Massage Therapy for Sports
From beginners to elite athletes, massage therapy has been shown to be effective for athletes of all levels of participation and ability in their chosen sport. Massage therapy treatments can help athletes improve sport performance, prevent injury, aid in injury recovery, and contribute to an overall level of health and wellbeing.
Athletes have a variety of both physical and psychological rituals they complete to prepare for a competition. These preparation strategies include static stretching, dynamic stretching, warm-up drills, game simulations, and mental imagery. It has been suggested that a pre-event massage will reduce the potential for injury and enhance psychological readiness. Studies suggest that a pre-event massage can reduce pre-game stress or anxiety, and enhance sport performance.
Effects on Sport Performance
Athletes and coaches use a variety of strategies in the hopes of developing a competitive edge, which can include massage therapy.
Massage therapy has been investigated as a strategy to increase range of motion of various joints. One study found that massage therapy made significant short-term changes in hamstring flexibility. Another study investigated the effects of massage therapy on power grip performance after maximal exercise in healthy adults. This study found massage intervention to be significantly superior to non-massage intervention for post exercise grip performance. The most clinically relevant outcome was that the massage intervention demonstrated better results than the natural recovery of the control group. The authors of the study surmised that massage therapy shortly after fatiguing exercise is beneficial.
Treatment of Sports Injuries
When recovering from an injury, athletes often turn to massage therapy to aid in their rehabilitation. One study explored the effects of massage therapy on chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS). Athletes often suffer from CECS which includes cramping or aching pain that develops with exercise and resolves with the cessation of activity. The authors found a significant change in the amount of exercise that could be performed prior to pain onset after massage therapy treatments.
Massage Therapy Can Help
Many sports teams and athletic centres employ massage therapists, and athletes visit massage therapists to help them get back in action so that they can continue to play the sport that they love. Massage therapy can be effective at all stages for an athlete, from the pre-game work out, to treating post-game injuries.
MTAS gratefully acknowledges the Registered Massage Therapists' Association of Ontario (RMTAO) for their generous permission to use the material in this section.
Blackman PG, Simmons LR, Crossley KM. Treatment of chronic exertional compartment syndrome with massage: A pilot study. Clin J Sport Med. 1998 Jan; 8(1):14–17. [link]
Brooks CP, Woodruff LD, Wright LL, Donatelli R. The immediate effects of manual massage on power-grip performance after maximal exercise in healthy adults. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Dec; 11(6):1093–1101. [link]
Carr CM. Sport psychology: Psychologic issues and applications. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2006 Aug; 17(3):519–535. [link]