Sports Massage: Don’t Forget the Basics
One of the questions I frequently get asked by student massage therapists is, “Do you use lotion?” and they are often surprised when I say, “Sure, there are times when I use massage lotion during a massage”. They are shocked because in their mind, “sports massage” (whatever that means) is about getting in there, working deep, doing “myofascial work”, and using lotion does not seem to have its place in these treatments (to them at least).
Recently I was having a discussion with Conor Collins, a colleague in the Toronto area. We were talking specifically about soft tissue therapy and sports and one of the topics that came up was just the idea of how important basic massage strokes are. You know, the ones they taught you in school like effleurage (aka gliding strokes) and petrissage (aka kneading strokes).
Many of those attending massage school with the goal of getting out and working in sports tend to not place much emphasis on learning how to perform the basic massage strokes really, really well. They cast these basic techniques off to the side (you know, because they are more for “spa work”) and go the route of performing various stretching/mobility techniques, ART type techniques, or cross fiber friction techniques – or other, more complex techniques (because more complex is always better…right?). Not that there is anything wrong with these techniques (if fact they are all incredibly useful and I use them often) but there is something to be said for being very good at the basics.
A quote that really sticks out to me is from Robert Cantu’s text:
“Most therapist learn these techniques as standard massage techniques in entry-level programs, but they should still be recognized and discussed because of their importance in the overall treatment scheme. Some may disregard this type of massage, regarding it as too basic to include in the realm of advanced manual therapy; but leaving behind traditional myofascial manipulation techniques can handicap even the most advanced manual therapist. A technique is not necessarily more effective just because it is more complex.” (pg. 18, Myofascial Manipulation: Theory and Application)
What we do as massage therapists is invasive – we invade our client’s personal space. Having a touch that is comforting to the individual is one way to put them at easy with the treatment. Therapists in the sports setting often think that inflicting harm on the individual, making them sweat, or “digging it out”, is the goal and they often treat the body as a piece of wood, attempting to mold it and carve it. It is important to remember that the body is a living and adapting organism and as therapists we place our hands on the client’s skin and we ask their body to make a change, we do not force their body to make a change.
Using the general massage strokes can be a profound window into treatment or can be helpful in connecting your treatment in one area of the body to another area of the body. Additionally, these strokes have a relaxing quality to them that can be beneficial when soft tissue therapy is being used as a mode of recovery/regeneration and not just for treatment of injury or movement dysfunction.
Don’t cast aside general massage strokes because you don’t feel they are “sport” enough. Understand the tools in your toolbox and be good at using them. One can make a lot of ground with good ole fashioned gliding and kneading strokes when they are applied properly.