Sports massage therapists can be a part of Olympic history by helping world-class athletes excel.
By Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
The Olympic Games offer a unique opportunity for skilled massage therapists to blend their passion for healing with a love of sports. Considered to be the pinnacle of competition, the internationally studded Olympic stage is the ultimate event for sport lovers. For practitioners of sports massage, there is no greater honor than helping Olympic athletes bring their A game. Its prominence at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games is testament to the value elite athletes place on massage therapy.
Massage for Olympians
Massaging muscles in preparation for their being stressed to the maximum is not a new idea. In the first Olympic games of 776 BC, athletes received massage before an event. Afterwards, the competitors would take a dip in a hot bath, receive massage and then dip in a cold bath to prepare their muscles for the next event. However, massage therapy did not become an official component of the Olympics until Athens in 2004 where it was categorized under recreation, sharing a building with social lounges and computer labs.
The worth of sports massage during the biggest global sporting competition has finally been acknowledged this year. Because it is crucial to the well-being and performance of the athletes, the 2012 Games in London have included massage therapy under the medical category. After applying to be an Olympic games massage therapist and enduring interviews and trainings, those lucky enough to be among the chosen to be a volunteer at London’s Summer Olympic Games are able to make a legendary contribution to the world of sports.
A growing specialty for massage therapists, sports massage is a necessity for many professional athletes. Boosting an individual’s competitive edge, the performance and wellness advantages afforded by sports massage is highly sought after. There are three main goals of sports massage:
- Assist the athlete in achieving his or her peak performance
- Prevent or reduce the risk of injury
- Help with injury recovery when needed
Sports massage can occur in a variety of different settings and administered at different times with different goals. In general, there are four times to administer sports massage:
- Pre-event Massage – Pre-event massage typically occurs at the sports event, 20 to 30 minutes before the event. Encompassing techniques such as friction to help warm muscles up, compression to increase circulation in specific muscles and range of motion to assist in joint mobility, pre-event massage focuses on the muscles that will be stressed most during competition.
- Post-event Massage – Also administered at the event site, post-event massage is aimed at helping the athlete recover from muscle soreness or cramping while reestablishing range of motion and circulation. Post-event massage might consist of compressive effleurage for calming the nervous system and pushing fluid, stretching and petrissage to relieve muscular tension, compression for spreading muscle fibers and restoring blood flow, broadening strokes to lengthen tight muscles, and reciprocal inhibition to relieve muscle cramps.
- Maintenance Massage – Administered in between competitive events, a sports maintenance massage is part of an optimal wellness program that targets an athlete’s strength, flexibility, coordination, biomechanics, posture, stress patterns, scar tissue and existing injuries.
- Rehabilitation Massage – Because muscles worked to their limit cramp, tear, bruise and ache, even the most cautious athlete could benefit from rehabilitation massage. While sports massage should only be administered in unison with proper medical care, rehabilitative work can dramatically speed healing and ease pain. Rehabilitation sports massage techniques could include effleurage, neuromuscular therapy, compression, cross-fiber friction, lymphatic drainage and trigger point massage.
Sports massage is a satisfying and growing field, as professional athletes are grateful for the service. Since their bodies are in top physical condition, injury recovery time is dramatically reduced. Professional athletes’ careers depend on their body’s ability to function optimally. Especially because the benefits of sports massage are recognized immediately, professional athletes have a very high likelihood of treatment compliance.
Particularly for therapists who enjoy being a part of the excitement of a sports game, tournament or competition, investing time and energy into the specialty of sports massage can be a great career move. Although certainly not for an initial foray into sports massage, those practitioners already flourishing in this field can experience the ultimate professional high by sharing their skills at the next Olympic Games.
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