Prescriptions: The D.I.Y. Approach to Sport-Specific Massage

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1995

Prescriptions: The D.I.Y. Approach to Sport-Specific Massage
By Nancy Prichard

The full-body rubdown is to sports massage as the cross-training shoe is to training: It feels passably good, but if you concentrate on one activity, you'd be better served by something tailored to the task at hand. Making the case for more specialized fingerwork, Joan Johnson, a Boulder, Colorado-based massage therapist and author of The Healing Art of Sports Massage (Rodale Press), has developed sport-specific self-massage programs as focused as your cycling, climbing, or running shoes.

"Single-sport athletes are more susceptible to chronic injuries than those who dabble in many," Johnson explains, drawing from her work with elite athletes such as cyclist Greg LeMond, sport climber Robyn Erbesfield, and runner Arturo Barrios. "So if you do concentrate on one sport, it's crucial to have a massage routine that will target injury-prone, high-stress areas."

Daily self-maintenance of the more easy to reach of those areas can help prevent injury and enhance performance. Here Johnson offers these do-it-yourself programs.

Cycling: The Neck
"Though your leg muscles are the first to feel the effects of a ride, your neck and shoulders actually take the brunt of the abuse," says Johnson. The road cyclist's crouched position, she explains, directs extreme stress to the base of the neck. Release tension in this area by pressing your fingers firmly into the trapezius muscle, starting just below the skull and dragging your fingers down to the shoulder. Use "cross-fiber" massage--rubbing the muscle from side to side rather than along its length. Periodically press sensitive areas for five to ten seconds.

Mountain bikers also experience major damage to the hands, thanks to the job of soaking up off-road shock. Massage your palms by interlocking your fingers and stroking each palm with the opposite thumb. You'll also get relief by simply squeezing and rubbing your fingers gently, avoiding the joints.

Running: The Shins
Overzealous runners tend to push their bodies longer, harder, and more often than they can really tolerate. The breakdown usually occurs somewhere between trail and knee. Save yourself from the pain of shinsplints by pressing your thumbs into the anterior tibialis muscle, near your ankle, and then stroking up the leg toward the knee. Also use your thumbs and fingertips on both sides of the shin, applying slow cross-fiber strokes to especially tender areas.

Climbing: The Forearms
The repetitive stretching movements of climbing lead to overused tendons. For them, Johnson recommends a rubdown where muscle and tendon meet, primarily in the elbow and forearm areas. Locate aching tendon-muscle connections by gently palpitating the region until you reach a tender spot, firmly press down on it for five or six seconds, and release. Massage the forearm by stroking with your thumb, pressing on trigger points--sensitive areas that develop under repeated physical stress--while alternately clenching and opening the fist of the arm you're working on.

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