deep tissue massage and sports massage comparison

Massages can be both relaxing and therapeutic, depending on the type. For those with muscle aches, limited range of motion, or stiffness in the neck or other body parts, certain types of massage may be helpful.

Two types, deep tissue massage and sports massage, are well-known as commonly used treatments for some patients who have any of these symptoms. But while these two forms of massage have similarities, they are also distinctly different for the following reasons.

What Is Deep Tissue Massage? 

deep tissue massage for relaxing

As a popular form of massage worldwide, deep tissue massage has been used for centuries to help heal many different chronic musculoskeletal issues. Historians believe that it was the ancient Egyptians who first came up with this concept as a form of therapy.

Its name conveys exactly what it is: a massage that is intended to treat stiffness and aches that are caused by problems deep within the tissues and muscles.

Who it is for? 

Deep tissue massage has very broad usage, so people with many different types of conditions can benefit from it. Those who have suffered muscle and tendon injuries often use deep tissue massage as a way to enhance and speed up recovery.

deep tissue massage good for lower back pain

Those with lower back pain or chronic neck stiffness sometimes feel both immediate and prolonged relief after just one deep tissue massage session. In the early stages of fibrosis, which is the formation of abnormal tissues after injury, deep tissue massages may help prevent the condition from becoming worse in some cases.

Since deep tissue massage sometimes produces a relaxing effect, it can also be of benefit to those who suffer from chronic mental stress and anxiety.

What Is Sports Massage? 

Sports massage is a type of massage that is often done before or after exercise and other physical activities. It’s also performed on muscle and tendon injuries to both restore strength and rehabilitate a person's range of motion.

Sport massage therapy treatment for woman

Because sports massage is often provided before activities take place, sports massage therapists usually look at different factors before deciding where a massage is needed. They will usually look at where most of the range of motion in the body will be taking place during exercise. They may also check a person’s muscles in these areas to identify weak or abnormal muscles and tissues.

Think of sports massage as a more precision-focused way of reaching injuries, both before and after they occur. Sports massage therapists typically focus mostly on the areas that are injured, or at risk of being injured, once these areas are identified.

Who it is for? 

Sports massage, as the name suggests, is generally for athletes and those who participate in sports. Sports massage is designed to protect athletes when they’re engaged in sports and to get them back in the game when they’ve been injured.

sports massage for athletes

However, the benefits of sports massage can be reaped by just about anyone who has localized stiffness or aches in a specific part of their body. Someone who has injured a specific muscle or ligament and who has had a doctor tell them exactly where the injury is may benefit from this type of massage.

Deep Tissue vs Sports Massage: Techniques 

The techniques used with deep tissue and sports massage are mostly similar but do differ in a few ways. Both types use circular rubbing motions, various taps, and kneading with heavy pressure normally applied.

Kneading, which is the action of squeezing impressing with the fingers and hands, is where some of the small differences between the types can be found.

Sports massage involves kneading and putting pressure at varying depths within the layers of muscles or tissues. If a therapist wants to target tissue or muscle that’s closer to the surface, then they apply less pressure in circular motions over a more superficial area.

Deep tissue massages, for all its intended purposes, does not normally involve the use of kneading over superficial areas closer to the surface. The kneading performed in this type of massage is almost always, as the name suggests, intended to reach deep layers within the tissue.

So the circular motions, the pressing, and the tapping are rarely ever done with lighter pressure applied.

Deep Tissue vs Sports Massage: Pressure 

While both deep tissue and sports massage involve heavy pressure being used on focal points within the body, they differ in how they target pressure points.

sports massage techniques

Deep tissue tends to apply stronger pressure to wider areas where aches and stiffness exist. Sports massage, on the other hand, is more targeted on where and how pressure is applied.

Because the locations of sports injuries are often very specific and localized to smaller areas, such as a hamstring muscle or the rotator cuff, the pressure applied is often applied with greater pressure in these regions.

Less pressure is applied to the surrounding regions in sports massage, whereas deep tissue massage usually applies heavy pressure universally to a broader region.

Deep Tissue vs Sports Massage: Benefits 

Both of these massage types can help speed up the recovery process and injuries. Where they differ is that deep tissue can provide greater relaxation and stress relieving benefits. It often covers wider regions of tissue and muscles, so the effects are sometimes felt throughout the entire body immediately.

Other benefits of deep tissue massage include relief of back and neck pain, relaxation of muscle tension, improved mobility, and poor posture correction.

Sports massage benefits include reduction of muscle tightness, recovered range of motion, increased blood flow to acute injuries, greater flexibility while performing physically intense tasks, and improved performance during sports activities.

Deep Tissue vs Sports Massage: How to Prepare for a Session 

Before starting either type of massage, you should adequately prepare yourself to maximize the benefits. The type of preparation recommended for both massage types is fairly similar.

take a bath in warm water

For both types, you should take a warm shower beforehand so that you feel more relaxed and so your muscles will not be quite as tense. This will also promote better blood circulation, which can make the effects of the massage much more beneficial as more oxygen can reach injured sites.

The temperature should not necessarily be too hot either, as this can cause inflammation in any injuries you might have. It’s a good idea to drink water ahead of time as well so that you can properly hydrate.

Just before the therapist begins, they will normally use a warm-up technique known as effleurage. Because both sports massage and deep tissue massage can involve heavy pressure, the massage process can sometimes be uncomfortable.

Effleurage is a gentler way to ease you into the actual massage. The effleurage for sports massages is sometimes different from deep tissue massages in that it is sometimes shorter in duration because the massage itself will involve less muscular tissue regions.

Grant Moore
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