Benefits of Massage Therapy For Athletes

In a market saturated with devices and quick fixes to ease the aches and tweaks of the weekend warrior, Michelle Johnson hasn’t been swayed.

Johnson, a frequent biker, martial arts enthusiast and triathlete, has relied on a less-trendy method of injury prevention — massage therapy.

“Initially I went for relaxation, but my body really responded to it. My muscles were always tight and tweaked,” said Johnson, adding that massage therapy has benefited her athletic performance. However, as a higher-cost alternative to muscle recovery tools on the market such as do-it-yourself foam rollers and massage sticks, many athletes shy away from massage therapy until they’re saddled with an injury.

“Athletes usually come in for the first time with an injury, and just expect to (come in) until it gets fixed,” said Miriam German, a massage therapist at Healing Tree Massage in Portland.

Often times, that isn’t the case. After helping clients work through injuries, German said, they realize the benefits of routine massages and usually return.

“(Massage therapy) really keeps your muscles in shape. It’s like brushing your hair; if it doesn’t get brushed, it’s going to knot up, and you won’t be able to comb it,” said German, who deals mostly with runners and cyclists. She says the most troublesome area for cyclists is their calves, while runners typically have pain around their knees, calves and ankles.

While Johnson has benefited from therapeutic massages over the last five years, she hasn’t been immune to injury. Noting her intense Kung Fu training, she said a shoulder injury plagued her for months. Combined with yoga and physical therapy, frequent massages helped Johnson work through the issue. Johnson also used massage therapy in preparation for big events such as a triathlon last fall and Kung Fu tests.

“It absolutely helps (my performance). When I’m stiff, I feel like my body is holding back. After a massage, I feel like I have my full range of motion,” Johnson said.

To prepare for an athletic event such as a race or meet, German recommends athletes get a light massage two days before the event to help muscles stay limber. Following a strenuous event, German said a massage as soon as possible, preferably the day after an event, is most beneficial to flush lactic acid and aid in recovery.

“It helps keep the muscles limber, and really gets the blood flowing. … (Blood) is our healer,” said German.

German notes the higher cost of massage therapy can deter some athletes from coming in, particularly those who don’t view it as part of their training or routine recovery plans. German said she would ideally like to see athletes once a month, but understands it’s not always financially possible.

Johnson said she usually schedules a massage every few months, although she would like to go more frequently.  “It’s not cheap, but at the same time I do whatever I can to work it into my budget.”

For Johnson, the benefit outweighs the cost. 

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