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11 Benefits of Sports Massage

sports massage therapy

Sports massage is reported to have multiple beneficial effects in athletes. Sports massage can be used before training, post training, during training, or for rehabilitation. From elite athletes to recreational exercisers, it is a favored choice. Learn more about what it is used for and which benefits are supported by research.

What Is Sports Massage?

Sports massage is a methodical manipulation of the soft tissues of the body that focuses on muscles relevant to a particular sport. Runner Paavo Nurmi, known as the “Flying Finn,” was one of the early users of sports massage. Nurmi is said to have used sports massage during the 1924 Olympics in Paris where he won five gold medals. Jack Meagher is thought to be the pioneer of sports massage in the United States of America.

Many different movements and techniques are used in sports massage. Examples of these techniques include; effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), compression, friction, tapotement (rhythmic striking), vibration, gliding, stretching, percussion, and trigger points. These movements and techniques are used to try to help the athlete’s body achieve maximum performance and physical conditioning with a decreased chance of injury or pain and a quicker recovery.

sports massage


Many benefits from sports massage have been reported based on experience and observation. Some are beneficial to the mind (psychological) and some to the body (physiological).

Some of the reported benefits of sports massage include:
  • Increased joint range of motion (ROM)
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased sense of well-being
  • Decreased muscle tension
  • Decreased neurological excitability (nerves more relaxed)
  • Decreased muscle spasms
  • Better sleep

Purported benefits that are not supported by research include:

  • Increased blood flow
  • Increased elimination of exercise waste products (lactic acid)
  • Decreased chance of injury
  • Decreased recovery time between workouts

Side Effects

Possible side effects of sports massage are tenderness or stiffness for 1 to 2 days after the sports massage. A skin reaction due to the massage oils is also possible. But for the most part, sports massage is safe.

What the Research Says

Research studies regarding perceived fatigue and recovery showed that subjects felt they were less weary and felt like they recovered quicker after sports massage. Reduced anxiety, improved mood, deeper sleep, and enhanced feelings of well-being were also noted. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is reduced by sports massage, according to a wide variety of studies.

Now for some benefits that are not supported by research. The ability of sports massage to help the muscles get rid of lactic acid is not supported in research studies. Many researchers feel this is linked to the fact that sports massage does not increase blood flow to muscles. For example, a 2010 study found that blood flow was actually mechanically impeded by massage and that was a possible reason that lactic acid removal was impaired. A quicker recovery after sports massage is not yet supported by the research. Studies do support that active recovery (low-intensity exercise after work-out) is the best method of decreasing the amount of lactic acid that builds up after exercise and speeds recovery.

So what does all of this mean? It seems that the positive mind (psychological) benefits of sports massage are indeed supported by research studies. Study findings also support that sports massage does not negatively affect performance, but the positive body (physiological) benefits on performance are not quite as clear. More research is needed on the positive body effects and also on the mind/body interaction after sports massage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is massage therapy?

  • Massage therapy is a type of massage with the specific goal to strengthen the mobility and function of muscles and joints. It is part of a physical therapy treatment plan performed by a trained physical therapist.

Are there different types of sports massage?

  • Yes, different types of sports massage can focus on the muscles most relevant to a particular sport. Examples of this include effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (rhythmic striking), vibration, stretching, compression, trigger points, and more.

Are massages good for you?

  • Whether a massage is “good” for you will depend on your personal experience and enjoyment, but there are virtually zero risks to it besides having an allergy to massage oils. For many people, a general massage can improve their overall and physical well-being.1 A sports massage can help an athlete prepare for or recover from an activity and improve performance.

Our sport massage therapist allows you to feel and move better and is flexible to fit into your busy schedule. Feel free to contact us for details.