What is a sports massage? Definition.

Sports massage is a large category that encompasses several other massage categories and concepts:

1) It encompasses any technique that the therapist knows and feels are necessary for a particular session, most of the time, those techniques are deep tissue and stretching.

2) It takes into consideration the phases of the athlete’s training (off-season, taper…).

3) It is focused on the particular muscles and injuries specific to a sport.

4) It incorporates the state of mind of the athlete.

Read more below.


1) Various techniques are used in a sports massage:

The therapist chooses what techniques are deemed necessary to treat the athlete who is being worked on. Sports massage doesn’t limit itself to one technique but mixes styles and takes from different forms of massage to achieve a particular goal. Stretching is almost always included, as it is an important part of sports therapy, so much so that we encourage doing sessions of just stretching with our stretching expert Don.

The various techniques used are, amongst others:

  • deep tissue therapy (won “Best of Philly” 2012, in the Philadelphia Magazine)
  • myofascial release
  • Thai massage
  • hot and cold therapy
  • stretching
  • Ashiatsu
  • PTSM (see our PTSM page for more information)

Because most techniques require stretching and unusual positions, we recommend dressing with sports shorts and a sports bra that unhooks at the back or bathing suit top for ladies.

See FAQ for more information

Book your PTSM now – or purchase it as a gift


2) Timing of training affects the type of massage:

The goal of the massage depends of the phase of training in which the athlete is.

-During training periods, the goals are to participate in the development of the body: the therapist will aim to increase flexibility where necessary, remove knots, and loosen.

-During recovery periods, the goals are to aid in the healing process: the therapist will use healing techniques that are usually lighter.

-In-between training, the goal is to maintain the body at a reasonable rate of looseness and flexibility: the therapist will use some stretching, some loosening and some healing techniques.

-Injury: in the case of an injury, the recovery treatment will adapt to the healing process of the injury. At the beginning of an injury, massages are more frequent, short and focused on the area. For example, a sprained ankle may need light but bi-weekly work after the acute phase is over. As the injury recovers, massages are more intense, and less frequent. The ankle will receive deeper massages and deeper stretches as it heals. Once the injury is recovered, only one or two check-up massage sessions will be required.

Ask you therapist to put together a massage program that is integrated in your training.


3) Massage is focused on the specific muscles and injury of a sport:

The massages are geared towards athletes and their sports. For instance, working on a runner will require doing a lot of leg work, but the upper body work will be minimal. On the contrary, a rower will need a lot of upper body work, but less leg work. Moreover, massages will target those areas that tend to become injured. For example, a massage session with a tennis player will involve a lot of forearm massage that is preventive in the development of tennis elbow. In another example, Jujitsu fighters will need preventive neck massages, as they tend to become injured during rolling movements on the floor. If necessary, a whole session could be spent only on important areas, and skip completely muscles that are not overused in a particular sport.


4) The state of mind of the athlete in considered:

A sports massage therapist knows what you are going through – at Phila Massages, we are passionate about sport, doing sports, watching sports, and most of us have very active lifestyles and/or very active family members. Right before a game, the session might be adjusted to allow for 10 min of scalp massage for relaxation and de-stressing. In the case of an injury, we will recommend a rest period, but understand that taking a break is very difficult for athletes.


Communicating and explaining your training with your therapist is an important part of sports massage, as the session is 100% adapted to all of your needs.


This article and/or video are for educational purposes only; do not attempt without your physician's clearance. If you are in pain or injured, see your physician.