What is the difference between physio and sports massage and how do you know which is the appropriate option?
A sports massage is provided by sports masseurs and sometimes, by sports physiotherapists. Not all physios provide this service because of time constraints, but will often be able to recommend a skilled sports masseur.
Massage therapy is direct physical action on the muscles, tendons and fascia of the body. There are several techniques that can be employed while massaging,, depending on the desired effect. Sports massage is thought to help the recovery of muscles post exercise, by increasing circulation and nutrition to damaged muscles. There is also the belief that it reduces the delayed onset muscle soreness that follows strenuous exercise, as well as aiding the recovery of muscle strength and performance.
There is currently little evidence to support the belief that massage assists the recovery of muscle function following exercise. In fact, it appears that light exercise of the affected muscles is more effective in improving blood fl ow to the muscles and thereby enhancing healing and reducing post exercise muscle soreness.
Regular massage can, however, deactivate symptomatic trigger points (painful, palpable knots in muscle and a common cause of pain) and help reduce increased muscle tone. It also provides the opportunity to identify any soft tissue abnormalities, which if left untreated, could progress to an injury. A skilled asseur will also be able to identify an injury to muscle tissue which may require treatment by a physiotherapist.
A physiotherapist is able to treat muscle injuries by employing massage techniques that reduce excessive adhesions and scar formation. They also use other modalities (needles, ultrasound, etc) that help reduce infl ammation and enhance healing. In the case of more chronic injuries, a physiotherapist will use the massage technique, deep transverse frictions, to reduce thickened pain producing lesions which can develop in an injured muscle due to the development of excessive, poorly orientated and infl exible scar tissue.
A sports masseur would therefore be visited to help prevent muscle injuries, while a physiotherapist would be required once an injury has already occurred.
Toni Hesp – Modern Athlete Expert
BSc Physio (hon)
BSc (Med) Sports Science (hon)