Preparing for your first sports massage
Sports massage therapy is a deep tissue massage that can help to prevent and manage muscular pain, soreness or tension that may be caused from physical activity or a physically demanding occupation.
That said, the benefits of sports massage extend further than preventing injury and enhancing the performance of athletes. Many people that work within sedentary occupations or spend many hours travelling also benefit from regular deep tissue massage to relieve tight, aching muscles. There is nothing quite like a deep tissue massage if you carry a lot of tension within your shoulders!
If you are thinking of having a sports massage for the first time, here are some helpful things to consider in order to help you get the very best from your treatment:
Finding a Sports Massage Therapist
Google is most peoples primary means of finding anything so by all means, hit the internet and look for therapists near you, this is a great start! Check out their websites, social media pages and definitely read the reviews that have been posted.
It is not yet statutory for sports massage therapists to belong to a regulatory body however, many therapists will register with a regulatory body as best practice. This provides assurance of their training, level of qualification and also continuing professional development to ensure that they are remaining up-to-date and safe to practice.
Most of the popular regulatory organisations hold a therapist register that you can search. I am a member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists and you can find me on their register.
Some employers and private health care providers will also subsidise some of the treatment costs of sports massage so its also worth checking this out before hand as you may get some money back!
Personally, I don't think you can get any better than a recommendation so you if you know anyone that has had, or continues to have regular sports massage, tap them up for information about their therapist. Alternatively, sports massage complements many other modalities such as physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments so you could ask your practitioner if they have any recommendations.
Your sports massage therapist may well become your greatest ally in preventing and/or returning from injury. It is however, outside of the sports massage therapists scope of practice to diagnose injuries. If you are unsure then give them a call and talk through what is happening, they will be able to advise on who will be more appropriate to see.
When is it best to arrange the appointment?
If you are building up to an event, race or competition and this is your first experience of a sports massage, I would advise scheduling your massage up to 2 weeks before the big day. It is not uncommon to experience tenderness, sore muscles and maybe even some mild bruising so allowing yourself some time after the massage would be wise. Once you are familiar with this type of deep tissue massage, and you know how your body responds post massage, future appointments can be made accordingly.
Have a read of this great post from the Sports Massage Academy about when is the optimal time to plan a sports massage around training.
Before the appointment
Make sure that you are well hydrated.
Have a light meal only, don't go with a full stomach; you will just feel uncomfortable for the whole treatment.
Promoting your dignity and modesty is important for you and your therapist so please wear appropriate clothing. Ideally shorts and t-shirt with women wearing a sports bra that fastens at the back.
There really is never a need to be naked and your therapist should leave the room to allow your privacy to change and cover yourself with a drape/towel on the massage table prior to starting the treatment.
During the appointment
You will be asked to provide some information relating to any medical or surgical history that may be relevant to the treatment. There may be some reasons that deep tissue massage may not be ideal or specific adjustments that may need to be made for you.
I think it is important to take a history about your lifestyle, hobbies etc and also to confirm your aims and expectations of the treatment.
Your therapist will perform a postural assessment; it is important to note here that this may not be obvious to you as often, if we say we are looking at your posture you stand to attention and we don't see your actual posture at all! So wherever possible, we try to assess your posture without you directly knowing about it!
Expect to move around, this isn't a relaxing lay down and have a snooze type of massage!
Another important reason to make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing.
No pain no gain!
Erm...no. Not quite.
There is some opinion and expectation that sports massage should hurt. A lot.
It is true that sports massage can be uncomfortable, as I said earlier, you won't be sleeping on the couch listening to the sounds of waves crashing against the beach. However, the aim of the massage is to progressively build up to a deep tissue massage by initially applying gentle but firm strokes. This warms the muscles and ensures that they are more accommodating of the deeper work. This also means that you have the chance to prepare yourself and find the deeper pressure more tolerable.
Most people describe the feeling of a deep tissue massage as a 'good pain.' That may sound a little odd, but completley understandable once you have experienced it!
I think most therapists like to use a pain scale with their clients, I know that I do. We work with a 0 - 10 scale and I hold the upper limit at a 7. I hope that I would notice if my client were to be at or over their 7 but if your therapist hasn't noticed then tell them! There is absolutely no benefit to the massage if you are bracing yourself against it.
Post massage care
Your therapist may advise that you perform specific exercises
or stretches to support the treatment following the massage.
You may feel tender and sore for a day or so after the massage, this is entirely normal.
Avoid exercise or strenuous activities in the same day of the massage. You should be ok to return to normal training the following day but I would avoid any speed or endurance sessions, so maybe plan a recovery session.
Think about planning regular massages into your diary or training plan. There is no real set frequency as these things are very individual however, if you begin to feel fatigued during training, your performance in training is starting to dip for no apparent reason or you can feel some tension developing again in the muscles, it is probably time to give your therapist a call.