Massage at the WORLD SERIES
John G. Louis,
May 29, 2009
Massage at the WORLD SERIES
John G. Louis,
May 29, 2009
When I started working with professional athletes in 1980, I knew of only a handful of other massage therapists in the entire country who were working full-time for professional sports teams. I quickly came to the revelation that massage therapy for professional athletes was only going to grow, and that one day most, if not all, professional athletes would receive regular therapeutic massage. I didn't realize it at the time, but 25 years later, I would be working with the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox major league baseball team.
I started my sports massage career with professional soccer. Most of the players were from South America and Europe. Massage therapy was commonplace for them. They all used it in their homelands, which provided an opportunity for me. I started working with players from the Chicago Horizons soccer team; the team's training camp was in my hometown of Palatine, Ill. Word got back to the coach, Luis Dabo, that I was working with the players. Luis was a former player who was adamant about his players receiving massage therapy. He came to see me and offered me a job that included traveling with the team. I was single at the time and really excited about traveling and working with world-class athletes. That initial experience started a nine-year tenure of working with the Horizons and three other teams. I also consulted with the PGA Tour and Men's Grand Prix Tennis.
In 1989, I made the choice to get off the road for a while. I felt my next best step was to open a massage therapy clinic. That same year I founded the Massage Therapy Center of Winnetka, Inc., in Winnetka, Ill. There are nine certified and licensed massage therapists on staff. We have earned an excellent reputation for providing therapeutic work for our clients.
Fast forward to the spring of 2002. I received a call from my friend, Herm Schneider. Herm has been the head athletic trainer for the Chicago White Sox since 1981. I got to know him when I was working full-time with sports massage. In addition to be being widely considered the best trainer in baseball, Herm is a true visionary. When very few athletic trainers in this country knew of the significant benefits massage therapy had for athletes, he knew. He would have me come in periodically and work on the White Sox players in the mid-eighties. Eventually, Herm asked me to start working with the team on a regular basis. This arrangement did not include travel, which was best for me because of my businesses and young family. For the last four years, I served as the team massage therapist working with the players before all home night games.
It was exciting to see some of players really embrace massage therapy. Home run slugger, Frank Thomas (now with the Oakland Athletics), was among them. For the first time in his career, Frank began receiving massage before most home games. He regularly reported good things on how the massage treatments were helping him. He talked a lot about his flexibility and, curiously; he would regularly say he could see the ball better when hitting. I believe this benefit was largely derived from endorphin release. My work with him did include focused work on the sub occipitals and the entire head. My treatments have an emphasis on trigger point work. I like trigger point work because I find you can quickly perform valuable therapy without causing a lot of micro trauma. I use a lot of deep stripping and cross fiber work as well, but I plan carefully when using these techniques with athletes. With the help of massage therapy, Frank put up some of the best numbers of his career. His homerun production increased by 26 percent during the years I worked with him.
The best pitcher in baseball during the second half of the 2005 season and through the World Series was Jose Contreras, a Cuban national who began his American career in 2003 with the New York Yankees. The White Sox acquired him in a trade in 2004. I began working with him 2 to 3 days prior to his scheduled rotation starts. These treatments were generally about an hour and emphasized working on his pitching shoulder and arm. On occasion, when there was time and need, I would give him longer treatments. I have found that longer treatments (2 to 3 hours) can be incredibly valuable, bringing real therapeutic change. Jose was interviewed in a Chicago Tribune article during the World Series where he was kind enough to credit me for helping him to remain free of injury and for playing a role in his amazing season.
One of the true highlights of the World Series season for me came during the week of the American League Championship series with the Boston Red Sox. Our pitcher, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who had been struggling with shoulder injuries all year, asked me to work with him that week. He was moved from a starting role to a middle reliever because of his injuries. When I began working with him, I knew I was going to need a lot of time to make a real therapeutic change. His whole shoulder was uncomfortable for him and he had a lot of spasms. I spent nearly three hours with him to try and get that tissue to respond. At the end of the treatment, I was confident he was going to benefit tremendously.
Just a few days later in Boston, El Duque was called into the game in the 6th inning. He inherited a bases-loaded situation with no outs. I knew my treatment was going to be put to the test. El Duque went on to pitch the 6th, 7th and 8th innings - three up and three down! It was one of the most exciting playoff pitching efforts I have ever seen. I can say with confidence that he wouldn't have been able to perform at the level he did without receiving the massage therapy. The White Sox went on to win the game and the series with the Red Sox defeating the defending World Champions in three straight games.
I will always have fond memories of my experiences last year. It might never happen again for me, but that would be alright. Just knowing that my work made a difference in the outcome is very satisfying to me. After 26 years of clinical experience with professional athletes, I've concluded that receiving regular therapeutic massage is absolutely necessary for professional athletes to help optimize performance, prevent injury, reduce competition anxiety and achieve career longevity. Sports successes often boil down to millimeters and microseconds. Sports massage gives the athlete an edge they would not otherwise have. The use of therapeutic massage has increased tremendously in these years, but there still is much room for growth.