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  • Alexa Marie, LMT

What is “Sports Massage”?

Can anyone get a sports massage, or is it only reserved for athletes?


Let’s first talk about massage modalities. For all the non-body-workers or novice clients out there, massage therapy can include a variety of modalities. Maybe you have heard of a few; Swedish, deep tissue, myofascial, trigger point release, reflexology, manual lymphatic drainage; the list goes on. All these modalities describe an approach or movement applied to the body during the massage, with Swedish being the oldest and arguably the foundation of all other modalities.


So what kind of modality is Sports Massage? Well in my professional opinion, it is NOT actually a modality! I believe the term “sports massage” is often overused and definitely under-explained. The only time the term “sports massage” really makes sense to use, is when massage therapy is applied at an actual sporting event. One could also expect to call this practice event massage. Perhaps you have seen massage therapists set up at major sporting events like the NYC Marathon.


Event or sports massage could include quick fast-paced movements to help an athlete prepare for a competition. The massage itself likely wouldn’t last for more than 30 mins, often it is just 10 mins long, likely addressing a specific area of the body. The friction and fast-moving massage strokes are intended to warm up the muscles to prepare for the event. This helps athletes jump right into doing what they do best, quicker with less chance of injury. A lot of times the massage therapist is overseen by a physio/physical therapist or even a team doctor. A post-game sports massage could be longer, focusing on recovery and relaxation. The duration and intensity will all be based on when the athlete is competing next and how their body responds to deep work. For instance, some athletes respond very positively to very deep work that will flush out the tension and fluid built up from their all-out effort in the sport. However, some athletes require much less pressure and more relaxation to cool down from their intense work. The intention behind a post-event massage is to help athletes recover faster so that they may bounce back to performance status quicker. Within that pre or post-work, the therapist will use a variety of modalities to achieve the relief and recovery each athlete needs.


So why do so many therapists and businesses list sports massage as a type of service when it is not at a sporting event?


My guess is marketing and mimicking other business models without fully understanding what they are promoting. It seems as though most massage therapists or businesses use sports massage as a way to describe massaging clients who may have acute or chronic injuries and who might be looking for stretching to be incorporated into their routine. It may also be used to attract people who play recreational sports or work out on the regular. Unfortunately, I feel that listing sports massage as a service tends to exclude clients that might have an injury or imbalance that is NOT a direct result of playing a sport or working out, leaving the client to choose deep tissue or Swedish instead, which may overlook addressing the specific needs of their pain.


If you are looking for a massage that will use a variety of modalities and address postural imbalances or injuries, seek services like medical massage, therapeutic massage, and even sports massage (if you know the intention is to work on specific problems of the client). These services are likely designed to better address specific areas of pain. So to answer the question, “Can anyone get a sports massage?” Yes, of course they can! However, what one therapist calls a sports massage might be very different from another therapists’ definition. As always, ask questions before your service. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what your massage is called, it just matters if it works for you.


Looking for a massage therapist to address your injuries and pain, regardless if you’re an athlete or not? Or maybe you’re a coach and need a skilled massage therapist for your athletes' pre and post-competition? Check out The Crafted Hand in Hoboken, NJ. Alexa Marie, LMT is licensed in both NY and NY with an extensive background working with a variety of injuries and imbalances to the musculoskeletal system. Alexa also has experience working with professional athletes participating in NHL, NFL, WTA (US OPEN), and MMA as well as people competing or training for Iron Mans, Marathons, dance performances, and of course their personal best!