Monday, December 22, 2008

It Hurts, But Is It Worth It?

“So-called sports massages have become a common facet of training for professional athletes of all kinds. And because of their increasing presence on spa menus (beside facial exfoliations, body wraps and hot stone treatments) and at health clubs (down the hall from Pilates, step aerobics and yoga classes), this sometimes painful procedure — which can cost $45 to $150 an hour — appears to be gaining in popularity among a growing segment of amateur athletes. ‘It hurts,’ said Tara McGinness Murdock, a runner in Lookout Mountain, Tenn., who recently used deep-tissue massage while training for a marathon.’“But, as crazy as this sounds, it’s a good hurt.’ But as more amateur athletes have chosen sports massages in an effort to improve performance and avoid injury, they have been confronted by an increasingly varied combination of massage styles under this heading. Asking about the predominant techniques used in the advertised sports massage can be enlightening, said Terri Schneider, an ultra-endurance athlete and coach. ‘If it’s all Swedish massage, then it will probably be less of the kind of deep-tissue work that’s beneficial for athletes while training,’ she said. But even exclusive use of the deep-tissue approach has limitations, as many massage therapists have numerous techniques at their disposal. Sports massage, Mr. Hassler explained, has become something of an umbrella term. Using a technique known as Augmented Soft Tissue Mobilization, for instance, Mr. Hassler’s goal is to facilitate muscle regeneration. ‘We are intentionally inflaming the tissue to kick-start the body’s own natural healing cycle,’ he said. He also uses active release, which breaks up fascial adhesions (connective tissue buildup created by exertion) to lengthen muscles and better prepare them for continued high intensity training. Despite the anecdotal evidence from athletes and massage therapists, hard data that soundly quantifies the extent of this phenomenon is hard to come by. In broad terms, however, according to the American Massage Therapy Association, about 20 to 22 percent of the United States population reported receiving some form of massage in the previous 12 months, compared with 8 percent in 1997.”

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