Updated: May 13
Empower Movement + Massage practitioners are often asked to explain the difference between massage therapy and sports massage. There are a few differences that we'll explain in this article.
What is Sports Massage?
To better explain the difference, we must know what massage therapy generally entails: A traditional massage therapy session is meant to cover the entire body with some areas of focus when requested. The goal is often relaxation. Driving the nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight), to parasympathetic (rest, and digest).
Sports or athletic massage is focused on specific concerns. We'll use patellar tendinosis as an example. The practitioner, after a thorough assessment may decide to spend 30 minutes addressing the quadricep muscle group, 15 minutes on the ankles, and 15 minutes on the hips. It could include a variety of techniques such as Active Release, Assisted Isolated Stretching, and other tissue/joint mobility work. The goal being to reduce symptoms in the knee.
The sports massage has a physiological effect on the peripheral tissues. It is more specific. However, that does not mean it doesn't have larger, more generalized benefits. I argue it has a tremendous effect on the entire body. When you work to move and relax contracted tissues, it has a general relaxing effect on the rest of the body, due to complex signaling and nervous system processes. It also has a systemic hypoalgesic effect (pain reduction). This happens only if the sports massage itself does not cause too much discomfort or pain. If the stimulus of the massage is too rough, it can be counter-productive, causing more contracting of tissue and stress.
Practitioners must keep an open line of communication in order to stay within the client's level of comfort. I recommend the classic 1-10 pain scale. 1 being no discomfort, and 10 indicating you're jumping off the table, and kicking the therapist in the face. Find the number (usually 6 or 7) that enables you to still relax while receiving the work.
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