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What is the Difference Between Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage?

When going for a massage two of the popular options are Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage. But what is the difference and which one should you go for?

What is Sports Massage?

Sports massage was originally developed to help althletes by preventing and relieving injuries. But it is now also used by non-athletes who take part in regular physical activity as a method of relieving the effects of that physical activity.

Examples include runners (who may need work on their legs), and cricket bowlers and batters (who may need work on their arms and shoulders).

Sports massage is aimed at enhancing athletic performance, preventing injuries, and aiding in the recovery process. Sports massage therapists are experienced in treating common sports-related injuries (e.g. strained hamstrings or torn ligaments).

Typically, specific areas of the body that tend to be problematic are worked on. Or certain muscle groups which are tight or stressed from repetitive movements are targetted. Thus, a sports
massage is not a 'relaxation massage'.

A sports massage utilises a range of techniques tailored to the specific needs of athletes and physically active individuals. This includes deep tissue massage and stretches. The techniques are mostly applied to a specific part of the body.

Here are some key aspects of sports massage.

Purpose and Benefits:

  • Improves Performance: By enhancing flexibility and range of motion through relieving tension around joints, sports

        massage can help athletes perform better.

  • Injury Prevention: Massage used as a warm-up before strenuous activity reduces the risk of injury. A regular massage can identify and address potential problem areas before they develop into injuries.

  • Aids Recovery: Post-event sports massage helps reduce muscle soreness (DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness) and promotes faster recovery. As well as treating muscles, other soft tissue is treated too, such as ligaments, tendons, and fascia.

  • Reduces Muscle Tension: Helps in relieving muscle tension and tightness. And hence reduces pain associated with repetitive movements.

  • Improved posture: Helps correct muscle imbalances and relign the body, promoting better posture.

  • Enhances Circulation: Improves blood flow, which can assist in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscles and the removal of metabolic waste.

Techniques Used Include:

  • Swedish Massage Strokes:

    • Effleurage: Long, sweeping strokes to warm up muscles.

    • Petrissage: Kneading and squeezing to improve circulation and muscle flexibility.

    • Friction: Deep, circular movements to break down scar tissue and adhesions.

    • Vibration: Fingertips or heel of hand performing a back-and-forth motion over the skin, done quickly or slowly.

    • Tapotement: Rhythmic tapping to stimulate and tone muscles.

  • Compression: Rhythmic pressing movements to increase blood flow and release muscle tension.

  • Deep Tissue: Deep tissue massage techniques are used when a deeper massage is required.

  • Trigger Point Therapy: This is a neuromuscular therapy designed to speed up recovery from injury, correct muscular imbalances and relieve pain. Muscles are stretched and pressure applied to areas of muscle tightness or 'knots'
    to relieve pain and tension.

  • Stretching: An integral part of sports massage where muscles are elongated and then relaxed. Passive stretching - the therapist gently moves limbs or body parts into a stretched position which helps with improved flexibility and range of motion. Active stretching - where the client is also involved to further engage muscles.

Types of Sports Massage:

  • Pre-event Massage: Short, stimulating massage aimed at warming up muscles and preparing the body for physical activity.

  • Post-event Massage: A lighter, soothing massage to aid in recovery and reduce muscle soreness after an event.

  • Maintenance Massage: Regular sessions to maintain optimal muscle condition, flexibility, and prevent injuries.

  • Rehabilitation Massage: Focused on the recovery from injuries and includes techniques to reduce pain and promote healing.


  • Athletes: Sports massage is commonly used by professional and amateur athletes across various sports to enhance their training and performance.

  • Active Individuals: It is also beneficial for anyone participating in regular physical activity or exercise to maintain muscle health and flexibility.

Sports massage is often integrated into an athlete's overall training and recovery program and can be customized to suit the specific demands of their sport and individual needs.

What is Deep Tissue Massage?

Deep tissue massage is a technique for treating muscular tension by realigning deeper layers of muscles and connective tissue. It targets the deeper layer muscles using slow, sustained and firm pressure. This reduces muscle pain and stiffness. It is especially beneficial for chronic aches and pains.

A deep tissue massage is ideal for anyone who doesn't have a specific area of concern but wants to release tension across the whole body. It is usually administered as a full body massage or across large areas of the body.

A deep tissue massage is helpful in the relief of chronic aches and pains. When your body experiences pain, the surrounding  muscles become tight. This is a protective response as a means of guarding the injured area. Essentially, the tight muscles become "splints" around the injury.

