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Sports massage derives from the commonly known massage therapy first used by ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Greek civilisations. Hippocrates, said to be the father of medicine, noted the benefits of "rubbing" on the human body in 460BC, however it wasn't until the early 1900s that the beginnings of sports massage techniques were developed.
The first system of sports massage originated from Swedish massage (developed in the 1700s) and was initially used at a massage school in Finland. During the 1924 Olympic Games, Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals and attributed his success to sports massage during his training regime. The therapy's focus then switched to Russia where a physician developed sports massage methods for the Moscow Institute of Physical Therapy and Russian athletes have used the therapy effectively in their training ever since.
The first published book on sports massage was written by American Jack Meagher in 1980. Having been an athlete during the 1940s, Meagher wrote about the effect sports massage has on increasing performance and endurance and he's credited with popularising the therapy in the United States. Over the last three decades, the therapy has become popular in the UK and the Sports Massage Association was founded in 2002.
The SMA holds a national register of sports massage therapists. The Institute of Sports and Remedial Massage (ISRM) also provide a national register of fully qualified sports massage therapists who have been professionally trained and are members of the SMA. The ISRM were the first to establish a network of schools teaching a validated qualification in Sport and Remedial Massage.
Sports massage aims to enhance performance, reduce the risk of injury and speed up recovery times for injured sports men and women. The sports massage therapist employs a number of techniques using their hands to ease muscle tension, improve circulation and increase mobility. Sports massage is also said to have psychological benefits by preparing the athlete for competition and aiding recovery afterwards.
Massage before an event involves stretching muscles to improve flexibility and circulation which is important to injury prevention. Post event, the sports massage therapist aims to loosen muscles that have become stiff during competition and therefore aid relaxation. Weekly maintenance sports massage eases pain brought about by intensive training and keeps muscles flexible and in good health for forthcoming competition.
Sports massage used during the sporting season and off-season is an important aspect of many athletes training ensuring muscles are strong and able to cope with high-level activity.
Do not drink alcohol on the day of your appointment but do drink plenty of water. Have a light snack (nothing spicy or fatty) a couple of hours before you see the practitioner and consider taking a short walk beforehand to warm up the muscles. Be aware that sports massage requires the practitioner to be hands-on and you will need to be fully or partially undressed during the treatment. Your sports massage practitioner will provide you with a robe or blanket.
Your practitioner will spend time during your first appointment questioning you about your medical history, sporting history and general health. They will then examine your body for muscle imbalances and from this be able to diagnose your problem and recommend a course of sports massage treatment.
The therapist will use various massage techniques on any areas they feel need treating and will begin by applying pressure and stroking movements (called 'effleurage') using their fingers and palms. This light rhythmical movement helps to relax muscle tissue and aid the therapist in identifying tender areas to avoid later. As the session progresses, deeper pressure (called 'petrissage') is applied to stretch out and separate muscle tissue and encourage better circulation of fluids in the body, this is done using a kneading technique. The final method (called 'frictions') involves breaking down built up scar tissue and separation of muscle fibres. Be aware this technique can be uncomfortable but it will only last a short while.
After your session you may feel slightly sore or tired but this is normal. Sports massage can also dehydrate the body so drink plenty of water afterwards. Your sports massage therapist will discuss the treatment with you and then make recommendations for any further sessions.
Your first session with a sports massage therapist may take longer than subsequent sessions as your practitioner questions you about your medical and sporting history and then recommends a course of treatment. Expect this session to last 60 - 90 minutes and follow-up sessions 30 - 60 minutes.
The cost for sports massage varies so check with your local practitioner before making an appointment. Expect to pay £30 - £50 for your first session with subsequent sessions costing £15 - £30.
As sports massage is a highly specialised therapy it is generally used for sports men and women and as such is not available on the NHS. It is therefore advisable to find a private practitioner who has a high level of training and experience and is a member of a professional association.
Sports massage should be viewed as an on-going treatment and part of your training regime. The number of sessions you'll require will depend on your circumstances and nature of your treatment. If you are recovering from injury for instance, you may well need sports massage on a more frequent basis and at regular intervals. Sports men and women competing regularly can sometimes use sports massage once or twice a week.
Sports massage is a safe therapy and recognised as being an important aspect of sports performance. It is also a highly effective way of helping to treat injuries and also prevent them. Anybody with an active interest in sports should visit a sports massage therapist.
Sports massage is not recommended if you have any wounds, infections or bruising on the skin. If you have a muscle tear it is advisable to wait for the tear to heal before having massage on it. If you are diabetic or pregnant, inform the therapist before starting any treatment. Consult with your GP and sports massage therapist about any medical problems or concerns you have as they are trained to recognise what can and cannot be treated with the therapy.
We always advise with any conditions, ailment or health problem you take independent medical advice from your GP before considering a complementrary therapy, alternative medicine or alternative treatment.