If you’ve never participated in giving massages at a pre- or post-event sports event you’re missing out on a great opportunity to have a lot of fun and to make a difference in the performance of participating athletes.
I encourage you to take the challenge. There are many sports events where you can do massage, such as professional events for athletes or those that raise money for worthwhile charities. You can also make a difference in helping athletes achieve peak performance and prevent injuries before and after events or competitions.
Bring the Essentials
It takes just a few minutes to set up, usually outdoors under a tent somewhere close to where the event takes place. Be sure to bring the following supplies—plus a smile and a lot of enthusiasm.
- Massage table.
- Anti-bacterial cleaner or disinfectant. (Preferably natural with no harsh chemicals since you will use it to clean your massage table and face cradle.)
- Paper towels to clean table after each massage.
- Disposable face cradles covers.
- Plastic garbage bags to dispose of paper towels and other items used for cleaning.
- Water and snacks to stay hydrated and keep your energy level up.
- Upbeat music. (You don’t have to listen to ocean waves, lullabies or soothing rainfall during a pre-event session, in fact, quite the opposite, so rock the team.)
- Sunscreen if it’s a sunny day.
- Your business cards and promotional brochures or flyers.
Guidelines for Events Sports Massage
Before attempting to do pre- or post-event sports bodywork, it is wise to familiarize yourself with the particular sport(s) in which your client-athletes participate, the muscle groups used and the common injuries associated with those sports.
There are many books to read on sports massage, informative continuing education classes to attend, and anatomy books that help pinpoint location and function of individual muscles on which you will need to target. Seize the chance and the challenge to improve your amazing sports massage bodywork skills.
Pre-Event Sports Massage Session
A pre-event sports massage session is short, brisk and vigorous and can feel a bit like a workout for the massage therapist. You do not need any lubricant and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Your goals are to increase blood circulation, flexibility and range of motion (ROM) without getting the athlete too relaxed, decrease chances of injury and reduce athlete’s anxiety so he can achieve peak performance.
Challenging? Yes, that’s why you need to be alert, enthusiastic and keep the tempo brisk.
Your athlete clients should theoretically fill out an intake form before the massage, but if there isn’t time, ask questions such as: How are you feeling today? How is your energy level? How much water have you drunk so far today? Have you had any past injuries and if so, where how long ago? Do you have any painful areas right now and if so, where?
The athlete should have already completed the stretching/conditioning warm up routine for the event, but I always ask, just in case, how much stretching he or she has done so far, since being on site.
Also observe the athlete’s mental condition—factors such as nervousness, fatigue or hyper-activity. Your attitude can help calm or increase these feelings. Positive statements such as, “Let’s loose up those muscles so you can run even faster” can be motivating and encouraging.
Refrain from saying anything negative, and if you find tight, restricted muscles, bring it up delicately—such as with, “I feel some tightness in these calves, but we are going to take of that with some compression and squeezing.”
Stay focused on the goal by portraying a you’ve got this and you’re going to do great type of attitude.
If the athlete has already done proper conditioning, then the muscles should already be somewhat warmed up and you’ll be able to feel this when you touch them.
Do the muscles feel warm or cold? Loose or tight? If cold, use some additional warm-up massage techniques such as effleurage, pettrisage, superficial friction, compression and tapotement to create hyperemia and stimulation. But keep it invigorating.
Also it is good to do some contract/relax stretches (press down on a certain muscle and ask the client to resist your pressure) for strengthening on muscle groups used during the event.
If they already feel warm do less warm-up and stretching and focus on broadening (compressing on a large muscle group such as the hamstrings or quads and then sliding with palms of hands with pressure from medial to lateral) to separate constricted muscle fibers and release oxygen to the muscles for greater flexibility and movement. Squeezing and lifting the muscle is also effective to increase circulation and work out tightness.
Refrain from using deep tissue techniques, such as deep transverse friction or trigger point therapy.
First of all, you don’t have enough time. Secondly, it is difficult to move the muscles after performing these modalities because they are too relaxed.
I end a pre-event session with the athlete sitting or standing while I perform what I call a few get-up-and-go techniques. Passive stretching on the arms, legs, chest and lats followed by tapotement keeps the athlete stimulated and ready to compete.
