For massage students of a certain disposition, sports massage therapy might be one of the most interesting fields they can choose to operate in. Sports massage therapists (SMTs) have the opportunity to work with elite athletes competing in a host of different sports, helping them to optimize performance, rehabilitate from injuries faster, and generally working to ease the strains of intense physical competition.
Becoming a sports massage therapist requires RMTs to complete additional written and practical exams with the Canadian Sports Massage Therapist Association. In order to do so, they must accumulate 500 hours of sports massage within at least three different sports, which they can begin accumulating during their massage therapy diploma program.
Sports massage is primarily based on Swedish massage, though SMTs may incorporate a variety of massage modalities in their work, including trigger point release, deep tissue work, and remedial massage, depending on the specific goals of the treatment.
A short 15-20 minute massage should be given to given to athletes within an hour of the start of an event to complement their regular warm-up routines. The RMT will usually apply brisk, stimulating strokes, focusing on the muscles the athlete will use most in competition. The goal should be to increase blood flow and flexibility while relaxing the patient for the upcoming activity.
Sports massage therapy courses also include training for post-event massage, which aims to relax muscle tone, restore flexibility, and accelerate an athlete’s recovery time after they have pushed themselves to their physicals limits in competition. The optimal time for application is 15 minutes following an event, although it can still be beneficial up to 10 hours after competition. Post-event massage is generally gentler and more relaxing than pre-event techniques, and also serves to identify any potential injuries early.
Maintenance sports massage programs are specifically tailored to an individual patient’s needs, helping them to recover from training and relieve tender or tight muscles to reduce the risk of injury. Professionals with sports massage therapy training will usually focus on trigger points and specific areas of stress, fine-tuning their approaches based on regular consultation with the athlete.
Maintenance sports massage may be the most beneficial of all sports massage applications, and research has shown that the reduced recovery times enabled by regular sessions allow athletes to plan more frequent, intense training programs, which serve to better optimize their performance.
While regular sports massage sessions make injuries less likely, they still inevitably occur, and massage therapy can play a vital role in an athlete’s rehabilitation program. Various modalities can be incorporated into the treatment program depending on the severity of the injury sustained. Relaxation techniques like deep tissue therapy and Swedish massage can be used to relieve pain, while modalities like muscle energy technique and joint mobilization can help restore the range of motion in the affected area.
Hydrotherapy and techniques such as lymphatic drainage are also frequently used to help accelerate the recovery process. While an injury can be frustrating for an athlete, proper treatment can see them return in better condition than ever.