Massage Articles

Sports Massage

Sports massage is primarily concerned with injury prevention. However, most of the time we are using it in the treatment of chronic injuries, pain, overuse syndrome and acute injuries in rehabilitation or ongoing treatment of aches and pains. Just because its called sports massage, many people think its just for athletes. This is just not true; its especially good for athletes, but everybody can benefit from it. It differs from other massage forms because the techniques differ slightly. Specifically, they are compression massage, cross-fiber massage and DTF.

Compression massage is applied with the palms of the hand with a rhythmic motion, pressing on the muscle. In cross fiber massage, which can be applied with oil, strokes are done at 90 degrees across the muscle and tendon. It is more commonly done without oil, used on the belly of the muscle or on tendons by moving the skin over the muscle, not by rubbing the skin. This has many beneficial effects on the tissue systems, including the reduction of swelling, adhesions and micro-traumas, lubrication and the increase of blood flow. Then there is the most powerful technique in all massage: Deep Transverse Friction (DTF), started by Dr. James Cyriax, MD, an English Orthopedic Surgeon. He was the biggest proponent of this method, using it for the majority of his patients minor injuries. It has to be very specifically for it to be beneficial and not create more irritation in the actual movement of the body. DTF is a great technique for tendons, adhesions, micro- tears and musculo-tendonous joints and connections. Even trigger points and Swedish in the right areas is going to aid the body in accelerating the healing.

Of course, before the rehabilitative stage, rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) is the preferred treatment plan for most athletic injuries for more information see my book Your beautiful body.

The usual athletic injury, whether due to a direct blow, tear or to over-stretching results in the same pathological tissue damage. Tissue death and blood seepage from the vessels and capillaries create a hematoma. This is a mass of tissue debris and blood with extra calcium and other chemicals the body dumps into the system. Its shocked, and everything binds up to protect itself. A muscle spasm is the first sign of injury. If you push it further, the signs intensify.

Following the injury and shock comes the inflammatory response, which creates an enlargement of the original hematoma. Its the bodys cast; it sends all the white blood cells and nutrients to the site, including extra calcium to repair the damage. The problem is that it backfires by causing tissue death, due to slowed blood flow and to oxygen starvation. As soon as the initial trauma occurs, this cycle can be broken with the application of RICE, which will minimize the damage from secondary effects and accelerate the healing.

The pre-event massage is usually not done very deep, unless your client is really used to it. Even then, we dont deep work other than with deep compressions. We sometimes use a combination of effleurage, petrissage and direct pressure on tight areas, mostly tendons. We may even use a little Deep Transverse Friction (DTF), or Circular Friction as a post-event treatment. You need to take care and take into consideration the amount of therapy the athlete has had, as well as any possible conditions that may hamper healing. I have seen athletes get very good deep massages and run badly afterwards because they were not accustomed to it.

Mainly a pre-event massage is used to improve the speed, power and endurance of the athlete. It can get him to perform at the top of his ability. We have seen it over and over again: an athlete that is balanced structurally is one who has learned to strengthen and stretch the right places. Obviously, a well-balanced, well-timed and properly built machine (the human body) runs better. Sports massage is used for injury prevention in the athlete more than any other type of massage. This is because of the way its designed and the ultimate results you are seeking.. Structural balancethis is the key to improved performance and reduction of injuries.

The usual effects of the pre-event massage are increased circulation, loosened muscles and improved cellular nutrition through the dilation of the capillaries by deep compression is one of the best techniques to the heart strokes. Transverse friction (DTF) is one of the best techniques for tight, chronic or sore spots. (Read James Cyriax MD.) DTF also helps to increase motion by breaking up adhesions and improves circulation to tendons and ligaments as well.

You need to be cautious to using this technique: you can make an injury worse with too much DTF. Used properly, it can get rid of a knot in a muscle, a sore tendon, or even a hot trigger point, allowing to go beyond what may hurt or limit him down the road. DTF promotes a well-functioning body; its a valuable tool. Like all therapy, when properly given to athletes on a regular basis, the pre-event massage improves peak performance with less injury and shorter recuperation time.

Sports massage is also valuable in rehabilitation work. Unfortunately, the majority of the problems we se in the clinic are injury related. Sometimes traumatic injuries are incurred in contact sports, when players push the envelope in competition, sometimes injuries are caused by overtraining. Pushing the body beyond the established foundation will cause many problems with runners or any intense type of athlete.

