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Sport massage
Muscle Pain


Massage has a rich history spanning thousands of years, with health care practitioners employing this therapeutic technique in the treatment of various illnesses and injuries. Ancient Chinese writings from around 2500 BC extensively document the diverse medical applications of massage. Throughout the years, it has gained prominence as a recommended treatment for a wide range of conditions, including musculoskeletal injuries, cancer, stress, relaxation, and pregnancy.

Within the realm of sports medicine, physical therapists specialising in this field often incorporate massage techniques into their practice, contributing to the comprehensive approach to musculoskeletal care, which is particularly evident in physiotherapy in Malaysia.It is effective in aiding athletes’ recovery from rigorous exercise. Sports massage emerges as a multifaceted approach, proposed not only for prepping athletes before the competition but also for optimising performance, facilitating post-exercise or post-competition recovery, and addressing sports-related musculoskeletal injuries through manual therapy.


Sports massage is defined as a collection of massage techniques performed on athletes or active individuals for the purpose of aiding recovery or treating pathology. Three forms of massage are frequently used in sports medicine : effleurage, petrissage, and deep transverse friction massage (DTFM).


Effleurage is a commonly used form of sports massage, characterised by the smooth, gliding movements of the therapist’s hands along the contours of the body. This technique is adaptable, allowing variations in the depth of pressure applied. It  follows the direction of lymphatic  and venous flow, contributing to its effectiveness in promoting circulation.

During the initial stages of a massage session, therapists employ light pressure to prepare the client and the soft tissues for a deeper, more focused massage.  At the end, effleurage serves the purpose of relaxing the tissues. The depth and speed of the strokes can be adjusted based on the therapeutic goals.

Effleurage serves a multifaceted purpose in sports massage. It aims to induce relaxation, warm the tissues, enhance circulation, facilitate tissue drainage, stretch muscles and fascia, and provide soothing relief to painful or sore areas. By incorporating effleurage into a massage session, therapists contribute to the overall well-being of the client, addressing both physical and psychological aspects of recovery and relaxation (Moraska, 2005).


Petrissage is a massage technique characterised by the lifting, kneading, or compression of muscle tissue away from underlying structures, followed by release. This dynamic form of massage has the capacity to produce either a stimulating or relaxing effect on muscles, depending  upon factors such as the rate and pressure of the massage, as well as the degree of stretch applied to the tissues.

The primary benefits of petrissage strokes include aiding in the removal of metabolic waste and enhancing circulation around the targeted tissue. Beyond these physiological effects, petrissage is reported to bring about a reduction in muscle soreness, toning of the muscles, mitigation of local swelling, softening of fascia, and the loosening of adhesions between tissues. The versatility of petrissage allows physiotherapists to tailor their approach to meet the specific needs and preferences of the client (Moraska, 2005).

Deep transverse friction massage

Friction massage is a vigorous and deep stroke technique employed in massage therapy, delivered either transversely to cross fibers or parallel to the direction of the underlying tissues. This technique involves applying circular or linear strokes using the fingertips or a thimble to a specific localised region of the body.

The primary purpose of friction massage is to induce a controlled inflammatory response with the intention of achieving several therapeutic outcomes. These include breaking down scar tissue, separating adhered tissues, increasing local circulation, and reducing trigger point activity. By initiating a small, controlled inflammatory response, friction massage aims to promote healing and flexibility in the targeted area (Moraska, 2005).

This technique requires precision and is often utilised in therapeutic instances  where scar tissue, adhesions, or trigger points need focused attention. Physiotherapists carefully apply friction massage to address specific issues and promote optimal tissue function, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the massage therapy session.



Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common physiological response encountered by athletes when initiating or resuming an exercise regimen, intensifying exercise, or engaging in eccentric training forms like downhill running. DOMS manifests as mild to severe pain, typically occurring 24 to 72 hours post-exercise. This condition can impede athletic performance, leading to restrictions in range of motion and diminished muscle strength. While these symptoms are often transient and inherent in the natural progression of strength and conditioning, their potential impact on sports performance during competition can be significant.


Six theories have been posited to elucidate the mechanisms underlying DOMS. These include lactic acid, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation, and enzyme efflux. 

Sports massage may potentially contribute to reducing lactate levels and aiding recovery after exercise by increasing blood flow. Sports massage can enhance blood circulation, which may help in transporting lactate out of the muscles and to the liver, where it can be converted back to energy or cleared from the body. Besides that, it can improve oxygen delivery by enhancing the oxygenation of muscle tissues, which can contribute to the oxidation of lactate and its removal. Sport massage techniques may stimulate the lymphatic system, assisting in the removal of waste products, including lactate, from the muscles. Sport massage can reduce muscle tension and tightness, potentially aiding in the overall recovery process and lactate clearance. Lastly, beyond the physiological effects, the psychological benefits of sports massage, such as reduced stress and increased relaxation, may contribute to an overall sense of well-being and comfort during the recovery process.

According to Guo et al (2017), sport massage interventions could be effective for alleviating DOMS, as well as increasing muscle performance after strenuous exercise. The highest efficacy was achieved at 48 hours post-exercise. Massage is a useful and practical therapy for exercise participants or athletes.