In the short term, 'muscle guarding' is good. But long term it can be detrimental, causing restricted mobility. At an appropriate time (e.g. when an injury has healed), a deep tissue massage can be used to relieve the tension in the tight muscles so that the body becomes more relaxed.

Due to the nature of deep tissue massage, which may cause some discomfort to the client, deep tissue massage is not a 'relaxation massage'.

Here are some key aspects about deep tissue massage.

Purpose and Benefits:

  • Alleviates Chronic Pain: Effective in reducing chronic pain conditions, especially in areas like the lower back, neck, and shoulders.

  • Breaks Down Scar Tissue: Helps in breaking down scar tissue and adhesions that can disrupt circulation and cause pain.

  • Improves Mobility: Increases range of motion and flexibility by targeting deep muscle layers.

  • Reduces Muscle Tension: Eases muscle tension and stiffness, which can improve posture.

  • Reduces Anxiety and Stress: By alleviating pain and tightness in muscles, massage is able to reduce the amount of cortisol that is produced, helping to reduce levels of anxiety and stress.

Techniques Used Include:

  • Swedish Massage: Some strokes are used to warm up the muscles (e.g. effleurage) prior to deep tissue work.

  • Slow Strokes: The massage therapist uses slow, deliberate strokes that penetrate deep into the muscles. Some of the Swedish massage strokes are used, but with deeper pressure applied.

  • Deep Finger Pressure: Applying deep finger pressure on tense, contracted areas to release tension and knots.

  • Knuckles, Forearms and Elbows: Often used for applying more intense pressure on deeper muscle layers.

  • Friction: Deep, circular motions to break down adhesions and scar tissue.


  • Chronic Pain Relief: Useful for treating chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, sciatica, and repetitive strain injuries.

  • Injury Rehabilitation: Helps in the recovery from injuries by promoting circulation and reducing inflammation.

  • Postural Problems: Assists in correcting postural issues by addressing muscle imbalances.

  • Stress Reduction: Can also help in reducing stress by releasing tension from deep within the muscles.


  • Intensity: Deep tissue massage can be more intense and sometimes uncomfortable due to the deep pressure applied. It's essential to communicate with the therapist about your pain tolerance and comfort level.

  • Post-Massage Soreness: It's common to experience some soreness for a day or two after the massage as the muscles adjust to the deep work done.

  • Hydration:  Drinking plenty of water after a deep tissue massage helps flush out toxins released from the muscles. This reduces the possibility of feeling ill after the massage.


  • Athletes: Often used by athletes to prevent and recover from injuries and to improve overall muscle health.

  • Office Workers: Beneficial for those who spend long hours sitting and develop tension in the neck, shoulders, and back.

  • Individuals with Chronic Conditions: Helpful for those suffering from chronic pain or muscle-related conditions.

​Deep tissue massage requires a skilled therapist to effectively target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue without causing excessive discomfort. When performed correctly, it can be a highly effective treatment for various musculoskeletal issues.

Differences between Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Massage

​Sports massage and deep tissue massage are both therapeutic techniques aimed at improving muscle function and overall physical health, but they differ in their primary purposes, techniques, and target audiences.

Here are some of the key differences between them.

Purpose and Focus:

  • Sports Massage:​

    • Target Audience: Specifically designed for athletes and individuals involved in regular physical activity.

    • Purpose: Aims to enhance athletic performance, prevent specific injuries, and aid in recovery.

    • Focus: Can be used before, during, and after athletic events to prepare muscles, maintain performance, and assist in recovery.


  • Deep Tissue Massage:

    • Target Audience: Suitable for anyone experiencing chronic muscle tension, pain, or injuries. It is not limited to athletes.

    • Purpose: Focuses on relieving chronic pain and tension, breaking down scar tissue, and improving mobility.

    • Focus: Targets deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue to address specific problem areas.


​Many of the techniques used in sports massage and deep tissue massage are actually the same or similar. Techniques used in sports massage depend on an individual's goal at a specific time.

  • Sports Massage:​

    • Pre-event Techniques: Stimulating and fast-paced techniques to warm up muscles.

    • Post-event Techniques: Slower, soothing techniques to reduce muscle soreness and promote recovery.

    • Maintenance Techniques: Regular sessions to maintain muscle flexibility and prevent injuries.

    • Combination of Techniques: May include stretching, compression, friction, deep tissue massage, and trigger point therapy.

