top of page

The Athletic Advantage: What is Sports Massage Therapy and How Does It Work?

Ever feel like your body is holding you back from reaching peak athletic performance? Muscle soreness, tightness, and injuries can sideline even the most dedicated athletes. That's where sports massage therapy comes in! In this blog post, we will explain what sports massage therapy is and the techniques involved in treating athletes. 

massage therapist working on an athlete

What is Sports Massage Therapy? 

Sports massage therapy is a specialized form of massage tailored to the needs of athletes. While it shares some techniques with traditional massage, sports massage employs targeted techniques to address specific concerns related to your sport and your athletic performance.  

Massage therapists who specialize in sports massage undergo training to understand the intricate workings of the musculoskeletal system, biomechanics, and the demands placed on the body during physical activity. This knowledge enables them to tailor their techniques to the individual needs of each athlete. 


Sports massage sessions are personalized based on an athlete's specific sport, training routine, injury history, and individual goals. Athletes may be treated both pre- and post-event to prepare the body for optimal performance or facilitate recovery after intense physical activity.  


Sports Massage Techniques 

During a sports massage session, the therapist may incorporate various techniques to relieve muscle tension, enhance circulation, improve flexibility, optimize muscle function, and address any areas of pain or injury. The specific techniques used in your sports massage will depend on your individual needs and goals. Here's a breakdown of some of the techniques we utilize in our clinics: 


  • Deep Tissue Massage: This technique focuses on deeper layers of muscle tissue, applying firm pressure to break down chronic tightness, improve flexibility, and promote healing. It’s particularly beneficial for addressing long-standing muscle tension and pain. 


  • Stretching: Assisted stretching helps to improve your overall flexibility and range of motion. This can enhance athletic performance and reduce the risk of injuries. 


  • Cross-Fiber Friction: This technique uses short, focused strokes across the grain of the muscle fibers to target specific areas of adhesion and scar tissue. It can help break down these restrictions and improve blood flow to the area. 


  • Trigger Point Therapy: This technique targets specific knots or tight areas in the muscle called trigger points. These points oftentimes will have predictable associated pain referral patterns. By applying focused pressure on these points, massage therapists can release the restricted tissue, alleviating pain and improving range of motion along the entire referral pattern. 


  • IASTM: Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization, or IASTM, is a technique that utilizes specialized scraping tools to facilitate tissue healing, break down scar tissue adhesions, and improve blood flow. IASTM is particularly effective for myofascial release; by loosening restrictions in the connective tissue surrounding muscles, IASTM can create more space for a massage therapist to treat the underlying structures. 


  • Gliding Cupping: Silicone cups are applied to create a vacuum on the skin, which are then slid across the muscles, improving blood flow, reducing muscle tension, and promoting mobility. Like IASTM, the suction created during gliding cupping can provide myofascial release allowing better access to deeper structures. 


  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): this gentle massage technique focuses on stimulating the lymphatic system – the body’s network of vessels that helps remove waste products and toxins. MLD therapy can guide lymph fluid toward draining points, promoting its circulation and reducing congestion. This technique is particularly effective for healing acute injuries and caring for post-surgical sites as it reduces swelling and scar tissue formation while improving range of motion and relieving pain. 


To see a full list of our current massage modalities and add-ons, visit our massage therapy page. 


Unlock an Athletic Advantage with Massage Therapy 

By incorporating regular sports massage sessions into your training routine, you can unlock a powerful tool for optimizing recovery and enhancing performance. Whether you're aiming to reach a personal best, prevent injuries, or recover from a surgery, sports massage therapy can offer a multitude of benefits for athletes of all levels. To read more about how sports massage impacts the body, check out our blog post on the benefits of sports massage


At Resolve Wellness, a medical massage therapy company in San Diego, our staff of Certified Massage Therapists works closely with physical therapists daily. This collaboration fosters a deeper understanding of body mechanics, sports recovery, and injury treatments. Through this teamwork, our massage therapists are uniquely qualified to create personalized treatment plans to keep you in top condition. Schedule an appointment and learn how we can help you achieve your athletic goals! 


Subscribe to our mailing list for more blogs sent straight to your inbox!



Emily McGuire is a Marketing Associate and staff writer for Resolve Wellness. With a Bachelor's degree in International Business from UC San Diego, she is a California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.

Reviewed by: Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP, BFRC, a Nationally Certified Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist who has been a part of the healthcare field since 2002. She is the Director of Resolve Wellness, specializing in manual lymphatic drainage and prenatal massage. Erynne has extensive knowledge of both massage and physiology, even receiving her Master's degree in Exercise Physiology from San Diego State University.


bottom of page