Sports massage is a widely used treatment for injury rehabilitation and prevention, as well as performance enhancement. Runners (both amateur and professional) in particular tend to make great use of this form of therapy in the preparation for and recovery from a race. It is also appreciated by those who just like a good, deep massage to ease away their aches and pains!

Only recently has sports massage started to creep into the consciousness of amateur skiers as a way to prevent injuries, treat little niggles and enhance the enjoyment of their days on the slopes. As the increase in demand rises, sports massage therapists are required to hone their skills and knowledge to provide the best possible treatment, targeted to this new clientele.

This article looks at the benefits of sports massage to help skiers know why they should be getting one as well as advice for therapists on treating these new found clients!

Benefits of sports massage for skiers

Sports massage has many benefits for all types of sports people, exercisers and even the more sedentary amongst us!
Here are the main benefits of sports massage that skiers will really appreciate:

  1. Relax and stretch out tight and tired muscles
  2. Ease aches and pains
  3. Identify problem areas before they develop into an injury
  4. Improve circulation
  5. Clear out metabolites, often referred to as waste products
  6. Promote recovery after a hard day on the slopes
  7. Treat old injuries by breaking down scar tissue / adhesions and increasing blood flow
  8. Enhance body awareness
  9. Increase flexibility
  10. Deactivate trigger points

Sports massage is ideal for application before your skiing trip to help prepare your body, as well as during your trip, to deal with any developing aches and pains.

Common skiing injuries

Most skiing injuries are acute or traumatic injuries such as ligament sprains and fractures, caused by a fall and as a result there is little you can do to prevent them, although prior strengthening, balance exercises and sports massage can all help to develop a better sense of body awareness and positioning.

The type of injury which sports massage can help prevent is more overuse or inflammatory in nature, which tends to build up over time due to repeated, unaccustomed forces on the joints and soft tissues.

  • Quadriceps tendinopathy
    An inflammatory / overuse condition of the thigh muscles shared tendon causing pain just above the kneecap.
  • Jumper’s knee
    Also known as Patella tendonitis, is a degenerative condition of the patella tendon, causing pain below the kneecap.
  • Patellofemoral pain
    Also known as anterior knee pain or patella mal-tracking caused by excess knee cap motion and causing pain anywhere around the kneecap.
  • Lower back muscle spasms and general aches and pains
    Aching pain in the lower back, usually due to postural issues.
  • Osgood Schlatters disease (in younger skiers)
    Common in 10-15 year olds, especially those experiencing a growth spurt, causing pain below the knee.
  • Contusions
    Contusions occur due to an impact to a muscle as may happen during a fall. Massage can help after 2-3 days to improve muscle flexibility, realign fibres and break down adhesions.

Advice for Therapists

Most skiers will be looking for sports massage therapy for their legs and sometimes the lower back. In a perfect world, a thorough full body massage would be ideal, but which muscle groups should be the focus of your treatment when time or money limits the possibilities?

The areas discussed below are those that often need specific attention in skiers, but as always a sports massage should be tailored to suit the individual. If they feel another area is tight or they have an old injury or a new niggle, of course address this area more and spend a little less time on muscle groups they may feel are fine. However, always be aware of referred pain patterns and restrictions in one muscle group, affecting the functioning of another. If they have no particular complaints, then a quick range of motion assessment of the hip, knee and ankle can help you to determine where your time is best spent.

Quads

Looking at the list of common injuries above, it seems clear to me that the Quadriceps need some attention! Ensure you work on the entire anterior thigh and also include the IT band and groin muscles into your massage. The quads are under a lot of stress when holding the squatted position as a skier descends the slope. The type of contraction used here is an eccentric contraction – meaning the muscle lengthens as it contracts, usually to work against gravity or another force. Eccentric contractions are more demanding than concentric (shortening) contractions. The Patella tendon can also become overworked, leading to conditions such as patella tendonitis and Osgood schlatters in teenagers. Friction type work to the patella tendon can break down adhesions and encourage blood flow.

Glutes

Another area I feel requires a lot of attention is the Glutes. This area is often overlooked as it can be a bit awkward, but as long as the reasons for working on these muscles are explained to the client, most are happy with this. The glutes are the powerhouse of the body and when skiing are used to extend the hip (and thigh) backwards in order to move forwards! The Gluteus Medius in particular also acts to abduct the hip and so stop the knee from falling inwards when descending. These muscles can become very tight and overworked if they are unaccustomed to this level of work. They can then contribute to lower back pain, sciatica and other referred pain into the pelvis, groin and thighs.

Peroneals

Research from the US Ski and Snowboard Association used EMG to determine which muscles are used most in skiing. As well as the muscles mentioned above, the Peroneus Longus (PL) is a pretty important muscle to focus on. PL is found on the outside of the lower leg and works to evert and plantarflex the foot (turn the foot out and point it down). Again it can be used eccentrically to control dorsiflexion and inversion (turning the foot in and pulling it up). It is used particularly when changing direction. When working on the calf muscles, pay particular attention to the peroneal group, which if affected, often feel like a tight band from the Fibula head to behind the lateral malleolus (ankle bone).

Conclusion

Skiing is a great pastime enjoyed by millions every year. Sports massage is an effective tool to make sure that your body is ready for the challenge and that aches and pains don’t hamper your holiday! For sports massage therapists, ensure that you tailor your treatment to the individual in terms of their restrictions and injury history, as well as the sport or activity they participate in.

About the Author: Heidi Mills BSc (Hons) GSR is a Graduate Sports Rehabilitator who runs two sports injury rehabilitation clinics and works for www.sportsinjuryclinic.net

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