  • Deep Tissue Massage:

    • Slow, Deep Strokes: Uses slow and deliberate strokes to reach deeper​ muscle layers.

    • Intense Pressure: Employs deeper finger pressure, and often knuckles, forearms and elbows to release chronic muscle tension.

    • Focus on Adhesions: Targets and breaks down adhesions and scar tissue with deep, concentrated pressure.

Applications and Goals:

  • Sports Massage:​

    • Enhances Performance: Helps improve flexibility and range of motion, which can enhance athletic performance.

    • Injury Prevention: Identifies and addresses potential problem areas before they become injuries. Work is done on a specific area of the body.

    • Recovery Aid: Reduces muscle soreness and promotes faster recovery after physical exertion.

  • Deep Tissue Massage:

    • Chronic Pain Relief: Effective for managing chronic pain conditions​ such as fibromyalgia and sciatica. Generally focussed on large areas of the upper and lower body or full body.

    • Postural Improvement: Helps correct postural issues by addressing deep muscle imbalances.

    • Injury Rehabilitation: Assists in the recovery process by reducing inflammation and promoting healing.

Intensity and Experience:

  • Sports Massage:​

    • Varied Intensity: Intensity can vary depending on the timing of the​ massage (pre-event, post-event, or maintenance).

    • Adaptable Techniques: Techniques are adapted to suit the athlete’s needs at different stages of their training and competition cycle.

  • Deep Tissue Massage:

    • Consistent Intensity: Typically more intense due to the focus on deep​ muscle layers.

    • Post-Massage Soreness: Clients often experience soreness for a day or two after the massage as the body adjusts to the deep tissue work.


​In summary, while both sports massage and deep tissue massage involve working on muscles to improve physical health, sports massage is specifically tailored for athletes and their unique needs related to performance and recovery, whereas deep tissue massage is aimed at individuals with chronic pain and tension, focusing on deeper muscle layers to address specific issues.

10th July 2024

Relieving Tension Headaches and Migraines

Tension headaches and migraines are often triggered by stress, prolonged periods of concentration, or neck strain (e.g. looking down at a mobile phone or tablet for long periods of time). The head and neck have a lot of muscles and become tense with these triggers, and this can give rise to headaches.

There are "tension bands" all over the head (see February 2023 blog). There are the main Raynor bands of Big toe sacrum band, Achilles band, Upper little finger band, Outer wrist band and Outer thumb band, all of which go up the back of the neck and into the head. And there are smaller bands such as those along the eyebrows and under the cheek bones.

In addition to bands of tension, the head contains various pressure points believed to be linked to other parts of the body. Massaging these may stimulate the body's natural relaxation responses. Examples include the top of the head, the temple areas, the "3rd eye" (between the eyebrows), and parts of the ears.

Raynor massage techniques are highly effective at getting rid of scalp and facial muscle tension. They target the bands and pressure points mentioned above. By doing so, the head, face and neck muscles are "loosened" and headaches should ease.

After a few head massage sessions, headaches should reduce in frequency and intensity. This applies to tension headaches and migraines. Where the cause of a headache is not known, it may be worth trying a Raynor massage as it may help.

9th June 2024

Eyebrow massage two fingers.JPG
Massage under cheek.JPG
Circling TMJ.JPG
Pressing thumbs on centre bands.JPG

Alleviating Tension From Hands

If you suffer from stiff hands Raynor Massage has several techniques which may help to loosen them.

Each finger/thumb contains several 'Raynor bands': On the sides, top and bottom, and on the diagonals. Tension may be held in these bands, so they are one of the main focus areas for massage. In addition, tightness of finger/thumb joints can be an indication of tension being present; Raynor Massage has various techniques for loosening these.

The bands from the fingers/thumb run through the hand and up the arm. So the bands are also massaged on the top of the hand (in the "valleys" between the metacarpals) and on the palm, especially the fleshy parts of the thumb and little finger. A Thai rounded stick massage tool is great for getting into these fleshy areas.

Considering how much we use our hands, it's not surprising that they can often feel stiff. After a thorough massage your hands will likely "feel new" again.

28th May 2024

Hand massage for posts - May 2024.jpg
Massaging with rounded Thai massage tool - May 2024.JPG

The Power of Raynor Massage

In the Jan/Feb edition of the Windsor & Maidenhead Local magazine I've written an article giving an overview of Raynor Massage. Briefly described is how tension in the body is diagnosed and the approach taken to remove that tension.

