovery time and reduce injury. This means the athlete can stay on track with their training regime.

Pre-event massage

A pre-event massage will take place on the day of a sporting or competitive event. The aim is to warm up the muscles and prepare them, helping to maximise performance and lessen the chance of injury. 

Post-event massage

Taking place immediately after the sporting event or competition, a post-event massage focuses on easing tight muscles, reducing lactic acid build-up and stimulating blood flow. This can all aid recovery and can reduce pain.

Do I need a sports massage?

Sports massage is very practical and is tailored to those who exercise regularly. If you play sports or exercise frequently and notice your body feels tight or stiff, or perhaps you are prone to injury, you might find sports massage helpful.

While a sports massage can be relaxing, it’s worth noting that this is not the main aim, unlike some other massage approaches. If you’re unsure whether it’s right for you, contact a sports masseuse to ask if they think you could benefit. 

What is sports therapy?

Sports therapy is different to sports massage and typically includes a broader set of skills. A sports therapist will likely use sports massage techniques, but they can also support using other approaches including hot/cold therapy and mobilisation. Learn more about sports therapy.

How do I find a sports masseuse?

You can use our search tool to find massage therapists nationwide. You can search for those who work from a clinic and those who offer home visits. Once you’ve found a therapist who can help, get in touch to discuss your situation and learn more about what they can offer. When you’re happy, you can arrange your first appointment.

Disclaimer: At Therapy Directory we verify that massage practitioners have qualifications and insurance, or membership of a professional body, associated with massage only. We encourage you to check they have the specialised skills required to offer sports massage specifically.

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