It may still be summer but those of us who love sports know it’s that magical time of year. It’s that time of year filled with the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of pads colliding & whistles in the air, and the pain of strained muscles. When the calendar rolls into August, the fall sports schedule begins in earnest. The NFL season is already underway, colleges begin practicing any day now, and high school athletes won’t be far behind. Unfortunately this is also the time of year that these athletes sometimes neglect or don’t properly prepare to prevent nagging injuries like strained muscles. Even worse, many athletes will go down with a season ending injury that could have possibly been prevented with a proper stretching and massage program.
Professional sports teams have recently begun seeing the value in adding sports stretching with a massage program to their players daily routine. Go to any ballpark or stadium well before game time and you will see your favorite players spread out using everything from foam rollers to stretch bands under the watchful eye of their athletic trainers to ensure that they are taking every precaution to protect what are literally multi million dollar assets. The benefits of an athletic stretching program has now matriculated all the way down into the high school and youth league levels.
Sports related injuries can have long term effects on the athlete. For the professional athlete this can mean a loss of income due to the perception of being injury prone. For a college athlete this can mean losing the opportunity to play professionally. But for the high school athlete and their parents this can be completely devastating. Over the last decade the competition for college scholarships has gotten extremely competitive and with this comes the pressure to “play through the pain”. An injury late in a high school athlete’s career can have huge ramifications including the loss of a college scholarship. Many times an injury to a younger athlete can cause trouble with self esteem, depression, anxiety, and stress. Weight gain, lack of fitness, and the potential of long term issues like developing arthritis can also be the result of the injury.
How Should Athletes Stretch and How Often?
- Before any game or practice, athletes should warm up their muscles with five to 10 minutes of a light version of exercise. For example, to warm up for basketball, do some relaxed shooting. A warm-up will increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons, which makes them less likely to be injured.
- Athletes should stretch at least three times a week and before any games or practices, but should only do so after they have warmed up or after a workout, when muscles are loose and relaxed. Stretching before warming up does not reduce the risk for injury during a sport, and experts such as the American College of Sports Medicine, no longer recommend it.
- When stretching, hold each stretch (no bouncing or jerking) for 20 seconds. Don’t stretch to the point of pain, the saying “no pain no gain” doesn’t apply to stretching!
- Repeat stretches two to three times for each muscle group you are trying to loosen up.
- To maximize your stretch, make sure to take your time. Younger athletes need to learn that it isn’t a race and that by properly stretching they lessen their chances of injury.
Massage therapists need to become skilled in multiple disciplines nowadays. Many therapists work with athletes at various levels making it not only a worthwhile set of skills to learn, but learning the essentials of sports stretching is vital. Sports massage and sports stretching are great tools to offer to your clients but when performed wrong they can have drastic consequences. Take the case of Houston Astros All Star shortstop Carlos Correa. Back in May he suffered a broken rib from a massage gone wrong at his home. Luckily for the player it is a relatively minor injury in the grand scheme of things that will unfortunately keep him on injured reserve for up to 8 weeks. For the Astro’s they are in first place with a comfortable lead during the early part of the summer. Had this injury happened in September it could have changed the fortunes for the entire team and potentially cost millions of dollars.
This is why it is recommended that massage therapists constantly refine their craft, learn proper techniques, and not only the different types of massage and stretching, but the proper ones for that particular client. The Academy of Massage Therapy holds courses several times a year for Licensed Massage Therapists to learn these proper techniques from a leading sports massage practitioner, Jim Early.
Jim works with athletes of all levels throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and is a board certified (NCBTMB) sports massage specialist. He will be teaching our upcoming Essentials of Sports Stretching class on September 15th. This course is a valuable resource to any therapist who works with athletes and will count as 8 CEs towards your license renewal.