The article can be read here.

5th February 2024

Raynor Massage Advanced Course

I recently attended one of the Raynor Massage advanced courses, held in Putney, London and taught by the creator Brandon Raynor himself. It was an intense 5 days learning new techniques and practising them. I should point out that most of these techniques are not used on new clients, only on returning clients who understand what is involved.

Proceedings kicked off with a face/head massage demo, important for relaxing a client at the beginning of a treatment session. We learnt how to find the "eyebrow band" which can hold a lot of tension. Other important tension points to focus on are the little bump near the top of the ears and the area at the top of the head.

Next was a demo of a thumb massage using a chopstick. The chopstick is used to bring awareness to the client of tension in the thumb. The client breathes deeply to remove the tension (which is "bad energy"). If the pressing of the chopstick is painful, this indicates that tension is present. As the tension gets removed, the chopstick becomes less painful. The thumb becomes looser after it has been massaged using thumbs, fingers and other massage tools.

During this demo the technique of assisted belly breathing was shown. Deep breathing is the key to Raynor Massage. At times, the therapist may need to help the client get rid of the tension by encouraging deeper breathing.

The following day I got to experience a "chopstick massage" for the first time on my right thumb and then on my right big toe (both were tight with tension). It was a weird feeling, my left arm started tingling all over in both cases (presumably due to "bad energy" being stirred up). I was deep breathing all the time, but at times my belly felt very "heavy" (again, due to "bad energy" being moved around the body).

At the end of the session my thumb felt a little looser (but needed a lot more work!) but the big toe was definitely much looser than it had been before! The down side was that when I got up from the table I was light-headed and a little nauseous (due to all the toxins and "bad energy" stirred up). But on subsequent days I felt okay after similar sessions. You really do need to experience this process to believe that it works!

Other techniques learnt included massaging a client on the floor using the feet, and loosening joints through adjustments to the hip, foot, leg, thumb, fingers, wrist and back.

New tools I came across included an acupressure pen (a metal pen with different diameter balls at each end, good for massaging fingers and hands) and a jade scraper (good for massaging the sole and sides of the foot).

The final day was spent "speed massaging". We split into two groups, one group receiving and the other massaging. Every 20 minutes those massaging swapped to another receiver. It was interesting to experience the different styles and a great way of picking up new tips. The course ended with Brandon presenting us with our Advanced Diploma of Raynor Massage certificates.

YouTube links for demos:
Brandon massaging Dave's head and arm in London September 2023
London Advanced Massage Course 2023

25th September 2023

What is a Muscle Knot?

A muscle "knot" is a small, hard, sensitive area where muscle fibres or fascial tissue have tightened and stuck together. It feels like a knot in the affected muscle, hence the name. Muscle knots, also known as trigger points, indicate that muscles are tense. This may restrict the full movement that you should have.

Knots may also be painful, known as 'active' if they hurt all the time and known as 'latent' if they are painful only when pressure is applied to them (the most common).

Muscle knots can occur anywhere on the body where there is muscle or connective tissue (fascia). The most common areas are the neck, shoulders, back and buttocks. They may be near the surface or in the deeper layers of soft tissue.

Causes of muscle knots include:
     - Repetitive actions (same muscles used).
     - Poor posture.
     - Sitting still for a long time.
     - Injuries such as muscle strains.
     - Stress, mental and emotional stress.
     - Dehydration.

The causes of muscle knots cause blood flow in the muscles to be reduced and toxic by-products of the muscles can build up within knots.

Soft tissue massage is one of the best ways to remove knots. Massage increases blood circulation, which removes toxins, and helps to loosen those muscles which have stuck together. By relaxing tense muscles, any pain and stiffness associated with knots is often reduced. Note that it takes time to break up knotted tissue, so several frequent massage sessions are often needed.

8th June 2023

Tension and Raynor Bands

Most of us have some level of stress in our bodies. Stress can be physical or emotional. It can be the result of a traumatic event or can build up from everyday activities.

As time goes by we can get accustomed to the 'tense' state, thinking the tense state is normal or we are simply not aware of it. But with the 'tense' state comes fatigue, "depressed" moods, poor mobility, aches and pains, and other negative side effects.

Stress is stored in the muscles and other tissues and is known as tension. It can be held for days, weeks, months or years.

In Raynor Massage the muscles, tendons, ligaments and other tissues where tension is held are known as Raynor Bands. These bands connect the whole body from head to toe. Tension is typically anchored in the toes, fingers and head.

