Ethical Musculoskeletal Therapy and Myofascial Pain Specialists

Sports Massage Therapy > Sports Massage Techniques

Sports Massage Techniques

The four Sports Massage Techniques

Main Sports Massage Techniques

Sports massage uses four main techniques, which build on basic massage training. Each style of massage serves a different purpose, and how one uses each method can affect the intended outcome. In some cases, a therapist may wish to stimulate the nervous system and, in other cases, relax the system. Hence, the massage therapists must understand how and when to use each technique, as this impacts the result.


Effleurage has to be the principal technique in massage. The method is used partially diagnostically enabling palpation of tissues and partly for the physiological effects that the process has on the body. A therapist can perform effleurage with varying degrees of pressure, depth, speed longitudinally or transversely, depending on the desired effect.

Physiologically effleurage can improve general circulation through vasodilation. The massage strokes also increase both veinous and lymphatic flow due to the squeezing action on muscles and underlying tissues. Venous and lymphatic flow are both controlled by muscle contractions, unlike the pumped arterial blood flow. There are many similarities between the lymphatic system and venous system regarding the structure of the vessels in which fluids move. Unlike arteries, both lymphatic vessels and veins contain small one-way valves or gates (see the foam roller myofascial release article for further details). Muscle contractions effectively shunt veinous blood and lymphatic fluids through these valves or gates from one section to the next. There are some medical conditions where fluids can "pool" in various parts of the body and creating swelling or oedema. Hence, massage can help reduce some of this oedema, and some practitioners specialise in Lymphatic drainage massage. Lymph nodes are frequently affected during many types of Cancer and in many cases treatment involves the removal of some lymph nodes. Many cancer patients can then experience oedema and seek oncology massage treatments, which are a form of lymphatic drainage massage.

Effleurage strokes can also be soothing and cause stimulation of large cutaneous mechanoreceptors within the tissues. These mechanoreceptors help moderate the bodies perception of pain and so can reduce the sense of such pain. Besides the physiological effects mentioned thus far, effleurage will also warm tissues and stretch tissues to a certain extent in preparation for the use of more intensive techniques.


Petrissage techniques are slightly more intensive than effleurage and can also affect general circulation. However, petrissage techniques also tend to have positive effects on tissue adhesions, fibrosis and muscular tone. By stretching the muscle fibres and fascia, it is possible to improve muscle function. Treatment for spastic paralysis type conditions often involves using such manual therapy techniques. Petrissage massage techniques also stimulate the nervous system, affecting both the local tissues involved and the parasympathetic nervous system. There is a tendency to use petrissage techniques in the treatment of digestive disorders, as a result of the effects, these have on the parasympathetic nervous system. Such methods can be useful in reducing the patient's perception of pain as a result of releasing fibrotic or adhered tissues. Petrissage techniques can be applied rapidly, as in pre-event sports massage to stimulate blood and nerve supply, increase tissue mobility and extensibility and provide a psychological boost for the athlete.


Friction techniques tend to be used more in the treatment of chronic conditions (tendonitis) and where unresolved tissue injury has resulted in "barriers" (scar tissue, fibrosis or adhesions) and the techniques are used to aid with soft tissue repair and function. In chronic cases, one can often find a reduction in tissue mobility and extensibility, along with a reduction in blood supply and often nerve stimulus. Some therapists talk about "breaking down scar tissue" with massage therapy techniques. However, "scar tissue" is a repair and so very different from normal healthy tissue and will never be the same again. Hence, it is currently impossible to break down scar tissue and turn it into normal tissue (See the Tissue Repair, healing and scar tissue article).

However, misuse or trauma can create tissue adhesions or myofascial trigger points (MTrPs), trigger points (TrPs) for short. These areas of tissues and muscle fibres have effectively become "glued" together. Such adhesion can create "barriers" to normal tissue function, often leading to pain and affecting mobility. Friction techniques aim to break down and remove these "barriers". Treating the adhesions can help reduce tension associated with scar tissue but will not change the scar. Such techniques may also increase blood supply, mobility, extensibility and nerve stimulus to underlying tissues. Reducing such "barriers" to healing is thought to provide tissues with the best chance of repairing and restoring normal function. Restoring tissues to as near normal function as possible is a crucial goal for therapists concerning reducing pain and restoring mobility. Restoring normal or near-normal tissue function also helps reduce compensatory movement patterns, resulting in other problems. There are also other forms of more advanced friction massage techniques, such as Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisation (IASTM).


Tapotement techniques have varying physiological effects depending on the speed, duration and level of applied pressure. A suitably qualified therapist can either stimulate the circulatory and nervous system or calm and relax these systems besides having other effects. A combination of light to medium pressure in conjunction with a fast pace and short duration tends to stimulate the body. Tapotement can also be applied slowly, with more force and over a more extended period of time, which tends to produce a soothing and relaxing effect. There are certain lung conditions which respond well to the stimulating tapotement approach such as bronchitis and cystic fibrosis. Such techniques help loosen the mucus, which has a significant effect on the patient. Conditions affecting the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and Guillian-Barre syndrome can benefit from nerve stimulation and aid with restoring or maintain muscle tone. Pre-event sports massage tends to use the stimulating effects of tapotement, which as discussed earlier can have a positive psychological impact on the athlete.

Massage and Myotherapy Registrations

Terry brings over 16 years of experience treating in the MSK Therapy field back to Brisbane from the UK. He is highly qualified with relevant education and training spanning from Certificate level through to higher education and a Masters. His training and experience cover many assessment methods, treatment types and soft tissue therapy (STT) skills. Besides the sixteen years of clinical experience, Terry has a further eight years of experience training and working at the highest physical performance levels within the elite British forces environment. He has a personal experience with a range of running injuries and a vast amount of professional treatment experience. He is still an avid distance runner to this day. Such knowledge has proved highly valuable in the treatment of elite-level athletes and members of the public. His ongoing sporting activities, experiences and interests have naturally led to him specialising in human performance and treating trauma and myofascial pain. He also taught as a senior course coach on the first myotherapy course in Brisbane. His skills are now available at the Morningside clinic, where he works as a Myotherapist.