Many therapists offer Sports Massage on their "Massage Menu" yet few understand what it is all about. When a client comes in requesting a Sports Massage, some therapists sincerely react by going in deep. Sports Massage is so much more.

Whilst it does have some aims in common with other forms of massage therapy, the usual experience in conventional massage is to aim to restore the normal function when someone is injured. But in sporta there is no 'normal' and athletes are always looking to improve and gain a competitive edge. Most athletes aim to reach a level of performance they can never achieve.

A Sports Massage therapist has great potential to assist the athlete to become better, rather than merely normal. In striving to be better, the athlete attempts to systematically increase the level of training and theby subjecting the body to undergraduate and controlled overuse. This overuse can often create imbalances and problems in the soft tissues, which if ignored may become chronic. Clearly this may hinder the athlete's performance and / or rate of improvement. Sports Massage can become a key ingredient in an athlete's success and this is why top competitors incorporate it as an integral part of their training territory.

So what is Sports Massage? McGillicuddy (1) defines massage for sports as "the specific application of massage techniques, hydrotherapy protocols, range of motion / flexibility protocol and strength-training principles utilized to achieve a specific goal when treating athletes". He considers that there are three principles that are vital to understanding what type of Sports Massage to apply to an athlete at any given time.

These principles are:

· Timing
· Technique and
· Intent

The timing of when massage for sports is related to when the massage is applied, is it pre-event or post-event, during a period period or possibly post-injury when rehabilitation is required. The technique reiterates what massage / stretching / strengthening methods the therapists employs to attempt to achieve the intent, the desired outcome.

The intent of pre-event massage is to warm up the muscles and to get blood flow through the muscles. The massage techniques generally used are petrissage, vibration, percussion, compression, muscle broadening strokes, etc. With post-event massage, the intent is assisted in the recovery process by increasing venous and lymphatic circulation to assist with removal of metabolic by-products and thenby decreasing muscle soreness so that the athlete can return to full training faster. The massage techniques would include effleurage, compression, petrissage, passive movements and light stretching. The intent of maintenance massage is to keep the athletes muscles and tissue in optimum condition and is generally scheduled at a regular frequency (be it weekly or fortnightly), closely married to the athlete's training program.

So Sports Massage is not about going deep nor it is learning one technique. The requirement for the therapist is to apply the appropriate treatment at the appropriate time, which takes education, skill and experience.

(1) M. McGillicuddy. "Three Key Principles of Sports Massage". MassageToday.com May 2003, Volume03 Issue 05.