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Massage Today
September, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 09

Sports Massage Q & A

By Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB

This month's column addresses some questions related to sports massage. I hope you find the information helpful.

Dear Michael:

I am a licensed massage therapist.

My son is 25-years-old and has played sports all his life. He has been playing soccer since he was five; he has played a lot of basketball and softball; and he started running about two years ago. This past year, he started to have a problem with numbness in his feet after running for 30 minutes. He has been to see a very good sports doctor. After much testing he was told that the tendons in his feet and ankles are stretched to at least twice their normal length, and he has bone spurs on both ankles. Of course, the doctor is recommending surgery. Would sports massage help alleviate the need for surgery?

- Gail

Dear Gail:

As a massage therapist, I cannot diagnose or prescribe. Your son sounds like the rugged, determined type of athlete. Sometimes the mind will push the body beyond its physical capabilities. Surgery would be my last resort. Exercises can be done specifically for strengthening the lower legs and feet. I would also recommend cutting back running activity. If the arches in his feet have dropped, orthotics and exercise could help provide some pain relief. Strengthening the muscles in the feet and lower legs may help his biomechanics. Orthotics may help temporarily; even they take some getting used to. Find an expert medical person who is used to working with runners with foot problems and athletes. Try exercises and orthotics before surgery.

Dear Michael:

I have had numerous sports classes and currently work at several sporting events. I have been a massage therapist since 1994; have taught massage therapy since 1998; and hold several certifications. One association that heads a bike race always stipulates that there is no use of lotion or oils during post-event massage.

I have been to many classes where lubrication was used and not used. No lubricant is used during pre-event massage; however, in most cases, lubricant could be used during post-event massage. I have always used some lubrication on the legs during compressive effleurage and petrissage, for the sake of reducing friction. I was reprimanded by the association for breaking the rules, the reason being that lubricant would clog the pores, and not allow the tissues to breathe. I contend that the lubrication we use in massage is non-clogging. What is your opinion?

- Henry

Dear Henry:

There are many misconceptions that exist in sports massage. The clogging of pores is one I have often heard. I was at a sports-massage workshop for professional cyclists when I watched a therapist use oil during a pre-race massage. Imagine what a shock this was to all the American sports massage therapists in attendance. No one knows everything there is to know about sports massage.

In Europe, they have creams and lotions that are used for different purposes at different times. I have a book titled, Massage for Cyclists, in which the section, "About Post-Ride Massage" states: "There are four basic techniques for post-ride massage: effleurage, strips, spreading and hacking. Oil is required." Roger Pozeznik, a cyclist himself, wrote the book. I have never heard of massage oil clogging the pores of a professional athlete yet. I have never seen a runner massaged with oil pre-event start to run and then pull over to the side of the road and say, "Help! Help! My pores cannot breathe!"

I would agree that if you used oil even pre-event, it might leave the athlete feeling hot and sticky when they run; however, nothing stops a therapist from wiping excess oil off with alcohol prior to the athlete running. I am aware of pre-event solutions that are absorbed into the skin during the massage, which also do not clog the pores. I do not know of any reason why you could not use oil post-event other than for the athletes' comfort.

Dear Michael:

In your experience with sports massage, what direction would you use in applying compression? One source I have says compress from origin to insertion, whereas others have said compress toward the heart, in which case origin to insertion would be contrary in almost every case I can think of.

- Dennis

Dear Dennis:

While applying compression to the extremities, I choose to compress from origin to insertion with an effleurage stroke back to beginning position for biomechanical reasons. When I use compression on the back, I compress from the opposite side of the table to avoid compressing the ribs into the spine. Compression does not have to be done toward the heart because you are not surrounding the extremity and pushing blood from larger vessels to smaller vessels. Jack Meagher called compression a fiber-spreading technique. Compression technique is not used to push fluid.

Click here for previous articles by Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB.


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