Techniques for Sports Massage

The various techniques employed in sports massage are derived from Swedish massage. The basic strokes are effleurage, petrissage, friction, stretching, and pressing, which you learned about in Chapter 5. These strokes are applied depending upon what the athlete needs from the massage. In this chapter you will learn which strokes to apply, for how long, and with what intensity, all in the context of sports massage.

Using Effleurage Strokes

Effleurage is the gliding stroke that flows over the body of the recipient. You use this stroke to smooth and warm up the body before you move in deeper. Remember to push toward the heart first and then pull back. You can see in FIGURE 10-1 how your hands should rest, with your palms flat on the contours of the body and your wrists extended, not stiff or flexed.


Rest your hands with flat palms.

Effleurage may also be applied by making circles over the area you are working, which is a deeper movement. This circular stroke flushes out toxins and increases circulation in a smaller area. You may effleurage with either long, gliding strokes or tighter circles; either one helps prepare the receiver for all other massage work.

Using Petrissage Strokes

Following effleurage you might introduce the kneading application of petrissage. With this stroke you lift the tissue into your palm and knead or squeeze to release tension. This method works on the back and the thigh while smaller areas are more easily worked by using your fingers and thumbs.

Fulling is a petrissage technique that works well in sports massage. For this stroke you hold the flesh with both hands, push the underlying muscle up between your hands, and then stretch it back down away from the bone. Practice the fulling stroke on your thigh by placing both hands on either side of the thigh muscle and pushing the muscle up in the middle before stretching away on either side.

One of the biggest mistakes made by someone applying massage is to use his or her hands and fingers incorrectly. Do not bend at the joints. Your fingers should not bend in a sharp angle from your hands, and your hands should not bend in a sharp angle from your wrists. Hold your hands so that they flow into your arms, and keep your wrists flexible.

Skin rolling is another petrissage move that works well in sports massage. This stroke is applied by lifting the tissue up between your fingers and thumbs as you compress the tissue. Roll the skin between your fingers using both hands as you move along the area, lifting, pressing, and rolling. This technique may be painful at first so remember to ask your receiver if she is comfortable with your touch. This rolling helps loosen the connective tissue and release adhesions.

Petrissage also increases the blood flow and moves toxins up for release. It also helps release hormones that relieve pain, and it stimulates the nervous system as well. The release of tension with petrissage is deep, going in to the belly of the muscle. Muscle soreness and stiffness are reduced and sometimes eliminated with petrissage.

Using Friction Strokes

Friction applies heat to the underlying muscle while moving the top layer of skin over the deeper layers. Friction helps improve circulation within the tendons and ligaments, which are areas that generally do not receive much blood flow. The initial friction stroke is applied with your hands flat down on the body. Your hands move back and forth in two straight lines, passing each other in a continued movement along the surface being worked. The movement is steady with an increase in speed as you become accustomed to the body underneath.

Friction of the arm or leg is done by rolling or wringing the area between both hands in opposite directions. This is cross-fiber friction. You may friction the forearm or calf in this manner by bending the recipient at the elbow or knee and wrapping both your hands around the limb. FIGURE 10-2 shows you how to position your hands and fingers to wring the muscles of the calf.


Friction of the calf muscle.

Think of cross-fiber movements as small bites working their way across the muscle, as opposed to smooth, gliding movements up and down the muscle fibers or in-and-down pressing movements. Cross-fiber friction can be applied all over the body, including the extremities. Place your fingers on the area and firmly press in a back-and-forth motion.

Using Stretching

This is a combination of stretching the receiver and teaching the recipient how to stretch. Passive stretching by you helps to extend the muscle tissue without the owner of the muscle participating. You apply gentle pressure to allow the muscle to stretch a tiny bit farther than it could without your assistance. Effleurage provides some of this stretch because it loosens connective tissue. You may assist further with a simple guidance of the body part in the direction of the stretch.

In another form of assisted stretching, the receiver is an active participant. You allow the recipient to press or pull a muscle or group of muscles that you are holding. For example, hold the receiver's arm out straight in one hand and ask him or her to press down on your resisting hold; then reverse your hold and ask the receiver to press up into your hand. This type of stretch assists in developing strength and flexibility of the muscles.

Finally, encourage your athlete to follow a full regimen of stretching post-workout as well as warming up the muscles before an event or workout.

Warming up a muscle is very different from stretching. During warm-up the athlete should mimic in the warm-up moves the behavior of the activity he will be performing, such as walking on a treadmill before running. It is important to allow one's temperature and circulation to increase before moving into any activity, including stretching.

Stretching helps to relax and release sore muscles, allowing for quicker recovery. Stretching also helps by increasing muscle flexibility, mobility, and the flow of blood and oxygen as well.

Using Pressing

This method of massage is used to increase circulation and encourage the relaxation of the muscle. Pressing, or compression, helps to warm up the muscle, which helps an athlete prepare for activity. Position the palm of your hand on the muscle that needs attention, and apply pressure directly onto the belly of the muscle in a steady rhythmic motion. Place your other hand on top of the pressing hand to assist in the application of pressure. Remember not to bend at the wrist but to keep the hand loose.

If you encounter a muscle in spasm, apply even pressure without moving, keeping your hand on the spasm for a count of ten and then removing it. The compression and release will help reduce the spasm in the muscle. Under compression, a muscle produces a chemical that helps release the constriction.

Using Tapping

Tapping as part of a sports massage is performed with the sides of your hands or your fingers along the affected area. It is an invigorating technique that stimulates blood and oxygen flow, and is used to provide added energy, generally before an event. It provides a toning effect that helps to warm up the muscles.

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