If you asked me about massage therapy even a few years ago, I wouldn’t have a thing to tell you. But ever since I was introduced, I swear by it. I can tell you that the media stereo-type does no justice to the practice as it can be extremely therapeutic and even boost your performance. I’ve referenced the benefits of getting massage in most of my injury prevention articles but I’ve yet to fully detail it. Now that I am a fully licensed massage therapist I thought I would get to it!
Dispelling some Misconceptions
When the average person thinks about massage therapy they probably think a session consists of a just a relaxing “fluff and buff” type deal that is made to relax and pamper. Others may think of it as a hairy dude putting an elbow into their back causing an amazing amount of pain. My least favorite is those who think a session is when an Asian lady rubs them down and then does some not so appropriate things to give the massage a “happy ending”. This is at least that is how the media has made massage therapy look, I’ve seen it depicted that way in almost every single T.V. show I’ve watched. This is also how most of my friends who haven’t experienced massage think of massage therapy. Unfortunately in some states and countries some of these stereo types hold true. But these instances are rare and far between and in no way represent the definition of massage therapy. Except for the relaxation portion and the “putting an elbow into someones back” portion. But then again elbows in the back feel great.
What is Massage then?
Massage is a healing art that can address skin, muscles, joints, energy meridians, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, lymphatic system, nervous system and more. Massage covers such a wide scope of health that it is hard to even list them all. The way that a massage therapist treats all these areas is through the use of a very wide variety of techniques. Here is the short definition of massage provided by Merriam-Webster
: manipulation of tissues (as by rubbing, kneading, or tapping) with the hand or an instrument for therapeutic purposes
This definition is very basic but true. It isn’t complete however. There are so many ways a therapist can address the systems of the body that it can’t be limited to just a short sentence long definition. Here is a more detailed description of massage taken once again from Merriam-Webster.
Systematic, scientific manipulation of body tissues with the hands to relieve pain and reduce swelling, relax muscles, and speed healing after strains and sprains. It has been used for more than 3,000 years by the Chinese. Early in the 19th century, the Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling (1776–1839) devised a massage system for joint and muscle ailments, which was later extended to relieve deformities of arthritis and re-educate muscles following paralysis. Manipulations include light or hard stroking, compression (kneading, squeezing, and friction), and percussion (striking with the edges of the hands in rapid alternation). In acupressure, a style of massage derived from China, pressure is exerted on Chinese acupuncture points for healing effects. See also physical medicine and rehabilitation.
That is pretty much what massage is in a nut shell.
The Term is “Massage Therapist”
Each state has their own set of regulations to ensure that massage therapists have the proper education to perform massage (except Vermont and Oklahoma so watch out for that) so if you are going to a license massage therapist the chances of incidents is dramatically decreased. These regulations include everything from having a passable amount of education time to being CPR certified. This education covers anatomy, pathology, and of course the proper practice of massage and massage techniques (There are so so many). It is still important to make sure that the therapist you are seeing is actually licensed and has no complaints against them. You should check up on a therapist by running their name and profession/ work place through Google to make sure that they won’t give a lack luster massage or don’t have any marks against them. That is why some massage studio chains are good, they make sure that their therapists are up to par and can deliver a quality massage. For example Elements Therapeutic Massage employs a variety of therapist and assign each therapist to a client based on the clients needs and desires. For example if you want sports massage with medium to deep pressure you would be assigned to someone like me (*cough* *cough* Elements in Nashua NH *cough**cough*). Something else that is good about stopping by a franchise is that they can be found in pretty much every state and have several locations in some states. There are also many very qualified and experienced massage therapists who work for themselves that can match or even surpass any therapist you can find working at a franchise.
Something to look out for is if there are locks on the doors of the massage therapy rooms in a studio or office that is usually an indicator that something inappropriate is happening in the studio. Also check to see what kind of spin a location is putting on massage, if it seems sexualized at all steer away. Also check out their website to ensure they aren’t a total weirdo like this guy. Aside from being a nut job I wouldn’t want him working on me.
Why you should get a massage
The list of benefits goes on an on so I’ll narrow it down to the few more important aspects and go over each shortly. I will cover a few of the benefits in their own separate article due to the “bore-fest” factor.
1. It shortens recovery time
The most basic part of massage is the increased rate of healing and treatment of muscles. I know one thing that sucks is being sore after every training session and then going right back into it the next day and ending up dragging yourself through it. By the end of the season you are really hurting, especially if you are doing two leagues or sports at once. What massage does is make it so that you can get back onto the field faster after training sessions by “resetting” the muscles if you will. There have been many studies done on how massage can shorten recovery time and my experience with massage mirrors the findings.
2. It can help boost performance
There are many ways massage can boost performance levels. For example the therapist can work out adhesions (knots) that are gluing muscles together they can create something called muscle independence which increases efficiency of movement. A common example is when the Gastrocnemius muscle adheres to the Soleus (Calve muscles). The Gastroc has two functions, it plantar flexes (locks the ankle) and helps bend the knee. Meanwhile the Soleus only helps to plantar flex. If the muscles get stuck together the Soleus reduces the efficiency of the Gastroc and both muscles become very unhappy. It would take too long to explain but basically massage can make it so that both muscles are doing their own thing and not dragging on each other. I’ll go over the performance benefits more in a separate article.
3. It reduces muscle pain
One of the most noticeable results of massage is reduced pain. I love when my clients get off my table and are able to move in ways that they weren’t able to before the session. Which brings me to…
4. Increased range of motion
There are many techniques that are specifically for releasing muscles that could be restricting range of motion. So if you are having trouble getting range of motion in your hips a skilled massage therapist can take care of the muscles that can be causing the issue. This also helps to improve joint health.
5. It can reduce the risk of injury
Reducing overall muscle dysfunction and improving muscle health as well as releasing muscles that can limit range of motion can pretty much eliminate the risk of injury in some cases. There have been a few times in game where I have been able to do a few quick sports massage techniques and have been able to save my muscles from cramping or getting damaged.
If you are looking to have a long and healthy career you definitely need to be putting a lot of thought into self care. Massage therapy is a great tool when it comes to extending your playing life. The next best thing is probably yoga, just look at Ryan Giggs! But I swear by massage therapy, and if you couple it with yoga you are going to be set for life and still playing at the age of 80. Look to see more massage therapy and self care articles in the future.