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Massage Today
September, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 09

The Art and Science of Post-Event Massage

By Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB

The term "post-event massage" can be confusing, depending on the sports massage educator you listen to. I consider "event" massage to be sports massage applications administered onsite at an athletic event.

Usually, a post-event massage is administered at the event site after the athlete has finished competing for the day; this type of massage requires a greater degree of skill and knowledge.

Here in Florida, athletic events are held outdoors year-round. Sometimes it's cold, but most of the time, it's really hot. Because of the changing weather conditions at these events, a sports massage therapist providing post-event massage should be trained to recognize conditions such as dehydration; hyperthermia; heat exhaustion; heat stroke; and hypothermia.

The state of Florida defines massage therapy as "the manipulation of soft tissue of the human body." Providing first aid is not within the scope of practice for massage therapy. When a sports massage therapist suspects an athlete has a medical problem, he or she should seek the help of a qualified medical staff member at an event. In fact, it is better for the therapist if the medical team screens the athletes before they receive massage therapy.

A post-event massage is designed to aid the athlete in recovering from the activity; reduce post-exercise soreness; and re-establish range of motion and blood flow to tight muscles. It also can give the athlete a big psychological lift. Before administering the massage, allow the athlete to cool down and rehydrate. Conduct a brief interview to ensure that he or she is coherent and rational. I like to ask if the athlete is really sore. I also ask the athlete to tell me if he or she experiences any discomfort during the massage, so I can adjust my technique; post-event massage should never be painful to the athlete.

A post-event massage is administered for approximately 10 to 15 minutes; it is not a full-body massage. A typical post-event leg routine might consist of compressive effleurage for calming the nervous system and pushing fluid; pettrisage for easing tension in the muscle; compression for spreading muscle fibers and restoring blood flow; broadening strokes to lengthen tight muscles; and compressive effleurage as a finishing stroke to soothe. Following the massage, therapeutic stretching can be administered to relieve muscle tension and restore range of motion.

During the massage, the therapist should watch for cuts; scrapes; bruises; blisters; and mild strains and sprains, and have them treated appropriately by the medical team. Often, an athlete will experience muscle cramps during the massage. If it is a single muscle, I like to use reciprocal inhibition technique to relieve the cramping; however, when an athlete experiences cramping in more than one muscle group, it might be a sign of dehydration. Medical attention should be sought to ensure it does not become a serious medical problem.

Watch carefully as the athlete gets up off the table following the massage. I like to look the athlete in the eyes to see if they look clear. An athlete may feel light-headed and dizzy; watch as the first few steps are taken away from the massage table. Sometimes, cramping may occur as the athlete's muscles are reactivating.

An effective post-event massage helps an athlete feel better immediately following a competition. Along with the great psychological boost, it allows the athlete to recover more quickly. Most athletes look forward to seeing massage therapists at an event because they know they will enjoy their well-deserved post-event massage treatment.

I hope this information has been helpful, and that you enjoy being a part of the massage therapy profession.

Take care,

Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB

Click here for previous articles by Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB.


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