Deep Tissue Massage vs Sports Massage

Sports massage may include the five basic massage strokes combined with more advanced techniques, used to address specific problems such as muscle cramp, excessively tight muscles, joint stiffness, or excessive scar tissue

Sports massage might also be used to help athletes prepare for sporting events and to aid recovery following exerciseSports massage might include specialist techniques such as soft tissue release (STR), muscle energy technique (MET), or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) used in isolation or combined with other aspects of the overall treatmentDeep tissue massage is simply another skill that is quite useful to the sports massage therapist.

How deep tissue massage is applied when used as part of a sports massage treatment will vary: different mediums (e.g., oil, wax, balm, cream) are used, and therapists use their own combinations of compression and stretch to facilitate the desired treatment
outcomeDeep tissue massage can be used as a stand-alone treatment by any massage therapist.

But it is unlikely that clients would want or need their entire treatment to consist of deep tissue massageMore commonly, deep tissue techniques are used when therapists need to access a muscle more deeply (e.g., to facilitate lengthening of the muscle or to promote an increase in range in the associated joint) or when clients particularly like the sensation of deep massage on parts of their body

Many therapists who are not sports massage therapists find deep tissue massage techniques well worth learning because the techniques enable them to treat a wider variety of clients and
conditions.

What are the effects of Deep Tissue Massage?

Let’s now look at what can happen from a physiological point of view when we compress and stretch tissuesSome effects might be readily apparent, such as an increase in joint rangeOther effects might be more subtle and less observable, such as a functional
realignment of muscle fibers

Effects of Compression

Whatever method you choose to compress tissues (with the forearm, fist, elbow or a massage tool, or by gripping a muscle and squeezing it), through compression you temporarily impede blood flow to an area by squashing off the stream of blood to small
vesselsOnce pressure is reduced, these vessels are no longer compressed and fresh blood floods the area.

A client who was undergoing a long series of dental treatments came to me requesting massage to help calm him down prior to each dental sessionWracked with anxiety and apprehension, the client reported being unable to sleep the day before his dental appointment and had tried general massage, which he found was becoming less and less effectiveFocusing mostly on his neck and upper back, I provided deep tissue massage the afternoon prior to his dental treatmentThe client reported an induced deep relaxation that helped him get a better night’s sleep.

Imagine a garden lawn strewn with water hosesThe lawn represents the muscles of the body, and the hoses represent the arterioles and capillaries serving the muscles by providing the oxygen and nutrients required for growth, maintenance and repair.

If you compress one of the hoses, such as by placing a brick on it, the normal flow of water is blocked, or at least reduced, thereby causing increased pressure in the hose and decreased water to the lawn.

The heavier the brick, the greater the block, and the less water delivered to the lawnSimilarly, the more compression placed on a tissue, the less blood delivered to a muscle, which means cells in that region are deprived of essential oxygen and nutrients and will not function properly

The compressive techniques used in deep tissue massage serve as a temporary block to blood supply but have the overall effect of increasing blood flow to tissuesImagine stepping on a brick with your full body weight to block the flow of water in a hoseWith the flow fully blocked, pressure builds up in the hose, as described.

Imagine what will happen when you remove your foot from the brick and remove the brick from the hoseFluid under higher-than-normal pressure suddenly surges through the hoseIt is possible that this is what happens when we compress muscles during
deep tissue massage

Have you noticed during a massage that compressed areas quickly flush pink or red upon release of compression? When we compress tissue using our forearms, fists, elbows or a massage tool, we temporarily impede blood flowWhen the compressive force is released, there are a sudden increase in blood flow to the tissues
being worked, and areas that were pale prior to compression suddenly turn pink or even red

Obviously, effleurage encourages the dispersal of blood through capillaries and is thus used immediately following the administration of each compressive techniqueThe gentle shearing action of effleurage is useful also because it targets tissues differently from compressive techniques, which might have been administered perpendicularly.

The effect of a repeated cycle of compression-effleurage-compression makes for a kind of pumping action that helps bring fresh blood to an area that might have been slightly ischaemic to start withA fresh supply of blood is essential for growth,
maintenance and repair of tissues.

From a practical point of view, one of the dramatic effects of compression is to reduce pain in clients with muscle tensionFor example, tension commonly develops in muscles of the shoulders, neck and back when people sit in the same position for many hours at a time, and this tension is one of the main reasons people seek treatment from a massage therapist

Such muscular pain might be derived in whole or in part from reduced blood supply to muscles when muscles are forced to maintain shortened or lengthened positions in order to support a static postureThe kinds of compressive techniques described in this book also affect the nerve sensors within the skin and muscle, usually resulting in a palpable decrease in tension in muscles

They can thus be used to treat increases in overall tension in a muscle (such as a cramp) or to treat trigger spots—localized areas of increased tension that appear in known locations on the body, and which are palpableTrigger spots feel tender when pressed

They often refer pain to other areas of the same muscle or to different musclesPain and tension in trigger spots usually dissipate to some extent with sustained compression

Effects of Stretch

The passive stretching described in this book helps to lengthen tissuesIt might also help realign collagen fibres and untether areas of restricted fascia and muscleFibrosis is the formation of connective tissue in areas where it does not normally occur

Following injury, the body lays down collagen, and in some cases, this reduces muscle function by sticking fibers togetherBy helping to realign collagen and reduce fibrosis, the stretching techniques described can be helpful in facilitating proper muscle function as part of the rehabilitative process following injury

As with Swedish massage, none of the techniques described in this guide would be used to treat an acute injury or in the post-acute stage following injury.

Deep tissue stretching techniques might also help increase joint range when the range was restricted because of soft tissuesFor example, if a wrist is immobilized following fracture, the flexor and extensor muscles of the wrist might shorten, along with
the associated fascia of these muscles

The consequence could be a reduction in the client’s ability to use his or her wrist properly, as well as his or her fingers and elbow (also affected by the flexor and extensor muscles of the forearm)Deep tissue stretching could help increase wrist, elbow, and finger flexibility.

The effects of improving joint range can be profound for the clientIncreasing dorsiflexion at the ankle in a client with tight plantar flexors, for example, could make a difference in whether he can walk on that foot or notStretching the adductors of the
glenohumeral joint could help a client abduct her shoulder, thus enabling her to reach up to brush her hair when previously unable to do so.

Plantar flexors commonly shorten following immobilization of the ankle (e.g., following an ankle sprain or with damage to the Achilles tendon)Adductors of the glenohumeral joint shorten following immobilization of the arm caused by fracture of the humerus or forearm, or the following surgery to the breast, and sometimes even in clients who simply adopt closed or protective
kyphotic postures (common in the elderly)

These are just some of the examples of joint immobilization that can result in tightening of soft tissues and for which deep tissue
stretching techniques are usefulI’m sure you can think of many others that may affect the knee, neck and hip.

Finally, it is difficult to separate the physical effects of compression from the effects of the stretch when they are combined in a deep tissue massage routinePsychologically, deep tissue massage is calming and induces a state of deep relaxation that facilitates an overall improvement in feelings of well-being Powerfully sedative, deep tissue massage often has a soporific effect that benefits the client.

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