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Home Athletics Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage – What’s the Difference?

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage – What’s the Difference?

By Patricia Hildebrandt Owner/Massage Therapist/Personal Trainer

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At Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage our clients will sometimes ask us:   “Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage….What is the difference”

The most important thing to remember is, above all that whichever style of Massage you do choose, at Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage, our Therapists will always spend a couple minutes assessing what your needs are and the treatment will be tailored to what your exact needs are. This will be done at every massage as medical needs can routinely change. This way you have no fear about making the wrong choice!

So this article will look at the 3 major things that differentiate a sports massage from a relaxation (Swedish) massage.

  • A Sports Massage is focused on taking care of specific needs. The individual might be coming for regular visits to have the therapist assist with injury recovery, the person may be having pre-event and post-event massage to ensure they perform better and they may have regular treatment during their training to ensure that they do what ever they can to maintain top physical form.  On the other hand, a relaxation (Swedish) Massage is a gentle and relaxing treatment with a major goal of with the goal of de-stressing or relaxation.
  • Different Fascial targets, different types of techniques. If you are having a relaxation (Swedish) massage you will find that the techniques used are more general, more basic and the pressure is lighter to ensure complete relaxation.  Relaxation (Swedish) Massage focuses on all of the tissue layers that lay on top of the muscle, though not the muscle itself, this type of pressure is efficient enough to release small knots and stretch stiff muscles. During a sports massage, an experienced Sport massage therapist will use different techniques focussed more on releasing the deeper fascia, the massage is typically at a bit of a faster pace and different modalities are incorporated. The modalities used may include Soft Tissue Release (STR), Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), Trigger Point Therapy, Massage using dynamic movement and stretching, Kinetic Cupping Massage, Cupping and if the therapist is experienced, they may use athletic taping to  may use a broader set of modalities, such as Trigger Point Therapy, ART, or Myofascial Release, to offer and aid in muscle health and overall training and recovery.
  • Finally and very important is the timing of massage treatments. Because there is a specific training objective and because there is typically an event the athlete is training form,  during sports massage and not with relaxation massage, you will have a goal that’s based around a health outcome and includes a series of timed visits versus a sporadic trips to the massage therapy studio for a relaxation massage. A sports massage therapist must understand that timing of the massage for the athlete is critical as if the timing is wrong, the whole dynamics of the way the athlete performs could potentially change. Tangible results are what is expected from a sports massage Whereas when you go to a massage studio for a relaxation massage it is considered “me time” and sports massage is about competition and winning, hopefully, first place.

    Some Frequently Asked Questions?

Which Massage is Best?

There is no right answer to “which massage is best?”. The answer is actually in what the client needs and what is their lifestyle. Again, the clients needs and wellness goals are discussed at every appointment.

Sometimes the athlete needs nothing more that a relaxation massage to help with any performance anxiety or general exhaustion due to ongoing training. This is where customizing based on needs is critical.

If I’m preparing for a bodybuilding competition, is there a certain timing for my “pre-event massage?

Absolutely! Timing is critical for a number of reasons. During your regular weightlifting season, there really are no restrictions on when you should get a massage or the type of massage you should be getting; however, when you are prepping for competition, your body fat gets really low, you might be getting quite dehydrated so doing a deep sports massage is definitely not optimal for your body at this time as it may change the dynamics of how your muscles look or it may even cause damage.

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Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage – What’s the Difference? For bodybuilding…deep fascial release is critical.

I would say that a final, before competition massage would be perfect through out your preparation and our therapists, who also have advanced sports massage certifications, know how to assess the situation to give you the best massage depending on where your at in your preparation. The final, before competition massage should be done about 1.5 weeks out from competition. One more thing to note….Chose your sport massage therapist wisely as most therapist indicate they perform sport massage but have not had the experience or education to understand and don’t have the physical conditioning themselves to either understand athletes or be able to actually perform the sports massage.

I’m a Triathlete so, is there a specific massage time for me? Tell me about massage timing for the triathlete.

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage - What's the Difference?
Learn more about timing, frequency and which type of massage is best for your situation. Ask us about sport specific massage!

My answers will definitely start the same every time because every athlete is different and their bodies will present differently every time they visit us. At Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage, our experienced sports massage therapist will do a quick assessment of current needs which will be based on a discussion with you, palpation of the areas in need and finally there may be discussion as to Range of motion (ROM) causing the biggest issues. Again, sometimes the athlete needs nothing more that a relaxation massage to help with any performance anxiety or general exhaustion due to ongoing training.

At that point we will implement a treatment appropriate for your current needs.

