Deep Tissue Massage vs. Sports Massage

Hands massaging back of a woman
Sports massage is geared toward the needs of athletes. (Image: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

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. Two common massage types 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.

Assess/Prevent Injury Risk

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 Deep-Tissue and Sports 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 undergoing a sports or deep-tissue massage, you should discuss your overall treatment goals with your physician.

Massage 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-level sport. These clients might use massage as a part of pre- or post-game warm-ups 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 in order to receive a deep-tissue massage.

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