By Sue Shekut, MA, Clinical Professional Psychology, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
For the record, sports massage should not be painful. Let me say it again. Sports massage should not be painful. Especially not excruciatingly so!
Sports Massage of lower legs muscles post-race.
Journalists tend to write about massage as though it were an endurance sport, rather than a therapeutic tool. Which is unfortunate, because while articles like “The Sheer Hell of a Sports Massage,” are humorous, they also provide a great deal of misinformation and may cause people to fear massage. The article author, Andrew Griffiths, writes that he found sports massage to be a hellish pain to be endured. He also provides a fair amount of inaccurate information about sports massage removing “toxins,” and “realigning the muscle tissue and connective tissue fibres” and describes being misdiagnosed (inaccurately, yet unknowingly) by his sports massage therapist as having plantar fascilitis. Sadly, this author’s understanding of sports massage was not enhanced by his experience with Vaska, his “sports” massage therapist.
Hopefully, however, the author, Mr. Griffiths, and readers, will pay more attention to the comment on the article made by a fellow science-based massage therapist, Jason Erickson.
Mr Erickson, massage therapist, personal trainer, former competitive athlete, therapist educator, and sports therapist for elite athletes clearly, concisely refutes most of Mr. Griffith’s points and explains that sports massage should not be painful.
As Mr. Erickson’s comment is so articulately written, yet it is buried under ads and other links to articles on The Telegraph, I am reposting the main points of his comment with credits to Jason Erickson. In his comment, Mr Erickson notes:
When working with athletes (and those aspiring to become athletes), a competent sports therapist focuses on restoring/improving function as quickly as possible with minimal risk of causing tissue damage, nor of reinforcing neurological protective responses to innocuous sensory input. As a protective output of the brain in response to perceived threat, pain is something that competent sports therapists should seek to avoid triggering in their clients. There are many, many ways to achieve positive results without pain being a component of the treatment experience, and in my experience pain usually indicates that I need to adjust what I am doing to minimize/prevent it.
In this article, Mr. Griffiths also stated, “Sports massage works deep in the muscles, realigning the muscle fibres and connective tissue, and flushing away the toxins. Regular sessions will increase joint mobility and flexibility, and reduce the risk of injury during exercise.”
Not one part of this statement is correct. Thirty years ago, these are things that were believed, but science has advanced considerably since then. I don’t know where the author encountered these claims, but I question the veracity of his source(s).
It would have been more accurate to restate that paragraph thus: “Sports massage works with all of the body’s tissues, from superficial to deep, often via neurophysiological mechanisms. Functional changes in the recruitment of muscular, vascular, and other systems may accompany reduced pain and improved performance. The nature and timing of sports massage sessions may vary considerably depending on the athlete’s training/competition schedule, and a good sports massage therapist will be prepared to educate the athlete accordingly.”
If you take the time to read the article, hopefully for the laugh factor, then scroll down to Mr Erickson’s comment and read a more realistic, (albeit less humorous) explanation of sports massage. If you are an athlete, or have any muscle related pains, you will be glad you educated yourself about sports massage so that you can find a sports massage therapists like Jason Erickson, not like Vaska, to save you from painful, potentially damaging, sports massage!
And how do you find a knowledgeable, science-based massage therapist like Jason Erickson, versus a novice with a poor understanding of human anatomy, massage therapy and the nervous system like Vaska?
First off, when you call a massage therapist to book an appointment, ask him or her questions about training, their experience with athletes and how they view pain in massage. If the massage therapist tells you something like, “no pain no gain,” hang up the phone (after saying goodbye politely) and call another massage therapist!
If the massage therapist tells you that he or she will work to help relax your nervous system while they work and aim to reduce your pain, not increase it, then you have a good chance of receiving an excellent sports massage!
Readers, what is your experience with sports massage?
Jason Erickson, NCTMB, CPT, CES, BBA, BA, AA
More About Jason Erickson
… from his company website, Keep in Touch Massage Eagan, MN
Jason Erickson, NCTMB, CPT, CES, BBA, BA, AA
Originally from Rochester, Jason studied Pre-Law, Marketing and Economics for his undergraduate degrees by day while practicing martial arts and vocal performance by night. He pursued a corporate career until he discovered the benefits of therapeutic massage and corrective exercise while rehabilitating from some injuries. Inspired, Jason became a certified personal trainer (CPT), then entered massage school and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern Health Sciences University.
Jason loves continuing education and may be found teaching classes when he isn’t attending one! He holds National Certification in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB), certification in Bodywork for the Childbearing Years® (pregnancy massage), Myofascial/Fascial Release, American Council on Exercise Personal Training (ACE-CPT), and is a certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). He has also studied orthopedic massage, sports massage, positional release technique, dermoneuromodulation, structural integration, assessment and treatment of headaches and neck problems, foot/ankle/knee injuries, massage for cancer patients, etcetera. Jason is also an advanced practitioner of Active Isolated Stretching, a powerful method of increasing pain-free range-of-motion, strength, balance, and neuromuscular integration and function.
• Massage Myths That Need to Be Trashed by Nick Ng.
• Toxins, Schmoxins by Paul Ingraham