22 February 2006

Try a sports massage

Whether you are an athlete, or a once-a-week jogger, a sports massage may be just the thing to prepare you for peak performance and to help your muscle recovery after the event.

Need a little extra help while training like crazy for the Pick ’n Pay Argus Cycle tour or another event? Consider a soothing sports massage in your build-up to the event and a mild pre-event sports massage to prepare you for peak performance. An intensive sports massage one or two hours after the event will relieve swelling caused by tiny tears in the muscles after heavy exercise. It will also help the body to remove excess lactic acid (and therefore deep muscle soreness), and will reduce stiffness and cramping, as well as speeding up recovery time.

What is a sports massage?
Sports massage was born in the 1960s when Russian athletic teams introduced the modern discipline of sports massage when their massage therapists accompanied the teams to events and massaged them before, during and after events.

It is a special form of massage often used during the training period, just before an event and within one or two hours after an event. While encompassing the basic principles of general massage therapy, sports massage focuses on athletic training, performance and recovery using different massage techniques at different times.

During the training and pre-event sports massage, the therapist may use a blend of traditional Swedish massage and Shiatsu techniques to focus on the specific needs of the individual athlete. The post-event sports massage can be described as a very sports-specific deep tissue massage and will go a long way to do three things: iron out the knots after a gruelling event, speed the removal of lactic acid in the muscles, and reduce stiffness and muscle ache after the event.

Since every type of sport requires different actions from different muscle groups, every sports massage will be different for every athlete.

The purpose of sports massages during the training period is to alleviate stress and tension, and to help to prevent smaller, but niggling injuries of overuse. The pre-event sports massage (sometimes a gentle massage prior to the event, or a slightly firmer massage a day or two before the event) can help to prepare the athlete for peak performance.

The intensive post-event sports massage will help the recovery of the small muscle tears.

The technique
Sports massage therapists apply massage techniques known as effleurage (relaxing light and mild stroking with the fingers and hands), petrissage (kneading on deeper tissue to mobilise fluids and stretch muscle fibres), friction (short, palpating massage to move the skin over the underlying surface or explore a joint or scar), tapotemen (cupping, hacking, pincing and vibration), vibration cyriax (deep trancerse friction ) and acupressure massage (applying mild pressure 1 – 5 minutes at a single point). The therapist may also apply massage modalities used by physiotherapists, such as heat and hydrotherapy.

A sports massage will:

  • Prevent muscle and tendon injuries
  • Help prevent chronic injuries of overuse
  • Reduce the discomfort and strain during training
  • Help the athlete to recover more quickly from muscle injuries
  • Help to free the soft tissue from scar tissue
  • Stimulate circulation
  • Calm nervous tension
  • Prepare the athlete for optimal performance
  • Relieve muscle soreness and stiffness after an event
  • Assist in the removal of lactic acid and other waste products
  • Aid in the healing process of current injuries.

Contra-indications for a sports massage
Don't consider a sports massage if you have:

  • A fever
  • Open wounds, burns, muscles tears or other acute trauma
  • Tumours, cancer or melanoma
  • Varicose veins, thrombosis
  • Haemophilia
  • Infectious skin disease
  • Diabetes

Where to find the right therapist
To book an appointment for a sports massage, you can contact Louise Prins at the Stellenbosch University Sports Science Centre on (021) 808 2818 or send an e-mail to Alternatively, you can contact Shirley Green at the Physiotherapy Society of South Africa on (021) 531 2717.


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