A detailed guide to Sports Massage


Dive into the world of sports massage, a must-read for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. From the energizing buzz of pre-event massages to the soothing relief of post-event recovery, this guide covers the A to Z of keeping your body in prime condition. Plus, discover the secret weapon of remedial massages for those pesky injuries and how regular maintenance can boost your performance and well-being. With a sprinkle of stretching wisdom and sleep-enhancing tips, it’s your ultimate playbook for peak physical health.

Pre-Event Sports Massage - What is it?

It's a style of sports massage used to prepare the body of the individual before their chosen activity; whether they be a professional athlete, casual runner doing a marathon or Tough Mudder style event or dancers and performers about to take part in a competition or big performance. It is a light rhythmic massage to stimulate the nervous system using specific techniques such as effleurage, tapotment, hacking and pounding. A stimulating pre event massage is vigorous and prepares people mentally for performance. Ideally as close to possible to the event but ideally within 24 hours. Often focuses on the main muscles to be used and lasts about 25mins. It is light, fast and should make you feel energised and ready to go!

Post-event massage – What is it?

It’s a style of sports massage used to help recovery after your chosen activity; whether you are a professional athlete competing, casual runner doing a marathon or dancer/performer after a competition or big performance.  It isn’t as light as a pre-event massage yet shouldn’t be too deep and involves techniques to relax tightening muscles and some passive stretching. If you wonder whether to treat yourself to a massage after your big activity, the best evidence is that it may reduce your soreness. Reviews of clinical trials concluded that there is some evidence that sports massage reduces delayed onset muscle soreness. One review found evidence that massage worked while other commonly used tactics of icing, stretching and doing low-intensity exercise did not have the same effect.  Some research says up to 48 hrs later, as DOMS sets in, is the most effective time.

Remedial massage – What is it?

  1. Having explained the purpose of pre and post event sport massages, we then move on to the remedial massage to support your training lifestyle by addressing injury and niggles that arise. Remedial Massage uses deep tissue work, stretching, neuro-muscular stimulation and connective tissue ‘release’ to help you regain the health of the body’s soft tissue. Its therapeutic effect can often restore movement and functionality.
  2. Some of the techniques used are;
  3. Muscle Energy Techniques to reduce overall muscle tightness and return a joint to normal range of motion by using controlled, directed stretching methods on the relevant muscles groups for the individual’s needs.
  4. Soft Tissue Release techniques to target specific area of over facilitated muscle fibres (tightness) within a muscle, particularly useful when a person already has a good level of flexibility and range of motion to add a pin pointed stretch.
  5. Finally, your regular ‘maintenance’ massage is aimed to help your body function optimally utilising all the techniques already mentioned depending on you and your needs in a specific session.  And it isn’t just for sporty people, even those more sedentary types (desk workers) can develop overuse or strain injuries because of the way they hold their body when working due to hyper focus on the work at hand.

Some of the benefits seen in massage 

  1. Improved Recovery: Numerous studies have shown that regular massage can significantly reduce muscle soreness and hasten the recovery process after intense exercise. Research suggests that massage helps in the removal of metabolic waste products such as lactate and improves blood circulation, facilitating faster recovery of muscle tissue.
  2. Improved Range of Motion: Scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of massage in improving flexibility and increasing range of motion in muscles and joints. By ‘breaking’ down adhesions and scar tissue and promoting tissue elasticity, massage therapy contributes to improved mobility and athletic performance.
  3. Injury Prevention: Research indicates that regular massage can help prevent injuries by addressing muscle imbalances, reducing muscle tension, and promoting proper biomechanics. By enhancing muscle flexibility and function, massage therapy reduces the risk of overuse injuries and strains.
  4. Pain Relief: Several studies have demonstrated the analgesic effects of massage in alleviating pain associated with various musculoskeletal conditions, such as tendonitis, sprains, and strains. Massage therapy helps in reducing muscle tension and promoting relaxation, leading to pain relief and improved quality of life.
  5. Psychological Benefits: Evidence suggests that massage has psychological benefits, including stress reduction, anxiety relief, and improved mood. Massage therapy stimulates the release of endorphins and reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, promoting feelings of well-being and relaxation.


Stretching is a form of physical exercise that involves the deliberate lengthening of muscles to increase flexibility, range of motion, and reduce the risk of injury. While there is some debate about the benefits of stretching, many scientific studies have shown that regular stretching can provide numerous benefits to the body. Here are some of the evidence-based benefits of stretching.

