Which Massage Does Your Body Need, Deep Tissue or Sports Massage?

Massage therapy involves the manual stimulation and manipulation of your muscles and skin. However, there are several massage types available depending upon your health and your goals for massage.

Sports massage is geared toward athletes. (Image: AndreyPopov/iStock/GettyImages)

Two common types of massage that have some similarities are deep tissue and sports massage. Knowing the difference between these two massage types can help you determine the best option for you.

Sports Massage vs. Deep Tissue

Although physical techniques are similar, sports massage is targeted to the athletic individual. The focuses of this intervention are to speed recovery time, improve performance and decrease the physical demands of sports on the body. Sports massage is often directed at healing a sports-related injury or helping to prevent injury.

Sports massage therapists should be well-versed when it comes to treating common injuries and muscular woes of athletes, such as hamstring strains or shin splints. Sports massage therapists can identify areas in which you experience muscle tightness or determine muscle abnormalities that could potentially lead to injury if left untreated.

While a deep-tissue massage can identify areas of muscle weakness, the therapist might not be targeting sport-specific injury areas. However, deep-tissue massages can be used to treat some injuries, including whiplash or back strain.

Strokes and Movements

One area of commonality between deep-tissue massage and sports massage is that each massage type uses similar strokes. This includes kneading, circular movements, tapping and vibrations. Sports massage uses similar methods of manipulating the skin, yet tends to be more focused on sports-related areas of pain.

Goals of Massage

Sports massage is dedicated to improving sports performance, boosting flexibility, and handling injuries or potential injuries. A person may have more reasons for seeking out a deep-tissue massage.

These include reducing toxins in the body, relieving stress, boosting circulation, reducing tension and reducing physical pain. Whether you're undergoing a sports or deep-tissue massage, you should discuss your overall treatment goals with your physician.

Types of Clients

Sports massage is typically limited to serious athletes, such as those who train most days of the week for a professional, collegiate or high school sport. These clients might use massage as a part of pre- or post-game warmups to reduce the likelihood of muscle cramping.

Deep-tissue massage clients tend to be more varied, ranging from business people to students. These clients do not have to participate in a certain activity or have an injury to receive a deep-tissue massage.

Precautions for Massage

Regardless of the type of massage, there are some situations in which massage might not be an appropriate intervention.

Although sports massage is directed at injuries, a muscle rupture or complete tendon tear will require surgery, not massage. In the first day or two after injury, muscle tissue can still be bleeding. Massage brings blood flow to the injured area, which can cause more bleeding and further injury.

Muscle injuries can sometimes lead to a condition called myositis ossificans, where bone begins to grow in the muscle. Massage will further damage the muscle, possibly promoting the abnormal bone growth.

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