Massage Therapy and Professional Athletes

The main focus of a professional athlete should be on the condition of his or her body.  Why?  Because to be at the pinnacle of the sport, the athlete is often required to push the boundaries of human performance.  Their body generates, and is subjected to, forces and stress that the average person will likely never experience.  For the elite athlete, decreased muscle function and power during rigorous, high intensity events compound the chance for injury.

A proper analogy would be to liken the athlete to a formula one race car.  To be competitive, the man, as well as the machine, is ideally operating at or near peak levels.  In order for the car to reach that potential, it requires a savvy mechanic that understands the workings of the particular vehicle and how to tweak it for performance gains.  It would only make sense that the athlete would need a similar ‘mechanic’, but one that works on the human body. This person is the massage therapist and if integrated into an athletic training program, can help the professional stave off injuries, recover quickly from painful trauma, and prolong his or her athletic career.

In the realm of competitive sport, the licensed massage therapist (LMT) is part of the medical staff.  The role of the LMT covers preventive care, maintenance, and mild trauma/injury.  The therapist will also be involved in any regimen of pain management and rehabilitation.  But, the truth of the matter is that massage is not as integrated a part of the medical team as it should be.  There are still pro teams that do not staff an LMT.

Correctly utilized, massage therapy assists the professional athlete in three distinct ways:

  1. Preventive Care – If not taken care of, little aches and pains can compound and contribute to serious injury.  Muscular micro-tears, tendinopathies, radiculopathies, joint pain, minor bone subluxations, and soft tissue swelling and inflammation, can be addressed with massage therapy to prevent further, more severe complications.
  2. Functional Maintenance – When operating at or near 100%, massage can be used to keep the body balanced and healthy.
  3. Injury Rehabilitation – The body’s natural method of protection after injury, is to tense up the surrounding local muscles.  It is an innate safety mechanism that creates a shield against further external trauma, as well as forms a stable, less mobile structure.  The downside is that the tight, tense muscles slow blood circulation and lymphatic drainage.  Therapeutic massage can be an impressive assistant to relax the injured soft tissue and allow the fluids to circulate smoothly and speed the healing process.  For these reasons, every rehabilitation program should have some form of Massage therapy included.

One elite athlete that regularly uses massage therapy is James Harrison, a professional football linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals.  It is estimated that he spends upwards of a half-million dollars a year on total bodywork.  Is it necessary?  For Harrison, his salary literally pays for him to stay healthy and injury free.  Most of his compensation and bonuses depend on whether he is on the field.  Needless to say, Harrison understands that massage therapy is an asset to his football career and is a key component in keeping his body strong and free from injury.

The articles linked below are about James Harrison and the costs associated with his bodywork over the course of the year.  But what is really brought to light is that the idea of pro sports athletes using therapeutic massage for a performance edge is still a relatively new and surprising thing.  Though if Mr. Harrison continues his long and fruitful football career, a lot more players will agree and seek out the benefits of massage therapy for themselves.  And when enough pros are asking for massage, maybe then, more sports organizations will see the value of adding a few licensed massage therapists to the medical staff.

NOTE:  At August Point Wellness, we treat athletes from the novice to the professional.  We can assist and work with your training schedule to ensure that you get the care you need.

Related Articles

James Harrison Spends up to $600,000 a Year on Massages

Cincinnati Bengals Linebacker James Harrison is a ‘Massage Whore’

NFL.com – Bengals Linebacker James Harrison’s Expensive Body Maintenance Plan (video)

Forbes Article on If James Harrison Can Deduct Massage Therapy on his Tax Return