For you, a pre-event massage should be given a minimum of 2 days prior to your event and at that time, we would still not give a really deep or aggressive sport massage…we would keep the massage moderately deep to ensure you are simply moving in your “regular way” but we absolutely DO NOT want to change the dynamics of your muscles which will impact your performance.   Post event massage is typically done immediately following the event, within a couple hours after the event or can even be done a few days following the event.

I would recommend a very light massage immediately following the event with a longer one within a couple hours simply because we are trying to flush the pre and post event Massages are lighter in nature, use longer strokes and are more geared around doing what we can to help alleviate the symptoms of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which can develop within 12-24 hours following activity…noting that the greatest DOM will likely develop between 24-72 hours following activity. So again, CHOOSE YOUR SPORT MASSAGE THERAPIST WISELY and book your sport massage optimally within an hour or two following competition or following heavy activity or training.

I’m an active person who works out at the gym a lot? What is the best massage for me and is there a specific timing needed for my massage?

Again, our experienced massage therapists would do a thorough assessment prior to your session and the discussion would be around what your current training is, what your goals for training are, what our muscular issues are (with physically active people, this may change every time you see your therapist). If strength training is your goal then a deep tissue sport massage may be what you need….A full body with areas specific session that would work on mobility, fascial release and just “getting the knots out”. At the same time, you may be very sore and simply just want that Relaxation (Swedish Massage)…This is why each session is completely customized to what the clients current needs are.

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage - What's the Difference?
Both athletes and active people in general can benefit immensely from regular massage.

As with all other sports, we believe that massage will help to alleviate DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and this will likely develop anywhere from 12-24 hours following activity with the worst soreness developing around 24-72 hours following activity so again.

So go ahead and book that Custom Sport Massage but Choose your sport massage therapist based on proven experience and understand that most therapists will indicate they do sport massage but don’t have the education or experience or physical conditioning for treating athletes.

I’m a Baseball Player? What is the best massage for me and is there a specific timing that is best for my sport?

Every athlete is different, their goals are different and their needs based on the physical activity they perform, will be different. All athletes, like regular clients have different “Issues” and most bodies will present differently every time they visit us.

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage - What's the Difference?
“The majority of injuries in overhead throwers occur in the throwing arm. When including pitcher and position players, anywhere from 51 to 69 percent of all reported injuries occurred in the throwing arm.” We believe massage can help in maintenance and recovery.

At Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage, our therapists are experienced and certified not only in orthopaedic massage but they are experienced sport massage therapists with advanced sport massage certifications, certified personal trainers and they ARE very fit and therefore have the physical stamina to effectively work with athletes.

In other words, WE UNDERSTAND ATHLETES, we have experience working with athletes right from the grassroots level, to our provincial, national and international level athletes. Our experienced sports massage therapist will do a quick assessment of current needs which will be based on a discussion with you, palpation of the areas in need and finally there may be discussion as to Range of motion (ROM) causing the biggest issues.

For our baseball players, timing is critical however, the type of massage done during the training season can range anywhere from a relaxation massage (based completely on what the athlete needs at that time), to a deep tissue sport massage with specific goals (as discussed with the athlete), to working through and assisting with rehabilitation for an injury, to providing regular massage to assist in maintaining the health of the athlete’s body during the regular training season, to pre-event massage (timed correctly for optimal performance) and finally post event massage to assist with the prevention of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

For Boxers, what type of massage would you suggest and let’s talk about massage timing so that I can perform at my best?

As with every other athlete, despite that sport being different and the goals being somewhat different, every athlete requires a similar timing for certain types of massage…all of which depends on what their goals are and what their needs at the time of the massage are. Athletes, like our regular clients will most likely present, at every massage,  with different issues and different massage style needs and this is why assessment, discussion, Timing of the massage and customization of the massage is critical every time we see our athletes.

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage - What's the Difference?
Sponsored Athlete – Boxing

As with any athlete, there is a great importance of maintaining  flexibility, increasing body strength and recovering faster after every training session or for boxers, after every fight.   We strongly believe that REGULAR pre-event sport massage and post-event (post fight) sports massage is beneficial in improving performance in the ring and during regular training.  For any level of athlete it’s  critical that recovery is fast, following a strenuous workout or following an event. We believe that recovery times for all athletes are improved when sports massage is incorporated into the athlete’s training program.

There are a trainers or coaches who do not advocate massage because they may not fully understand the benefits but more so they may not understand how an experienced sport massage therapist will time the treatment and provide an appropriate type of massage which will make a huge difference in performance without changing the dynamics of how the athlete performs.

At Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage, our therapists are experienced and certified not only in orthopaedic massage but they are experienced sport massage therapists with advanced sport massage certifications, certified personal trainers and we are athletes who have the physical stamina to effectively work with our athletes.

As I’ve indicated before, WE UNDERSTAND ATHLETES, we have experience working with athletes right from the grassroots level, to our provincial, national and international level athletes. Our experienced sports massage therapist will always do a quick assessment of current needs which will be based on a discussion with you, palpation of the areas in need and finally there may be discussion as to Range of motion (ROM) causing the biggest issues.

I am on a competitive cheer team. I have very regular workout sessions at the cheer gym and I have a certain time of the year when I attend major competitions. What is the best massage during my training session and how would you time my massage during my event season?

Competitive cheer is not only requires extreme physical conditioning there is a great importance of maintaining  flexibility, strength  and quick recovery from injury or DOM (delayed onset muscle soreness). We understand that Competitive cheer involves  serious tumbling and moves that can put a lot of strain on the muscles and bones.  We also understand that overuse injuries can occur often due to the repetitive nature of some of the cheer activities. These injuries can become worse if they are not treated effectively.

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage
Competitive athletes have gruelling training regimes and extreme dedication and this is why a good athlete/sport therapist is key to helping the athlete in maintaining the health of their bodies.

We strongly believe that as with any athlete, maintaining the health of the body during training season is critical as is the timing of pre-event and post-event massage for the athlete.

For the competitive cheer athlete, regular massage will assist with maintaining the health of the body and/or assisting with recovery from an injury.

Timing for pre-event massage should be at least 48 hours before the event as performing a sports massage too close to event time could potentially change the dynamics of how the athlete performs. Also, the type of massage must be carefully considered based on a assessment of the athlete, their current condition and their goals.

Finally, post-event sports massage is equally as important to help alleviate or completely eliminate DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which can be completely debilitating for anyone. Typically DOMS sets in 12-24 hours following heavy physical activity with the worst soreness at around 24-72 hours following activity.

At Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage, we have the experience and are certified not only in orthopaedic massage but they are experienced sport massage therapists with advanced sport massage certifications, certified personal trainers and we are athletes who have the physical stamina to effectively work with our athletes.

As I’ve indicated before, WE UNDERSTAND ATHLETES, we have proven experience working with athletes right from the grassroots level, to our provincial, national and international level athletes. Our experienced sports massage therapist will always do a quick assessment of current needs which will be based on a discussion with you, palpation of the areas in need and finally there may be discussion as to Range of motion (ROM) causing the biggest issues.

I’m hockey player and play lacrosse in my off-season and my training is typically 4-5 days per week with games in there as well? What is the best massage for me and is there a specific timing needed for my massage?

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage
Not every hockey injury requires a trip to the emergency room. In most cases, hockey injuries can be treated by massage therapy from an experienced professional sports massage therapist, and a healthy bout of stretching –both before and after heavy physical activity.

Hockey is without a doubt a tough sport as is Lacrosse. We have treated a lot of hockey players who will participate in hockey and lacrosse or even hockey and baseball. From what we have seen, the bigger proponent for athletes in any sport is time for recovery and we believe that sport massage (provided by an experienced and educated sport therapist) is something that not only helps to maintain the athletes body but it assists in speeding up the time to recover from injuries.

Whether the pain, soreness or stiffness is from an injury or simple fatigue, all athletes want to maintain the level of performance that they need to have for every game they play in.

Sports Massage or Relaxation Massage
There is so much scientific research to support the benefits of massage for various conditions, including back pain, carpel tunnel, arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, chronic and acute pain, musculo-skeletal disorders, sport injuries, headache, migraine, and circulatory problems.

Athletes are using their bodies and the muscles in their bodies every day. So they have to be in top shape. Again, timing of sports massage and type of massage provided is critical because although we want the athlete to “feel better” we absolutely do not want to perform the “wrong massage at the wrong time” or it is highly likely that the dynamics of they way they play will change.

At Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage, our therapists are experienced and certified not only in orthopaedic massage but they are experienced sport massage therapists with advanced sport massage certifications, certified personal trainers and we are athletes who have the physical stamina to effectively work with our athletes.

As I’ve indicated before, WE UNDERSTAND ATHLETES, we have experience working with athletes right from the grassroots level, to our provincial, national and international level athletes. Our experienced sports massage therapist will always do a quick assessment of current needs which will be based on a discussion with you, palpation of the areas in need and finally there may be discussion as to Range of motion (ROM) causing the biggest issues.

So now that you know – BOOK A MASSAGE! 

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