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Massage Today
May, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 05

Massage Therapy for Older Athletes

By John G. Louis, CMT

I tell many of my clients who complain about their aches, pains and injuries that the warranty runs out at age 30; after that, we pay for everything! Apparently, this is the time when our bodies begin to change quite a bit.

It is widely believed that we begin to lose approximately 1 percent of our organ function per year at this age. We also begin to lose muscle mass, and tissue starts to become less elastic. The heart muscle becomes less able to propel large quantities of blood quickly to the body. We tire more quickly and take longer to recover. Consequently, we injure more easily and heal more slowly - all of which significantly affect the athlete. However, there is hope! Skilled massage therapy can play a very powerful role in combating these negatives in the aging athlete. I've said for years that all competitive athletes need regular massage therapy. This especially is true for older athletes.

Headshot of a bicyclist. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark I met and treated former Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon in the spring of 1982. At the time, he was 50 years old and playing nearly every day on his traveling basketball team, called Meadowlark Lemon's Bucketeers - and with kids half his age. He was struggling with regular muscle injuries and was fearful his career was over. He responded very well to my treatment, and I encouraged him to consider hiring me to tour with him. I told him I was sure I could help keep him healthy and extend his athletic lifespan, as well as the quality of it. My persuasion worked: In the fall of 1982, I was hired to travel as his personal massage therapist and athletic trainer. Thankfully, I was able to deliver on my promise. Meadowlark thrived with regular massage. I can say with confidence that had he not implemented a massage program when he did, his career would have been finished at that time, as he had feared.

Professionsl bicyclist in race. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark More recently, while serving as the massage therapist for the Chicago White Sox baseball team from 2002-2005, I worked extensively with homerun slugger Frank Thomas. For the first time in Frank's career, he began to use massage regularly. He was 34 years old when I began to work with him. Naturally, he was feeling some of the inevitable effects of aging. I worked with him several days a week throughout my time with the team. Not only was he able to stay very healthy during that time, but he also thrived on the field. He increased his average homerun production by 26 percent during that time. He regularly made comments about the various benefits he was noticing, including being able to see the ball better when hitting and staying more relaxed at the plate. Frank, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, is destined to pass a major milestone this year: 500 career homeruns, something only 20 others have done in the history of baseball. I'm really proud of my contribution to his effort.

Currently, I am working with world-class triathlete David Roadhouse. David, who is 62 years old, holds the 2005 and 2006 world titles for his age group. I have been working with him regularly for the past three years. Like Frank Thomas and Meadowlark Lemon, David started his regular massage program later in life. By day, David counsels some of the country's most successful entrepreneurs. He has incredible discipline, which allows him to compete at a world-class level. "I can't say enough about how massage therapy has helped my program in the last three years; specifically, it has helped prevent injury and helped to minimize injuries I've had," David said. "Massage therapy will always be an important part of my program."

Click here for previous articles by John G. Louis, CMT.


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