Paying someone to rub your butt

by barbaragarn

Or, “Why You Should Consider Sports Massage”

I just had a massage on Saturday and was reminded again of how useful it is for loosening tight leg muscles. I had my first sports massage about two years ago — some of you may recall the now-infamous “wii bowling” injury. The repetitive (and zealous) motions of stepping and bowling over an entire afternoon left me with a hamstring pull and barely able to walk the next day. (Yes, yes, it’s hysterical, I know.)

After days of yarking about my woe to many JMSers, one guy recommended sports massage.

“Isn’t that kind of… girlie?” I asked. “With the frou-frou oils and mud wraps and beating with scented twigs and whatnot?”

“No,” he said firmly. “You should go.”


But I went, and it was amazing. I had literally been barely able to walk up the stairs when I left home; on my return I could climb them without even thinking about it–and without wincing. I wasn’t 100% until the next day, but it was enough of a WOW! to make me a believer and silence my ridicule forevermore.

As hockey players, we’re pretty hard on our leg muscles (front and back: hamstrings, quads and glutes), skating for a hour and a half in the proper hockey stance crouch. I can just get used to things feeling “a little tight” and a little less effective without realizing that they’re problematic since it happens gradually. I usually walk into the appointment thinking, “Oh, my leg muscles are fine, but I’ll just keep the appointment I made.”

And then the sports massage person starts to work away and I think, “What the hell, are there walnuts in my leg?” That’s what the knots feel like; so often you don’t know they’re there until someone professional starts manipulating and smoothing them out. And, as usual, I think, “Man oh man, am I glad I came in!” I never realize how tight the muscles have become until I’m walking around afterwards and have noticed the amazing improvement.

And after doing some research, I see that it’s not at all uncommon for professional teams to use sports massage as a regular part of their training. Not just as therapy, but a component of the entire conditioning process.

I was talking to the massage person on Saturday about how sports, muscles and massages all interrelate. She said she has one current and one former professional hockey player as clients. (She would not divulge names, alas!) She said the retired guy skated with the North Stars and massage was NOT part of his sports conditioning routine. “He’s STILL working out a lot of stuff,” she said. “He tells me all the time that he wishes he had got regular massages back when he was playing.”

And the other, the current professional player?
“He’s doing great,” she said. “He gets massages all the time, and he does a lot of yoga. Classical yoga with those long, deep stretches is ideal for sports. He’s never had any trouble with persistent muscle injury.”

I know it’s not a scientific study, but from my own experience and hearing years of anecdotal evidence of how professional teams incorporate sports massage, I’m convinced it is an excellent addition to an adult hockey player’s conditioning regimen.

I try to go about once every three months, though if the muscles feel tight I’ll make an appointment sooner. I have NEVER walked out of a sports massage and regretted it, or seen it as a waste of money. Pretty much each time, I’m amazed anew at how much better I feel, and how rapidly–and not even realizing how tight the muscles had become over time.

Of course, I wasn’t entirely off base with my early denigration: there’s a legitimate connection between massage of any kind and primate “grooming” behavior. It feels nice, and there’s a reason for it. Studies of captive monkeys show that “grooming” makes them more relaxed, slowing heart rate and external signs of stress. Grooming actually stimulates production (in very small quantities) of the body’s natural opiates–endorphins. To put it another way, grooming actually produces a mildly narcotic effect.

So, you big monkey, go get a sports massage. Have a professional take a crack at those legs of yours and rejoice in how terrific and limber you feel afterwards. The first sports massage I ever had was such an incredible treatment for my muscle ailment, I only wish I had started going sooner.

Do you get sports massages regularly? Where do you go, and what areas do you focus on?

Your first sports massage
Where to go? There are many options, from a “day spa” (which women are probably more comfortable visiting) to specific sports massage clinics. I don’t have someone I use regularly (I did but she doesn’t do it anymore). I hope some JMS community members will post replies with details about their favorites.
What to expect at the facility? Get there early because you’ll need to fill out a registration form (medical history, past health problems that might impact massage), and you’ll want time to talk to the massage therapist about which areas you’d like to focus on.
And the actual massage? You’ll be taken to a room and instructed about how to disrobe and get on the massage table. They will be very understanding and give simpler directions if you indicate this is your first time.
Take off how much? Ideally, everything. The more skin the massage therapist has to work with, the more contact s/he can make with getting into those fussy muscle groups. Massage therapists are very skilled at using drapes for modesty and privacy. So go ahead and take it all off–it’s not weird at all and makes for a more effective experience.
What do I do during the massage? Lie there. Seriously, the massage therapist will work on the different parts you’ve discussed, moving them out and back under the drape. It’s like lying under a blanket with your leg sticking out.
Should it hurt to work the kinks out? Not usually, though my personal preference is to take as much as I can possibly stand. The areas the massage therapist is working on are tender for a reason, and so while getting attention hurts initially, the smoothing action is what helps them feel so much better once they’re unknotted. You can ask for heavy or light; my philosophy is to suck it up and ask for heavy work to really do some good.
And what about a gratuity? As with anyone performing a service (like haircuts or brining food to your table), a gratuity is appropriate… unless it’s in a clinical doctor’s office setting. You can ask about leaving a gratuity when you pay for the massage itself.