Sports Massage Therapy 101: Interview with an Expert

by Heather

Today’s post is brought to you by Nic:

Nic Ebright is a Sports Massage Therapist and Corrective Exercise Specialist in Columbia, MD. He is a Multi-Sport enthusiast having participated in several running and triathlon events. He is a member of Ulman Cancer Fund’s Team Fight & Mid-Maryland Tri Club and volunteers for local events like Columbia Tri, IronGirl Columbia and Half Full Triathlon. You can learn more at

Ever since I had the pain in my back alleviated by a therapist after a race, I’ve realized sports massage is more than pampering & relaxing- it’s therapeutic & restorative.

Nic’s the one that taped up my knee during 24 Hours of Booty– he took one look at my horrible taping job, shook his head, and fixed me up in a matter a minutes. I felt great the rest of the ride.

I just had to pick an expert’s brain. Winking smile

1. How did you get started in massage therapy?

When I interned as an Athletic Trainer at Maryland (College Park 2001-2005), I was shown basic massage techniques to help athletes deal with swelling that resulted from my sprains and strains as well as help reduce scar tissue formed from healed abrasions and  surgical incisions. After 3 years, I graduated and become a Sports Performance Coach, specializing in recovery, injury prevention & rehab. While other colleagues focused on the strength and condition aspect, I developed programs that addressed an athletes need to recover from challenging workouts and the high intensity demands of competition. Aside from nutrition, rehab exercises and mental mapping – I used massage therapy. I was really happy doing it and it worked for my clients, so I went to receive training, got licensed and have been loving it for the past 4 years.

2. What exactly is “sports massage”?

Sports Massage to me is the expert application of basic massage techniques (Gliding/Stretching, Compression/Kneading, Friction and Vibration) used separately or in combination to help an athlete “feel better” – whether it’s from muscular pain or performance-related stress. The “Sports” part involves having a deep academic and practical background of athletic injury, rehab and performance knowledge. It’s important to know about injury patterns and about how the body response to exercise (or lack of) and injury so that I can determine which techniques are appropriate per individual.

3. Who would benefit from a sports massage?

Anybody who participates in any activity. Whether you lift boxes or lift weights, Run errands or run marathons, ride the desk 9-5 or ride the bike 5-9. If you have muscle pain are tightness, you should try massage.

4. Is there anybody that should stay away from sports massage? (Such as any particular injuries, conditions, etc.)

In general, sports massage is not appropriate for severe or sudden injuries and conditions like fever, fractures, severe inflammation (grade 2 or 3 sprain or strain), hernia, and contagious skin conditions. My first rule is “Do no harm”, so if it’s something that you need to see a doctor for first, then I wouldn’t recommend massage.

5. What types of injuries do you see the most?

Since I work with a lot of endurance athletes these days, they tend to come to me for chronic overuse injuries like Plantar Fasciitis, Runner’s Knee, Low back and neck pain and Sciatica. These injuries are occurring with well seasoned athletes as well as beginners.

6. I’ve heard getting a massage right after an endurance event isn’t good for you, but there’s always massage therapists at races…can you clear that one up?

This is a matter of individual preference, really. If your body is well adapted to the event, you might not be sore at all compared to someone who isn’t as well adapted (most beginners). I believe it’s the therapist who can hurt not the therapy. A well skilled therapist should be using lighter gliding, compression and stretching techniques to help with cramping and calm the nerves down.

Personally, even though I’m a therapist, I didn’t want anybody to touch my legs after my first Marathon. I had to wait a few days for the pain to subside before I made an appointment.

Contrary to popular belief, massage doesn’t prevent or reduce DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness), training and adaptation is more of an influence with that.

7.What’s your favorite part about being a massage therapist?

Knowing that I can contribute to the success of my clients. Some times I’ll see a client on TV or in the newspaper and think, “I helped him or her get to Kona or the Boston Marathon or be able to play on Sunday night.”

8. Least favorite part?

Bargain Hunters. In general, people who only visit when I have a discount or promotion (I don’t invite them back) . I tend to think most of my clients respect my profession and appreciate the investment that they make. Athletes usually appreciate that aspect because they make their own investments into their training. If they appreciate it and  I know that cost is an issue, then I usually adjust my fees to accommodate their budget.

9. I’m a big fan of the foam roller and the stick- any advice you could give for someone interested in self-massage? (Any major do’s or don’ts?)

Do try it. I encourage clients to do self-massage for maintenance in between sessions. That means you can go longer in between “tune-ups”.

Don’t press too hard. applying to much pressure can cause bruising and even more tissue damage.

Do go slow. If you do want to apply more pressure, do it gradually to let the muscles adapt. Muscles tend to contract more when pressure is applied too suddenly.

No Gain with Pain. It should never be painful. Your goal should be to relax tight muscles or stimulate tired muscles, but not cause pain to the muscles.

10. Seriously, how bad is it giving massages to people that have just sweat for 4 hours in a marathon? Winking smile

It’s not bad at all, just as long as I clean and wipe everything down before the next athlete, I’m fine. I’m usually the best thing that happens to a Marathoner after 26 miles of running.

Anything else you want people to know?

Ultimately, it comes down to choosing the Therapist not the Therapy. Try out different types of massage and Massage Therapists and find the one that works for you.

Thanks Nic!

Have you ever gotten a sports massage? What did you think?