By Megan Gilpatric, Licensed Massage Therapist at Meredith Whole Living Center
When thinking about sports massage, do you envision college athletes? Olympic or highly trained individuals? How about an accountant who works out at the gym after work? A mother who trains at home while the baby takes an afternoon nap? Sports massage is for all of these individuals, and more. I believe there is a stigma around what type of massage can be useful to the everyday person, and see this often in my profession as a licensed massage therapist. As soon as the term “sports massage” is used, I often hear “I’m not an athlete, I exercise when I can but I'm no athlete”. I hope to convey that if you are working on your physical health and find that at times you have muscle aches, pains or just overall muscle tightness and fatigue, this form of massage could help your journey in ways you may not have yet considered.
Sports massage can open your eyes to new ways to help heal and train your body. Starting by listening to your goals and the routine you have in place, I listen for things such as if this includes stretching, heating or cold therapies, water intake, and frequency. Next I look at your range of motion, checking to see if one side of your body is compensating for the other, if you walk in favor of a certain side of your body, and what your shoulder posture is like when relaxed. All of these factors can be important when looking at what form of treatments would be most beneficial for you. I believe in educating my clients in different stretches, possible topicals, heating and cooling packs, as well as ways to utilize self massage at home.
Some frequently asked questions about self massage are:
“How can I massage my back at home?” Luckily there are many different tools such as a Thera Cane, which is a shepherds hook-like tool that allows you to get a more targeted massage experience at home. There are different styles of these that are sold at various sporting goods stores. Another, less expensive alternative could be to use a tennis ball and roll up and down along the sides of your spine. You can do this by leaning against a solid hard surface such as a wall while controlling the pressure by the amount of body weight you use to lean into it. It is important not to roll over the spine, but to focus on the muscle located between the spine and shoulder blade. This is where a good amount of neck and shoulder tension can be found.
How does a sports massage differ from a traditional massage? Typically the main differences would be the pressure level and the inclusion of range of motion testing, which gives the therapist a baseline of how your body moves naturally before releasing any muscle tension. Manual stretching may also be done by the therapist as well as more targeted work on specific muscle groups and their complementary groups.
Sports massage has many benefits, and can benefit you regardless of your perceived sense of your own athleticism. Being able to work on specific muscle groups while having the ability to track the progress first hand can help with future treatments as well as future exercises. I believe that sports massage can help all levels of athletes and individuals looking to improve their range of motion and decrease pain, no matter what stage of the fitness journey you’re in, or what your goals for improved movement are.