Elizabeth Holmes wanted a massage.
She was looking forward to her neck and shoulder massage. It was a way for her to relax and unwind after a hard week. And things were going well – until she experienced a sharp pain in her neck. Like most people, she automatically assumed that a little bit of pain was part of the process.
A massage is supposed to hurt.
Her discomfort turned to horror one week later when she found herself in the hospital. “My doctor asked me if I’d been in a car accident I said no.”
At this point she was in full panic mode
Then her doctor delivered the bad news.
Her carotid artery, the main artery on either side of her neck, split. A blood clot leaked out then, over the course of a week, traveled to her brain causing a stroke.
You read that right.
Elizabeth’s neck massage caused a stroke. A stroke that almost killed her.
When athletes hear these stories they’re immediately resistant. “Most people don’t have these kinds of problems” or “massage is good for you.” If you’re a pro athlete massage is probably part of your recovery program. It’s the same for semi-pro and recreational athletes.
What’s the harm?
The right kind of massage protects you
If you’re getting a massage from a therapist there’s nothing to worry about.
That’s the usual message you hear, especially when you’re asking a massage therapist for their advice. But is that the truth? Is massage really as safe and innocent as it sounds?
- A 41 year old man developed a blot clot around his spine after an aggressive session. His massage included bending and twisting, with the massage therapist stepping on his back and waist.
- Another man suddenly felt weakness in his arms and legs during a neck massage. Then he noticed numbness in his fingers. His doctor diagnosed him with a spinal cord injury as a result of lying on his back without neck support during the massage.
- An 88 year old man collapsed after a two hour massage. He had too much protein in his blood and it poisoned his kidneys; his massage therapy agitated his problem creating a minor health scare as a result.
But… these are extreme cases! In fact, 99.9 percent of the time nothing happens.
Or does it?
The wrong kind of massage does damage…
… But it’s usually subtle. An experienced massage therapist knows how to adapt their skills, customizing their approach for each client. You get all the benefits of massage – injury prevention and recovery, breakdown of scar tissue, improved circulation, etc. – without the horrible downsides I’ve just mentioned.
Which is how it should be right? Only it’s not.
Athletes often leave a session with more aches, pain and injuries than they came in with. And make no mistake these injuries affect your performance and your recovery time. When it goes wrong a massage can…
- Create new injuries and aggravate old ones
- Create major and minor health scares
- Change the way you play, altering your posture and stance
- Subtly alter how you move, your strength and speed
Ever leave a session feeling stiff and sore? Woke up the next day with bruises, aches and pains? You’re not alone. These injuries are painful but they’re also not good for you.
You’re a semi-pro player. You’ve spent hundreds of hours working on your stance at the plate. You’re finally starting to see some progress. Slowly but surely, you’re hitting the ball to the part of the field you want it to go. One day after an intense game, you pull a muscle. Nothing serious, but definitely very painful.
So you go in for a post-game massage.
It feels great for the most part; you experience a little bit of pain and discomfort during the massage but you’re good overall. Until the next morning. As soon as you wake up the next day your body’s on fire. You’re sore and in pain – it absolutely hurts to move.
You’re supposed to play later so you suck it up and you head out.
You don’t want anyone to notice you’re in pain, the last thing you want is to lose your seat to a hungry up-and-comer. So you compensate, you make little tweaks to your stance. You change how you catch the ball. That’s how it starts.
And just like that, a bad massage has ruined your game
Okay, let’s assume you want to avoid a bad massage story. Let’s also assume you want to ensure you get a great massage to improve your pre-game prep and post-game recovery.
Where do you go?
What do you look for?
It’s not like massage therapy styles are created equal. And while there are lots of styles and techniques to choose from, you’re looking for the style that maximizes your performance. So, which style accomplishes that? Well, you’re an athlete so the only style that accomplishes that is Sports massage.
What makes Sports massage different? Sports massage combines a few high impact massage styles into one well thought out system.
- Shiatsu massage is meant to deal with aches and pains; it works to eliminate muscle and joint pain, calming the sympathetic nervous system and lowering blood pressure.
- Myofascial release gently stretches the connective tissue around your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. It’s used to treat general problems like back pain as well as very specific problems like pitcher’s elbow and a hamstring strain.
- Deep tissue massage is used to help a player’s body break down scar tissue after a player’s injury has healed completely. it’s great for treating trouble spots like the shoulder and neck.
- Swedish massage. When you think of a massage you’re probably thinking of a Swedish massage. It’s used to improve circulation, prevent injuries (via a pre-game massage), improve flexibility and reduce fatigue.
Sports massage gets your body ready to play. It primes your muscles, improving circulation and flexibility. That matters if you’re looking to play your best. What about your post-game recovery? Same thing, the right kind of massage decreases your recovery time.
Your body is primed and ready to play, decreasing the odds of injury. Then, when you’re done playing, a post-game recovery massage helps you to deal with any bumps, bangs and bruises
But only if your therapist knows what they’re doing
The wrong massage therapist probably won’t have the training and experience you need as an athlete. There are a lot of fly by night massage therapists. How do you flush out the pretenders?
You look for a massage therapist that’s certified by the right governing body (like the AMTA or NCBTMB) and loaded with great reviews. It’s that simple. Choose carefully and you’ll have the support you need to improve your performance.
But you shouldn’t get a massage…
I started this article off, talking about the dangers of massage. Strokes, blot clots, and injuries won’t improve your game. It’s almost as if I’m saying that getting massage is risky.
That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Getting a massage is risky if you choose the wrong person. Each of the therapists in our stories were inexperienced and untrained. They made serious mistakes. They put their client’s health and well being in jeopardy. An experienced massage therapist won’t make these serious mistakes.
“I don’t get massages anyway so it doesn’t matter.”
You drill hard and practice carefully. You’ve never needed a massage therapist. Why should you start now? It’s not like your game will suffer without one.
But that’s the problem, your game will suffer.
How do I know? Time. Your injuries, bumps, bangs and bruises accumulate with time. A stretched hamstring here, a strained rotator cuff there; A sprained MCL or Spondylolysis. These injuries slowly add up and as they add up – you guessed it – your performance goes down.
Your training regimen, nutrition plan and massage therapy clear out those injuries, enabling you to maintain and improve your performance.
A massage shouldn’t send you into panic mode
Elizabeth Holmes had a stroke, all thanks to her massage therapist. Her massage therapist failed to ask the important questions and it almost cost her, her life.
Massage is safe, effective and necessary. Athletes need massage. As their injuries add up, massage works them out, enabling you maintain and improve your performance. But only with the right people.
An experienced Sports massage therapist adapts their skills, customizing their approach for each client. Choose wisely and you get all the benefits of massage – performance improvements, injury prevention and rapid recovery, – with no horrible downsides.