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How can you benefit from sports massage?

Written by Oliver Quick

What is a sports massage?

“Sports Massage is the management, manipulation and rehabilitation of soft tissues of the body including muscles, tendons and ligaments that is applied in a sporting context”

A variety of soft tissue techniques such as traditional Swedish massage, soft tissue mobilisations (STM) and neuromuscular techniques (NMT) are used in order for the practitioner to facilitate individuals healing and rehabilitation, prevent injury and achieve optimal performance.

Who can receive a sports massage?

It is NOT limited to athletes or individuals that participate in sport!

Individuals that are in need of soft tissue manipulation, irrespective of age, level of fitness or gender, can receive a sports massage.

So How Does It Work?

Interactions with the skin such as, touching, stroking and rubbing, allow us to communicate and transmit feelings and emotions to one another. With sports massage we are able to formalise the touch to aid relaxation and promote specific physiological and psychological changes or feelings of well being.

The pressure of the massage itself will increase the pressure in the tissues. As the hands and pressure on the tissue moves, it will create a fluctuating pressure difference between areas of the tissue. Thus, the fluid within the tissue will constantly move from tissue to vessels and back again, as the pressure flows from high to low. By applying pressure in a longitudinal manner the fluid is pushed proximally along the vessel, leaving a collapsed vessel behind the hand to fill again rapidly, which creates a refilling or milking effect.

The flushing effect of massage will bring new circulation to the tissue, that will bring fresh nutrients, the stasis of inflammatory products, chemical irritants and toxins that remain in the tissue will be corrected, creating a change in the local area for the better. Undesirable plasticity in the spinal cord created by the mechanism of chemical irritants, can lower pain threshold within a whole neuron pool. By utilising the flushing method to replenish the local environment and remove inflammatory products, it is possible to prevent and lower some types of chronic pain.

Muscle soreness post exercise can also be improved by sports massage with aiding in the removal of metabolites and chemicals such as potassium that can build up within the muscle due to a prolonged muscle spasm, increased tone (excessive anxiety or tension for example) and in conditions such as fibromyalgia. In some cases where there is chronic inflammation within a limb, hand or ankle for example, the fluid can either be trapped in a tissue space or within fibrous swelling, massage can soften and release the inflammation to facilitate its removal.

Increased muscle tone ensures that the skeletal muscles remain in a mild state of contraction. This contraction is maintained by a complex interaction between the stimulating muscle spindles (receptors that identify stretch) and inhibitory impulses from the golgi tendon organs. The increase in muscle tone can be created by local spasm of the muscle in response to injury (fractured bone for example), pain in attempt to prevent further movement or damage and over-exercised muscles. During the response the muscle will become shortened that can lead to further pain, thus, massage has been reported to help to reduce tone, muscle soreness and tenderness, by using a variety of hand skills to improve the length, relaxation, increase sensory effect and circulatory movement of the tissue.

Our connective tissues are composed of primarily collagen fibres which are held together by fibrous cross-bridges. Following an injury or disease to these connective tissues, there will be an increase in inflammation causing an increased vascular permeability, allowing fluid to seep into tissues to form oedema. Within the oedema are plasma proteins, including fibrin-secrenting fibrinogen, that is responsible for fibrous tissue.

Adhesions can form within the connective tissue, thus, binding the individual fibres together increasing the cross-bridge effect between pairs of fibres. The result of this will then prevent normal gliding of fibers and reduce the ability of the fibres to spread apart. Massage has been suggested to aid in the breakdown of these adhesions which is documented as a destructive response, increasing inflammation and pain, however; from the application and manipulation of the fibres, it can facilitate in restoring width, spread and glide of the tissue surfaces, and longitudinal elongation that can promote flexibility or movement of the connective tissue. These effects can often be palpated within scar tissue, where scars are bound down to the underlying tissues, where massage can mobilise and soften by means of increased fluid exchange and elongation.

Findlay, S. (2010). Sports Massage. United States: Human Kinetics.

Holey, E., and Cook, E. (2012). Evidence-based therapeutic massage: a practical guide for therapists. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Benefits of Sports Massage and how can it aid recovery?

Physiological Effects

Other Effects

Aids in venous return and lymphatic drainage

Aids in the interchange of tissue fluid

Removal of chemical irritants and metabolites

Restore flexibility and mobility

Passively stretches fibres

Increase or decrease muscle tone

Reduction of superficial adhesions and/or restrictions in fascia

Relax muscles by reflexively affecting golgi tendon receptors

Re-alignment of connective tissue

Increase tissue temperature

Reduce muscle spasm

Minimize tissue atrophy

Calming and stimulating


Increased stability and awareness


  1. Chaitow, L., Franke, H. and Chaitow, L. (2013) Muscle Energy Techniques & Website. 4th ed. London: Elsevier Health Sciences UK

  2. Findlay, S. (2010). Sports Massage. United States: Human Kinetics.

  3. Holey, E., and Cook, E. (2012). Evidence-based therapeutic massage: a practical guide for therapists. Elsevier Health Sciences.

  4. Hinds, T. McEwan, I., Perkes, J., Dawson, E., Ball, D., George, Keith. (2004) ‘Effects of massage on limb and skin blood flow after quadriceps exercise’, Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 36(8), pp. 1308–1313

  5. Nelson, N. (2013) ‘Delayed onset muscle soreness: Is massage effective?’, Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 17(4), pp. 475–482

  6. 1. Guo, J., Li, L., Gong, Y., Zhu, R., Xu, J., Zou, J. and Chen, X., (2017). Massage alleviates delayed onset muscle soreness after strenuous exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in physiology, 8, p.747.

  7. 2.Kargarfard, M., Lam, E.T., Shariat, A., Shaw, I., Shaw, B.S. and Tamrin, S.B., (2016). Efficacy of massage on muscle soreness, perceived recovery, physiological restoration and physical performance in male bodybuilders. Journal of sports sciences, 34(10), pp.959-965.

  8. 3.Shin, M.S. and Sung, Y.H., (2015). Effects of massage on muscular strength and proprioception after exercise-induced muscle damage. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(8), pp.2255-2260.

  9. 4. Naderi, A., Aminian‐Far, A., Gholami, F., Mousavi, S.H., Saghari, M. and Howatson, G., (2021). Massage enhances recovery following exercise‐induced muscle damage in older adults. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 31(3), pp.623-632

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