Sports Massage and Physiotherapy: What's The Difference?

Sports Massage Therapist massaging a client

Sports massage and physiotherapy are two terms that are often used interchangeably. They both help to treat sports injuries, right? While this may be true to an extent, they are, in fact, different treatments, and each one serves its own unique, particular purpose. The type of injury, nature of a person's job or athleticism, and need for medical treatment are all factors to consider when deciding what kind of treatment is needed. 

What is a sports massage

As much as regular exercise and competing in sports helps to keep your body in good shape, they can also cause damage. Sports such as cycling, running and swimming all involve carrying out the same repetitive movements regularly. This can cause injury as well as general aches and pains. 

Sports massage was developed to help athletes and sports enthusiasts prepare their bodies for significant events and recover afterwards. 

During a sports massage, the therapist will work on parts of the body that cause persistent pain or are high-impact areas. For example, runners will often benefit from a sports massage that works on their calves and hamstrings. 

Is it painful? 

The nature of a sports massage is to target and work on areas of the body that are causing pain. A sports therapist will manipulate the soft tissue to help it regain motion and flexibility. As a result, a sports massage will likely cause some pain and discomfort. Therapists are trained to help their client work through the pain with breathing techniques, and while it might hurt at the time, many people feel rejuvenated in the following couple of days. 

Is sports massage only for athletes? 

Not at all. 

While this was the original reason for developing this type of massage, it’s available for everyone. Sports massage can benefit anyone who suffers from chronic pain or has an injury caused by repetitive work (such as from their work). It can even help with migraines and in improving posture. 

Sports massage usually targets a specific area of the body instead of an all-over massage, so it is perfect for anyone with a demanding physical lifestyle. 

The benefits of sports massage 

Sports massage focuses on preventing and healing injury in the muscles. Regular sports massages as a form of sports rehabilitation can have many benefits, including: 

  • Improving flexibility 
  • Reduce recovery time needed between workouts 
  • Lessen the chance of injury by properly stretching muscle tissue
  • Enhance lymphatic drainage 
  • Increase blood flow 

What is Physiotherapy? 

Physiotherapy is a science-based technique used to help anyone suffering from pain caused by illness, injury, or disability. 

It's used with people of any age, and the intention is to maintain health, encourage development, and facilitate recovery. 

A physiotherapist will work with a patient to aid their recovery, but a lot of "self-care" is also expected. For example, patients will be given exercises they'll be asked to carry out at home in between sessions. This helps them feel empowered to control their health and recovery. 

Three types of sports massage 

  • Sports rehabilitation massage - this is used to tackle injuries caused during a game or training and is intended to help the athlete recover as quickly as possible so they can get back to competing. 
  • Maintenance massage - a maintenance massage helps athletes who are at the top of their game to stay there. Regular sports massages can assist with reducing the recovery time needed between sessions while also helping to reduce the risk of injury and loosen muscle tightness. 
  • Event massage - this can be pre-event, during-event, or post-event. It is designed to help an athlete mentally and physically prepare for an event and assist with recovery when the event is finished. 

The benefits of Physiotherapy 

Physiotherapy can be used in treating both physical and neurological conditions and has many benefits, including: 

  • Reducing or eliminating pain
  • Help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls 
  • Recovering from an injury (including sports-related injuries) 
  • Helping to manage heart and lung disease 
  • Improving mobility 
  • Assisting with neurological conditions 

What is the main difference between the two? 

The main difference between sports massage and physiotherapy is that a physiotherapist is tasked with taking an area of pain, diagnosing the problem, and formulating a treatment plan to help relieve the pain. This can be pain as the result of an injury, but it also treats other forms of psychological and physiological pain. 

A considerable part of this treatment plan is encouraging the patient's participation in making life changes that aid their recovery. A physiotherapist will also look at improving the patient's overall health as well as tackling the pain. 

Sports massage, on the other hand, is intended to be a procedure given by a sports therapist as a form of sports rehabilitation that targets only the painful area of the body through massage. It can be used as a standalone treatment or a course of treatment. 

Sports massage may be part of a physiotherapy treatment plan, but it can also involve breathing and physical exercises. 

Physiotherapy also tackles illness-related issues, such as those that come as the result of a stroke or Parkinson's disease. It can also help with heart disease, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. 

What’s the difference between deep tissue and sports massage? 

They’re both similar in that their purpose is to relax muscles and relieve tension. 

The main difference between the two is that a deep tissue massage is appropriate for everyone, whereas a sports massage is generally geared towards athletes and gym-goers.

A deep tissue massage forms part of the majority of massage treatments, and the purpose is to heal muscle pain caused by the stresses of everyday life. This is usually neck or back pain and can result just from sitting at a desk 9-5. On the other hand, sports massage is more targeted towards healing particular sports-related injuries such as shin splints or hamstring pain. 

How can you benefit from sports rehabilitation

Whether you are a gym enthusiast or a pro athlete, you can benefit from regular sports massages as part of your workout routine. Working with a sports therapist to tackle any areas of persistent pain can help you to perform better and recover faster so you can focus on being the best athlete you can be. 


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