  1. Improved flexibility and range of motion: Regular stretching can help to increase flexibility and range of motion in the muscles and joints. This can be especially beneficial for athletes or people who engage in physical activities that require a lot of movement, as it can help to prevent injuries and improve performance.
  2. Reduced muscle tension and soreness: Stretching can help to reduce muscle tension and soreness, particularly after exercise or physical activity. This is because stretching can increase blood flow to the muscles, which can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing.
  3. Improved posture: Poor posture (a controversial term.  Being 'stuck' in a posture is sub optimal) is a common problem that may be associated with a variety of health issues, including back pain, neck pain, and headaches. Regular stretching can help to improve access to other postural positions by stretching and strengthening the muscles that support the spine and neck.
  4. Reduced risk of injury: Stretching can help to reduce the risk of injury by improving flexibility and range of motion. This can be particularly important for athletes or people who engage in physical activities that require a lot of movement, as it can help to prevent muscle strains, sprains, and other types of injuries.
  5. Improved balance and coordination: Regular stretching can also help to improve balance and coordination (by stimulating what are known as proprioceptors in the muscles and fascia), which can be beneficial for athletes and older adults. Proprioception is the body's ability to sense its position in space.
  6. Reduced stress and anxiety: Stretching can also help to reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation and reducing tension in the muscles. This is because stretching can stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural feel-good chemicals in the brain.
  7. Improved circulation: Stretching can also help to improve circulation by improving blood flow to the muscles (tight muscles restrict blood and lymphatic flow) and other tissues in the body. This can be particularly beneficial for people who have poor circulation or who sit for long periods of time.
  8. Improved athletic performance: Finally, regular stretching can help to improve athletic performance by increasing flexibility, range of motion, and balance. This can be especially beneficial for athletes who need to perform at a high level in order to compete.

In conclusion, regular stretching can provide numerous benefits to the body, including improved flexibility and range of motion, reduced muscle tension and soreness, improved posture, reduced risk of injury, improved balance and coordination, reduced stress and anxiety, improved circulation, and improved athletic performance. While there is some debate about the benefits of stretching, the scientific evidence suggests that it can be a valuable addition to any exercise or physical activity routine.

Massage and Sleep

Massage therapy has been practiced for centuries and has been found to provide numerous benefits for the human body. One of the benefits of massage therapy that has been studied extensively is its effect on sleep. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that massage can have a positive impact on sleep quality, duration, and overall well-being.

  1. Reduces Insomnia: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Studies have shown that massage therapy can help to reduce symptoms by promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving overall well-being. A randomized controlled trial found that adults who received massage therapy twice a week for five weeks had significant improvements in sleep quality and reduced symptoms of insomnia compared to a control group.
  2. Reduces Stress Hormones: Stress is one of the main factors that contribute to poor sleep quality. When we experience stress, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that increases heart rate and blood pressure, and disrupts sleep. Massage therapy has been found to reduce cortisol levels, thus promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality. A study conducted on postmenopausal women found that massage therapy significantly reduced cortisol levels, leading to improved sleep quality.
  3. Increases Serotonin and Dopamine: Massage therapy has been found to increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, and dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. By increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters, massage therapy can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.
  4. Reduces Muscle Tension and Pain: Muscle tension and pain are common causes of poor sleep quality. Massage therapy has been found to reduce muscle tension and pain, leading to improved sleep quality. A study conducted on patients with chronic lower back pain found that massage therapy significantly reduced pain and improved sleep quality compared to a control group.
  5. Enhances Immune System: Massage therapy has been found to enhance the immune system, leading to improved overall health and well-being. A study conducted on patients with breast cancer found that massage therapy significantly improved immune function, leading to improved sleep quality.

In conclusion, massage therapy is not just for sporting injuries but has been found to have numerous benefits for sleep as outlined above These benefits make massage therapy an effective and safe treatment option for people who struggle with poor sleep quality.  The exact reason is unclear but is believed to be due to the effect of touch on different receptors (pressure, shear, vibration) in the body and the sensory stimulus they communicate to the brain calming the nervous system. Another recommendation to improve sleep quality is the use of blue light filters on electronic devices, blue light blockers (glasses – wearing not drinking) for 2 hours before bed and some light stretching for 5 mins before bed.


  1. Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002;325(7362):468.
  2. Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, Kimsey Jr CD. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(3):371-8.
  3. Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, McHugh M. Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016;41(1):1-11.
  4. Shrier I. Stretching before exercise: an evidence based approach. Br J Sports Med. 2000;34(5):324-7.
  5. Small K, McNaughton L, Matthews M. A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Res Sports Med. 2008;16(3):213-31.
  6. Weppler CH, Magnusson SP. Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation?. Phys Ther. 2010;90(3):438-49.
  7. Konrad A, Tilp M. Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures. Clin Biomech. 2014;29(6):636-42.
  8. McHugh MP, Cosgrave CH. To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(2):169-81.
  9. Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011(7):CD004577.
  10. Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, et al. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology position stand on the use of stretching for health and performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016;41(1):199-211.

John Wort

Sports Massage Therapist
John Wort

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