Post-event sports massage is used primarily for recuperation from an event, race or an intense training session. I recommend any athlete that is serious about training to get a sports massage from knowledgeable therapist once a week. Youre investing a lot in your body and, just like a car, it needs regular tune-ups. Youd better be doing yoga or a whole lot of stretching as well. The runners I used to see did between 90 and 100 miles a weekyes, a week. I used to say, just let me hit your legs with a 2 x 4 and run forty miles less, and youll get the same benefit.

The post-event massage will speed up the recovery after all out effort in training or a race and aid in removing the lactic acid, histamines and other toxins, promoting great relaxation as well. Most athletes are so charged up youve got to get them to come down off that race. Trigger points release tension and spasms can be removed with compressions or with circular friction, another form of DTF. It also takes a lot of stress out of the nervous system. Acupuncture, acupressure and trigger points all work on the electrical part of the body. Some other forms of massage like Tragger, Feldenkrais and polarity work on the electrical system.

Sports massage is primarily concerned with structure and chemistry. Lets simplify the point by comparing the body to a car, for just a minute. Tuning the car makes it run more efficiently, but if the wheel structure is out of alignment, it will drive terribly. If you put the wrong gas (chemistry) in the car, it may not run at all! So if you work on the problems with the right tools you can expect better results. You could get any massage and it will feel good; the results that you get depend on what you want or expect.


The essence of compression work is deep, repetitive pressure to the belly of the muscle. Usually you find a knot and apply the technique to it for a few minutes. The compressions should be administered in a nice rhythm, always breathing with the patient and applying pressure with the exhalation. Stay within tolerance: never go into pain. You cannot fight pain with more pain, remember that. This promotes circulation to the deep tissue and is more tolerable than the fingers of DTF,


The wide deep strokes of Swedish and lymphatic massage encourage the circulation of blood and lymph, which helps to cleanse the body by eliminating toxins. These techniques work on the chemical level. A full body massage can take from 60 to 90 minutes to complete. This is tough to do these days. I used to do a full hour and sometimes an hour and a half. But it gets very difficult to put that much time in. I go more for frequency rather than intensity. While some of this massage work must be deep to be effective, you still have to stay within the athletes pain tolerance. You can do deep tissue work without pain by slowly building up over the course of several sessions. I dont try to do the deep tissue work in the first session. You can go deep by slowly increasing the pressure as you work with a person. They didnt build that body in a day and you cant help them in one session to change it. It takes time, knowledge and care to build a body. Massage can help, but the key is proper training and the right exercise program to structurally correct muscle imbalance.

DTF (Deep Transverse Friction)

We could write a whole book on DTF, and some doctors have. With transverse friction to the tendons, origin and insertion progressively deepening with each set, you can take so much stress away from a joint that it makes a huge difference in competition as well as in every day life. I dont do DTF just on athletes-- heck, everybody needs it.

In general, sports massage or corrective body work sessions are done with three sets of compressions alternated with three sets of deep transverse friction (DTF). We will normally take one muscle group at a time. I usually begin with the biggest muscles first and work my way to the smallest; from the belly of the muscle to the tendons, and from the tendons to the ligaments. (See Spirit massage for my work on ligaments.)

Muscle spasms or cramps are acute conditions that can be stopped with deep compression (just grab hold of the cramp), or origin and insertion techniques (push muscles together from the origin and insertion) from kinesiology. They have way too many causes to list here (look at chapter on muscles). Adhesions and other abnormalities in the belly or other soft tissue of the muscle will be addressed through friction (DTF) and direct pressure (trigger points, shiatsu or acupresssure)

see for more information and other articles..

Othon has been involved in the health field as a massage therapist, manual therapist and personal trainer for over thirty five years. He was one of the first therapist to teach in the University of Hawaii and had one of the first licensed massage schools as well. He has studied with some of the top doctors and healers of our times.

Like The Touch for Health foundation, Bernard Jensen DC., John Christopher ND., Everts Loomis MD., Ram Dass, Tony Robins, Rolling Thunder, and many more to list here. His specialty is treating sports injuries, back problems, and teaching others how to improve their health or athletic competition using nutrition and other fitness technologies.

Some of his specialties are Kinesiology, Polarity therapy, Reflexology, Iridology, Nutrition, herbs, Native American Indian Medicine, Neuro-Lynguistics and sports medicine with an emphasis in body mechanics. He has been an athlete and runner all his life, and competed in many triathlons, 5k's, 10k's and marathons. Competing at an elite level gave him the experience to help train.

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