I also like to end by holding the ST-36 acupressure point, which is located four finger widths below the knee cap on the lateral side. This boosts energy and relieves fatigue, while helping one regain that second wind of energy. It is called the Three Mil point in traditional Chinese medicine and is named so because it is said that after holding this point “one will be able to run three more miles farther than he intended.” It also happens to be a great thing for an athlete to hear just before the go bell sounds.
Post-Event Sports Massage Session
During the event is a good time for you to eat some healthy snacks, drink plenty of water, enjoy watching the competitions and then shift from pre-event mode to setting up for post-event bodywork.
The goal is different from pre-event work because you need to help the athlete recover from heavy sports activity and the tempo changes to slow and medium to deep. You can help decrease an athlete’s chance of injury and decrease muscle recovery time by ridding the muscles of waste and lactic acid build-up.
Post-event work also increases circulation and restores ROM in the joints and muscles, relieves cramps and spasms, and reduces mental and physical fatigue. Oxygen and nutrition are everything to overworked muscles and you are the key.
It is important to be alert and keen in assessing your post-event client. Look for any obvious signs of injury and refer the athlete to the EMT unit if any medical treatment is necessary or if you see any signs of the following:
Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature): This can occur if athlete keeps cooling him- or herself excessively after being too hot. Signs are shivering and disorientation. Call the EMT, cover athlete with warm blanket and do superficial friction until help arrives.
Heat Related Conditions such as hyperthermia, heat exhaustion or heat stroke: These are very serious, life-threatening conditions caused by being in the sun too long or participating in heavy exercise without drinking adequate amounts of fluids.
Symptoms include sweating, headaches, nausea, dizziness and, if left untreated, can lead to unconsciousness or death. Immediately give the athlete water or electrolyte drink and call the EMT.
Sprains and Strains: If an athlete has severe swelling in an area and it is too tender to touch place an ice pack on this area and refer them to the EMT. Sprains and strains in the acute stage are contraindicated for massage therapy, but you can help reduce the swelling and promote quicker healing on an acute injury with ice therapy.
Muscle Cramps/Spasms that don’t go away: Spasms are caused by fatigue, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance such as deficiency in calcium, potassium and magnesium. Use hot compresses on the area in spasm along with direct pressure until it subsides. If it does not go away, refer them to the EMT.
In your post event session use medium to deep pressure with a moderate to slow tempo and pay special attention to muscle groups that were over-worked in the event. Focus on providing relaxation and relieving physical and mental exhaustion.
Keep in mind that muscles after an event will be much more sensitive than in a pre-event session, so ask client about depth of pressure and pain.
Many of the same techniques used in pre-event work can be used for post-event bodywork, but must be done more slowly.
Effleurage and petrissage can be used slowly for relaxation, to apply lubricant if needed and to improve circulation and break up lactic acid. I use a lot of passive stretching to increase flexibility and ROM. I don’t use active or contract/relax stretching for post-event work because the athlete has worked out enough and usually doesn’t feel like exerting more energy to assist in a stretch.
Jostling is also great to use after effleurage, petrissage or stretching. It is performed by gently tossing the tissue back and forth between the hands and keeps the muscle from tightening back up.
Broadening, squeezing, lifting and wringing are also effective to increase circulation and rid the body of lactic acid build-up. I sometimes use tapotement locally to loosen up an extremely tight muscle and generally end a session with slow, deep compression.
I do not use deep tissue techniques such as trigger point therapy or deep transverse friction for post-event work unless I’m directly trying to relieve a spasm or cramp. I save those for restorative sports work when the athlete comes to get regular 60-90 minute massages for maintenance and therapeutic muscle recovery or rehabilitative sports bodywork.
Successful Event Massage
Your efforts to improve and use your sports massage bodywork skills will be rewarding. After a day of pre- and post- event massage work, you can rest easy knowing that you have created a brighter day for many and your work will not go unnoticed. Happy events ahead and many more.
About the Author
Vicki Sutherland, L.M.T. is a graduate of Tennessee School of Massage. She currently maintains massage practices in Tennessee and Mississippi. She specializes in Swedish, deep tissue, acupressure, cupping therapy and other various spa modalities. Teaching is her passion and she currently teaches National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved courses in sports massage and stretching, acupressure, cupping therapy, reflexology, hot stone therapy, aromatherapy and hydrotherapy.
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