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Sports Massage v Swedish Massage

What is the difference?

Sometimes it is difficult to know what sort of massage you need/would benefit from. There are many names given to massage - therapeutic, deep tissue, sports massage, relaxing massage, holistic massage, Swedish massage, clinical massage - the list goes on.

They may have different names but share many similarities. Two of the most common are Swedish Massage and Sports Massage so I thought I would try to explain the differences.

Swedish Massage

Firstly, Swedish Massage was not invented in Sweden but this westernised form of massage has been known by this name for some time. To find out more about the origin click here.

Perhaps better called 'classic' massage, it forms the basis of most other sorts of massage. With its holistic approach, it aims to improve circulation and help you feel relaxed through the manipulation of soft tissue.

There are a variety of movements used in a traditional Swedish massage, with some interesting names:

  • Effleurage – This movement is the most common one, it is slow and rhythmic to help relax you, warm up the muscles and get the blood and lymph flowing.

  • Petrissage – (from French pétrir meaning to knead) is used to improve elasticity and flexibility in the muscles, it involves kneading, rolling and wringing the skin - it sounds painful but is similar to kneading bread and is done slowly and gently.

  • Friction – It is exactly what it says on the tin - Friction refers to a firm and focused rubbing technique either in a circular or transverse action that is applied to a specific area, to help soften and realign muscle fibres that are tense.

  • Vibration - It is especially useful for soothing nerves and treating areas with lots of scar tissue. By rhythmically shaking the area you can get the client to relax more and let go of any tension being held, thus making treatment more beneficial.

  • Tapotement – Done with quick rhythmical movements, and useful for relaxing tight muscles, the tapping sensations are used to stimulate the flow of blood and endorphins in the body. The amount of pressure or force used in tapotement varies on the individual's needs, but there are five common approaches to applying tapotement:

    • Beating or Hammering: Using a closed fist, it is particularly useful for applying general force over a large area, such as the back.

    • Hacking: A bit like a Karate chop - using the edge of your hands. Hacking is particularly useful for applying firm force to a small area.

    • Slapping: When applied gently, is particularly useful for muscular stimulation.

    • Tapping: This is the lightest approach in terms of force and is used on anyone who has particular sensitivities, just the fingertips are used.

    • Cupping: This is used to apply a deeper force and is done with a cupped hand.

It all sounds rather like a form of torture than a means to relax, but rest assured in the right hands you will be quite safe!

Among the many benefits that Swedish massage provides are:

  • Pain Management

  • Relaxation

  • Increased circulation

  • Decreased fatigue

  • Reduction in Anxiety and depression.

Sports Massage

Sports massage is the management, manipulation and rehabilitation of soft tissues of the body including muscles, ligaments and tendons (Sports Massage Association, 2011)

Whilst using much of the same techniques as Swedish Massage, Sports Massage works by stretching tight muscles, stimulating inactive muscles and improving the condition of the soft tissue. It is normally a deeper massage with some firm strokes that can, on tight muscles, be a little uncomfortable initially - but this is soon alleviated by an experienced therapist.

The aim of sports massage is to reduce the stress and tension that can build up in the soft tissues of the body during exercise or indeed just general life. This form of massage is used to:

  • increase mobility

  • improve performance

  • reduce the chance of injury

  • reduce recovery time after an injury

  • increase flexibility

Whilst athletes use it:

  • Pre-event - to help warm up the body, increase blood supply, enhance mobility, and help the athlete relax.

  • Inter-Event - A quick massage during breaks in a sporting event can relieve cramps or muscle pains and provide an energy boost.

  • Post-Event - helps with the athlete’s recovery.

It is not confined to athletes.

Weekend warriors, keen gardeners, or just those that like a firmer massage with some mobilisation will all benefit from a Sports Massage. Deep massage and stretching techniques could also be beneficial for those with chronic back pain, fibromyalgia and migraine sufferers.

Which one is best?

People often ask which form of massage is better. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to that question. We are all different and each type of massage offers different advantages and benefits according to what you are looking for.

Whilst Swedish massage may be more suited to individuals who suffer from high-stress levels to help them unwind and relax, Sports massage may benefit those who are either recovering from an injury, preparing for a sporting event, or just need to get rid of some stubborn knots!

This is where I come in:

Having trained in all the techniques used in Swedish and Sports Massage, and with a few others thrown in, I can tailor your session to what works best for you. You may want a relaxing massage but have a niggle in your neck or you may have been pounding the streets and your legs are suffering - your session will not follow a set pattern, it will be adapted to what suits you.

Regular massage is the key - everyone can benefit from the improved self-awareness that you get when getting regular massage sessions. It identifies sore and weak spots, giving a better understanding of how your body works and keeps it working at its best.

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