A Raynor massage places a lot of emphasis on the toes, feet, fingers, hands and head. All of these can anchor tension. Other important areas include the sacrum, hips and addressing joint mobilization. Other types of massage often neglect detailed work in these parts of the body.

Raynor bands can be traced in many parts of the body. The muscles making up bands with tension typically feel "hard" when pressed by the therapist and may feel sore to the client, whereas muscles with little or no tension typically feel "soft" when pressed and do not feel sore.

As an example of tracing tension in bands, take a client who has lower back pain (caused by a muscle strain). There are three bands on each side of the lower back. These run through the buttocks, down the back of the legs, along the sole of the feet and into the toes.

So we would check the tightness of the bands and see how sore they feel to the client, starting on the buttocks, then the back of the legs, then on the sole of the feet. Finally, we would see how flexible the toes are (stiff toes often indicate a lot of tension is present). If all the bands feel "hard" and/or sore when pressed then it is likely that the back pain is rooted in the feet (in particular the toes).

In this example, the massage would start with working on the relevant bands in the toes and feet where the tension is anchored. Once the tension is reduced, the bands on the back of the legs, buttocks and back would be worked, in that order, to loosen up the rest of the body. In this way the lower back pain should be reduced.

Diagram of Raynor bands

13th February 2023

How does massage relieve or prevent Tension Headaches?

The most common type of headache is the Tension Headache. Symptoms include a dull, aching pain on both sides of the head, face, or neck, with tenderness in the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles. It feels like there is a band pressing around the head and being tightened. Tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to several hours.

Causes of tension headaches include stress, anxiety, poor posture, depression, and head injury. This gives rise to the scalp and neck muscles becoming tense and contracting. And pain signals get switched on and sent to the brain (the headache) from various sources, including: nerves extending over the scalp; certain nerves in the face, mouth and throat; muscles in the head and neck.

In the case of poor posture, the trapezius and suboccipital muscles at the base of the skull (which assist with stabilizing and turning the head) can get strained. Strained muscles often get tight when scar tissue develops as part of the healing process.

Neck massage to alleviate tension headache

Tension headaches can be eased with a head and neck massage. A Raynor face and head massage involves many strokes all over the face and scalp, used to release tension in the face and scalp muscles, and lower stress levels. For example, by getting the fingertips into the base of the skull the suboccipital muscles can be loosened.

A neck massage will loosen up the neck muscles and a shoulder/back massage with some deep tissue techniques will treat any tight areas in the upper trapezius (by breaking up scar tissue and loosening muscles).

Massage is an excellent way of releasing tension and lowering stress levels. So if you are suffering from a tension headache massage is one way of relieving the pain. And having regular massage treatments reduces the chance of suffering from tension headaches in the first place.

13th November 2022

Loosening neck muscles to reduce stress

What is Deep Tissue Massage?

Over time our muscles and fascia (connective tissue) can become tense. Muscle tension is when our muscles stay partially contracted for a period of time. When this happens blood and oxygen circulation can be blocked, leading to inflammation which in turn can build up toxins. At first tense muscles and tissues feel stiff, longterm they can be chronically painful.

Another source of pain can be scar tissue. After an injury or surgery scar tissue can develop. Scar tissue is not the same as skin tissue; it is less elastic and may lead to tightness, restricted movement, and pain.

A specific example of muscle tension is a muscle "knot", often found in our back and shoulders. They can occur when a muscle has been irritated by a repetitive motion, or when a muscle has been in an agitated position for a while (e.g. sitting at a computer all day). Muscle knots are stiff bands of muscle which have a hard centre. Because knots have reduced blood flow and circulation, toxins can get trapped. Over time the toxins can solidify in the muscle as hard "crystals".

Deep tissue massage uses slow strokes combined with sustained firm pressure to compress and stretch deep layers of
muscle and fascia. By gliding along the length of muscle fibres and also cross-fibering them (i.e. against the muscle grain), muscle fibres are lengthened, fascia tissue is loosened and scar tissue is broken down.

In this way, tension is reduced or removed from the muscles and fascia. So there is a decrease in pain, a release of toxins from the muscles and improved blood/oxygen circulation.

Although deep tissue massage is an intense massage technique, it should not be painful. Muscles and tissue are always warmed up using lighter strokes before applying deeper pressure. And therapist and client work together to find the client's "pressure threshold" (as every client is different); application of pressure is always within this threshold.

24th October 2022

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