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Injury Prevention 101: Sports Massage

Photo by cosmin4000 on Getty Images

One thing every runner can benefit from is a bomb sports massage therapist, I know treatment has brought me back from the brink of injury more than once! Why? What are the benefits? Alexa Severtsen takes a few minutes to explain how massage therapy not only increases the body's resilience to injury, but also allows her to uncover underlying issues causing pain and injury.

1) How can massage therapy help increase the body's resilience to injury?

There have been some recent studies showing the correlation between massage therapy and injury resilience, but the academic community is still behind on defining what and why exactly it happens. So, without the backing of any studies, I'll speak strictly from experience. Massage therapy increases injury resilience in 2 ways, first, improving mind body awareness through propreoception, second by addressing compensation patterns. When I'm connecting with my patients through touch, I'm bringing attention to that area of their body (shoulders, calves, quads etc.) that the brain has disconnected from. It has been my experience that the brain has far better things to do, like regulating heart beat and hormone levels, than address silly things like hamstring strains. Touching that area of pain reminds the brain that the muscle tissue needs a little attention. Once the brain has been made aware of pain patterns, I'm able to encourage new movement patterns by having the patient engage muscles haven't been adequately firing. This forces the body to rethink how it uses those muscles and develops new neurokinetic pathways.

2) What are some of the most common injuries and symptoms that you see among endurance athletes?

The most common injury I see in runners include hip flexor tightness, hamstring tearing and achilles or ankle pain. These 3 areas are all symptoms of a larger systemic failure. When one of these areas is causing pain for the runner, it's an indication that there's a breakdown in the efficiency of the body mechanics. For example, in my experience working with the Brooks Beast athletes, hip flexor tension is a symptom of glute and hamstring weakness, tightness in the illiacus and abdominal muscles and poor shoulder alignment.

3) What types of questions do you ask to help uncover the underlying issues causing pain and injury?

I'm always looking for the root cause. I want to know what the original injury was. I'm constantly running the following questions through my head "is this a physical, emotional, psychological or genetic injury?", "when did this injury occur?", "is this patient is a current state of stress?", "is the patient responding to touch positively or resistant?", "what signals is the body telling me?". These internal questions allows me to have a subconscious conversation with the patients body, giving me real time feedback and telling me where the original source of pain is from. In some instances, it takes 2-3 treatment sessions for me to fully comprehend the gravity of the issue and come up with a cohesive treatment plan.

4) What techniques of massage do you use to combat these issues?

My massage treatment framework is always observational. I never assume I know anything about a persons body. Once I start getting feedback from them, I'll apply whatever technique their body needs at that time. This includes cranial sacral techniques, trigger point release, myofascial release, pin and stretch, range of motion, stretching, cross fiber friction, active muscle release, positional release, skin rolling, deep tissue myofascial release, traction, compression, tapotment or rocking.

Having 9 years of experience as a massage therapist allows me to have a reference to most of the pain patterns I see. There are still some that stump me, but for the most part, I've seen a lot and am able to quickly identify what area needs the most attention. I am spoiled working with the Brooks Beasts athletes because their bodies are so receptive to movement and touch. I get more feedback both verbal and non verbal and can quickly resolve poor movement patterns so they feel confident during their workouts and races.

5) Why did you choose to practice massage therapy, and what are the best and toughest parts of your job?

My fascination with massage started when I was 7 and became active in multiple sports. After 2-3 hours of practice every day, I'd come home sore and exhausted. My Dad would have creative ways to resolve sore muscles, ranging from taking Tylenol to soaking in Epsom salt baths, but the most effect was always manually massaging my muscles. Once I made the connection between massage and sore muscle relief, I was hooked. As I got older, I didn't think much about making massage a career, but I continued to cross paths with it. Finally, in 2005 after graduating from college and attempting to be a working lady, I recognized my heart was always in soft tissue treatment, wellness and health. So I started my journey to massage school.

The best part of my job is using critical thinking skills, spatial relationship skills, integration and instinct to solve unidentified pain patterns. I also love getting to know my clients on a more personal level and integrating that knowledge into their treatment so they feel heard and validated. The toughest part of my job is the intensity of each treatment. I literally put my sweat and sometimes tears into my work and bring my whole heart to the table when I'm working on a client. This sometimes leaves me drained and exhausted at the end of the day. But I have methods in place to refill and refuel, including eating good food, running, hiking, taking a yoga class, meeting up with a good friend or planning a great adventure (one that usually involved a road trip with loud music).

"Alexa is a master at finding structural imbalances and neurokinetic compensation patterns in her patients. She has been known to resolve ankle sprains by treating jaw imbalances, trigger points in the adductors in the leg to allow hamstrings to function properly and release arm pit muscles to unlock neck and shoulder pain. She is constantly gathering new information about pain management and treatment strategies and prides herself in thinking outside the box. -InHealth"

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