According to Hilbert and Sforzo (2013), massage administered 2 hours after exercise did reduce the intensity of soreness 48 hours after muscle insult. 

Sport massage vs Normal Massage

Sports massage and regular, or “normal,” massage differ fundamentally in their objectives, techniques, and focus. Specifically tailored for athletes and individuals engaged in physical activities, sports massage aims to enhance athletic performance, prevent injuries, and expedite recovery from workouts or sports-related stress. This form of massage involves a combination of techniques, including deep tissue massage, stretching, and joint mobilisation, often targeting specific muscle groups with more intense methods to address the demands of sports training. Administered before or after sporting events, during training sessions, or as part of a rehabilitation program, sports massage is strategically timed to address the needs of the athlete.


In contrast, normal massage caters to a broader audience seeking general relaxation, stress relief, and overall well-being. Utilising techniques such as Swedish massage, which includes long, flowing strokes, kneading, and gentle manipulation, the primary goal is to promote relaxation and alleviate tension. Normal massage can be scheduled at any time for general relaxation and stress reduction, without a direct connection to specific physical activities or events. The pressure applied during a normal massage is typically lighter to moderate, focusing on providing a soothing and calming experience rather than addressing specific athletic or training-related concerns. Overall, while sports massage targets the unique needs of athletes, normal massage serves as a versatile and accessible option for individuals seeking relaxation and overall wellness.

Who should get sport massage

Athletes, ranging from professional sports players to weekend enthusiasts, can derive significant advantages from sports massage. This specialised form of massage therapy is instrumental in enhancing athletic performance, expediting recovery, and mitigating the risk of injuries.

Even for fitness enthusiasts who may not be involved in competitive sports, regular engagement in workouts can lead to muscle fatigue and tightness. In such cases,  sports massage proves beneficial by promoting optimal muscle health, enhancing flexibility, and accelerating recovery from strenuous exercise.

Individuals with physically demanding occupations, characterised by activities such as heavy lifting, repetitive motions, or prolonged periods of standing, can also find relief through sports massage. This form helps alleviate muscle tension, enhances flexibility, and serves as a preventive measure against musculoskeletal injuries associated with occupational strain.

For those in the process of recovering from sports-related or physical injuries, a sports massage can play a crucial role in rehabilitation. By improving blood circulation to the injured area, reducing pain and inflammation, and expediting the healing process, sports massage becomes a valuable component of the recovery journey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What sets sports massage apart from regular massage?

Sports massage is specifically designed for athletes, employing techniques like deep tissue massage to enhance performance, prevent injuries, and facilitate faster recovery. Regular massage, on the other hand, caters to a broader audience seeking general relaxation and stress relief through gentler techniques like Swedish massage.

How does sports massage contribute to reducing muscle soreness after exercise?

Sports massage may aid in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by increasing blood flow, promoting the removal of waste products like lactate from muscles, and stimulating the lymphatic system. These physiological effects, coupled with psychological benefits like stress reduction, contribute to an overall sense of well-being during the recovery process.

Who can benefit from sports massage, and is it only for professional athletes?

Sports massage is beneficial for a wide range of individuals, including professional athletes, weekend enthusiasts, fitness enthusiasts, and those with physically demanding occupations. It is not exclusive to professionals and can be valuable for anyone experiencing muscle fatigue, tightness, or seeking rehabilitation after injuries or strenuous exercise.

When is the ideal time to schedule a sports massage in relation to physical activities or events?

Sports massage can be strategically administered before or after sporting events, during training sessions, or as part of a rehabilitation program. The timing is tailored to address the specific needs of the athlete, optimizing performance, preventing injuries, and aiding in recovery from physical stress.

Are there any specific conditions or situations where friction massage (DTFM) is recommended?

Friction massage, specifically deep transverse friction massage (DTFM), is recommended in therapeutic instances where scar tissue, adhesions, or trigger points require focused attention. Physiotherapists carefully apply DTFM to address these specific issues, promoting optimal tissue function and contributing to the overall effectiveness of the massage therapy session.


In conclusion, the distinction between sports massage and normal massage lies in their unique objectives, techniques, and target audiences. Sports massage is specifically designed for athletes, aiming to enhance performance, prevent injuries, and facilitate faster recovery from physical stress. It employs a combination of intensive techniques like deep tissue massage and is strategically administered before or after sporting events. On the other hand, normal massage caters to a broader audience seeking general relaxation and stress relief, utilising gentler techniques like Swedish massage. It is available at any time, unrelated to specific physical activities.


If you are seeking specialised sports massage services, we invite you to experience the expertise at Synapse Physiotherapy. Our professional physiotherapists understand the unique needs of athletes and are dedicated to optimising your athletic performance, preventing injuries, and promoting a quicker recovery. Visit us at Synapse Physiotherapy to benefit from our tailored massage services and enhance your overall well-being.


Guo, J., Li, L., Gong, Y., Zhu, R., Xu, J., Zou, J., & Chen, X. (2017). Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Physiology, 8(747).

Hilbert, J. E., Sforzo, G. A., & Swensen, T. (2003). The effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(1), 72–75.

Moraska, A. (2005). Sports massage. A comprehensive review. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 45(3), 370–380.

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