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

My 5 Best Self-Massage Therapy Tools

There are a vast amount of massage tools on the market.  Some are motorized.  Others have knobs and levers that bend and massage every sore spot on your body.  There is something for every body type.  The massage care industry has so many choices that it can be overwhelming to someone not familiar with the products available.  Therefore, it becomes difficult for the average consumer to pick out a useful massage tool to self-treat tight muscles and pain.

Let’s face it.  The economy is hurting and people won’t spend money unnecessarily.  Not everyone can afford multiple massage therapy sessions a year, let alone every month.  I’ve put this list together to help inform you about self-massage options on treating your own aches and pains.  Using self-massage care tools in conjunction with professional massage care can go a long way towards saving you time and money.

The self-massage tools that I keep in my toolbox have a combination of these criteria in common:

  • Easy to use – I don’t like to set up equipment or prepare a scenario in order to do self-massage.  If it takes more than 5 seconds to get myself and the massage tool properly oriented, I won’t use it.
  • Versatile – I don’t keep 100 different massage tools in the house.  For one, I don’t have the space.  And secondly, if I can use a self-massage tool that performs multiple tasks, I’m more inclined to use it and use it often.
  • Durable – I look for a high quality of workmanship.  If a tool is not built to withstand years of use and even some abuse, I won’t keep it.
  • Simple – A simple design is both aesthetic and appealing to me.  Less moving parts makes for less chance of broken parts.

So, these criteria help me to determine what stays and what goes.  Links to the each of the websites are included in the name.  The best self-massage tools are:

1.  The Sciaticare Ball – Yes, this is my design.  Yes, I think it’s brilliant.  Here’s why.  I’ve used countless massage tools and there are so many that require you to push and press the tender spots out.  With the Ball, I don’t have to use many of my own muscles to work out my tension.  Gravity does the work for me.  I can use it standing up, sitting, or laying down.  It works out pain and tension in muscles from head to toe.  There is very little that this device cannot massage.  Plus, it fits in my workbag and comes with me to the office so I can use it between patients or during break.

2.  The GRID Foam Roller – This is another tool that gets almost daily use from me.  I am a runner and cyclist.  With my legs doing a lot of sagittal plane (forward/back) movement, muscles like my IT band, TFL, Gluteus Minimus, Peroneus group tend to get tight.  This foam roller is an easy way for me to smooth out those muscles after exercise.  The foam roller hits that hard-to-stretch lateral thigh region and does it impeccably.  It takes a short time to learn to use it correctly, but it’s great at what it does, steamrolling muscle tension out of the body.

3.  The Index Knobber II – Please note that there are 2 versions, and this one is the ergonomic plastic version.  The Index Knobber II also shares time in my workbag with my Sciaticare Ball.  It’s small and easy to use.  It’s like having an extra hard knuckle to press on tender spots with.  This self-massage therapy tool gets used on my stubborn forearm muscles mostly, but it also gets pressed into my neck and upper trapezius areas.  The great thing about this tool is that I can also use it on my clients when I need to apply just a little more pressure during massage.  The downside of using this tool is that the hand that holds the tool can get fatigued.  Otherwise, excellent tool to have.

4.  The Ma Roller – I’ve owned this tool for about as long as I have been doing massage therapy.  It’s a great device that helps to loosen up those tight paraspinal muscles in the back.  It’s not extremely versatile, but since the back is problematic for so many, I give it the thumbs up.  It’s easy to use and can work almost the entire length of the back.  Just lay on it.  I’ve found myself relaxing on the Ma Roller for 10 – 20 minutes at a time while I do my breathing exercises.  I’ve had spinal adjustments occur naturally, just by laying on the Ma Roller.  It is made from solid wood and it looks great too.

5.  Still Point Inducer – This tool wasn’t so much a massage tool for me as it was a tool that I used during my meditations.  I liked to place it under my occiput while I carried out my meditation exercises.  It’s a nice, soft tool that presses on the scalp muscles in the posterior region of the head.  It can also be used to press on the upper neck cervical muscles just by laying on it.  The downside is that the device collapses if too much weight is over it.  And I used to use the still point inducer often, but now I just place my Sciaticare Ball under the occiput and it does practically the same thing.

If you would like to learn more about each of the products listed above, visit their websites using the links embedded in the article.  If you would like to learn more about my opinions of these products, please ask and I will be happy to answer.

Disclaimer:  As a note, I do NOT have any affiliation with any of the self-massage tools listed above other than the Sciaticare Ball.  I have tried to be as objective as possible with my assessment and these tools are what I use.  You may find that the above self-massage tools do not appeal to you in the same fashion.  Therefore, it is best to gather as much data as you can and, if possible, try before you buy.

Choosing a Massage Therapist Wisely

Massage therapy is in what I would consider, a revival stage. Although its therapeutic value is undeniable, the general public is again realizing the value of massage as a potent, natural medicine. Massage had previously been associated with luxury and used by those with disposable income. Now, massage is being sought out by all for injury prevention, rehabilitation, pain management, stress relief, and more.

Though massage can be beneficial, the massage therapist must be skilled in order to provide an effective treatment.  Otherwise, the client may end up with nothing more than a rub down with oil and a one hour nap.  Therefore, choosing a massage therapist should be done carefully. A few things to be mindful of when choosing a massage practitioner or therapist:

1.  The client should be comfortable with the therapist. Many clients feel that a massage is just a massage, no matter who is on the giving end. This is not true.  A more effective treatment is possible, when both parties are comfortable. If the client feels uncomfortable during the massage session, the treatment is producing the opposite result. It is imperative that the client be able to relax while being massaged.

2.  The needs of the client and the therapy of the massage practitioner should match. The massage patient looking for pain management should be looking for a therapist that works with pain. An individual looking for massage for injury rehabilitation should identify a massage therapist that works with trauma and injuries. There are different specialties of massage therapy and matching the treatment desired to the massage therapist is important to achieving a successful massage session. Many massage therapists will list the styles of bodywork they specialize in along with their credentials. Checking the skills of the therapist before a visit will reduce the chance of undesired treatments.

3.  The knowledge and skills of the practitioner is very important. A massage therapist should be able to name most, if not all, of the aching muscles in the client’s body. Ideally, the therapist should know the origin and attachments of the major muscles to bones. Treating the human body correctly through massage requires an understanding of the structure and function of the anatomical parts. Along with the theoretical knowledge of the human body, a therapist should also have the massage techniques to apply a course of treatment. This is more important when dealing with injury, rehabilitation, or sports massage. Theory without proper application is as fruitless as application without understanding.

4.  Working with the same massage therapist can eventually lead to a more customized, effective treatment. When a massage therapist is working on a client, he/she is learning about that person’s body. After a couple of sessions with the same client, the massage practitioner begins to understand where the aches and pains are typically located on the client. This understanding through repetition allows the therapist to gain knowledge about the client’s body and what techniques are most effective for the particular person.

5.  The least expensive massage usually has the lowest quality. There’s an old saying that you get what you pay for. The same holds true for massage therapy. There are many massage offices providing cheap massages using less-skilled therapists. These offices provide a way to give treatment to those who cannot afford to pay higher prices. There are also massage offices providing expensive massages with all of the bells and whistles that come with pampered care. This spa-type establishment caters toward a more affluent clientele. This does not mean that the more expensive treatment is always better.  Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. The truth is that there is a market for both types of massage services. Though, one must pay closer attention to the massage therapists rather than the massage establishment. A suggestion would be to shop around and experience the different types of massage offices and spas available in the local area. That way, the client is more apt to separating the good from the bad, and more suited to finding the perfect massage therapist for them.