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Massage Today
May, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 05

Magic Massage: Working With Pro Athletes

By John G. Louis, CMT

I just recently had the chance to speak with two athletic trainers who are currently employed by professional sports teams. I wanted to know how much they were using massage therapy, along with how it was administered. I also specifically asked them for their insights on the value of massage therapy for their athletes.

The first trainer I spoke with was the head athletic trainer for an NFL franchise. He told me that the team has used massage quite frequently for some time. The team did not have any staff therapists; however, they apparently use many local therapists on an as-needed basis. When I asked him about his view on how important it was that his players receive regular massage therapy, he was quick to tell me that he was not prepared to endorse massage as a therapeutic modality. He added that although he likes to receive massages himself because they feel good and all, he was very skeptical about any real therapeutic value that massage had for the athlete.

In my many years of working with professional sports teams, this is the mindset that I regularly came up against when working with athletic trainers. Of course, I completely disagree with this reasoning, and it concerns me that it is still so prevalent today. I have witnessed firsthand just how amazingly powerful massage can be for the athlete's health. Thankfully there are athletic trainers who really understand the value and even recommend that their players receive massage therapy regularly.

The second trainer I spoke with, Tom Smith, had a very pro-massage view. Smith is the head athletic trainer for the NBA franchise, Orlando Magic basketball team. He is a veteran athletic trainer with many years of experience working with professional athletes. Just like the NFL team, the Magic do not employ therapists, but use local massage therapists on call. Smith is a huge believer in touch as an important healing component and feels that if done properly, massage can bring about very powerful healing results. He also mentioned that although he, along with the team's assistant trainer and physical therapist, do perform massage themselves, they do not have the time needed to bring about therapeutic change and it's also not what they do best. I was glad to hear Smith's positive thoughts about massage and the ongoing endorsement.

Working With Professional Athletes

If you are a massage therapist who aspires to work with professional athletes, I believe that there are some very important lessons to be learned here.

  1. Massage is being used now more than ever in professional sports. When I started working with pro athletes in 1980, there were only a handful of us in the entire nation. It has certainly grown since then, but as we can see there is still a lot of room for growth. The fact that both of these teams do not employ full-time therapists is an indication that there is real opportunity for the future of massage. Each and every professional athlete should be getting at least one hour of advanced therapeutic work per week, in my view. Teams that have traveling, full-time massage therapists would be able to provide this vital and important modality.

  2. The perceived value of massage therapy for the athlete is still very controversial. The NFL trainer is not sold on the therapeutic value of massage therapy. I believe that his conclusion largely comes from his need to see massage really work for his players. This is why I believe so strongly in getting some excellent advanced training; to have the ability to quickly assess tissue and treat it properly is vitally important to bring real therapeutic change. Basic massage skills are not going to achieve these kinds of results.

  3. Therapists at this level need to be educators as well. There were many opportunities that I had over the years to share with trainers and athletes about the value massage therapy. Having the deep experience and knowledge in our work will pay dividends if you acquire it.

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


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