"Take control of your health: it’s your body, and you can’t trade it in."
Massage, chiropractic, myofacial release, acupressure, acupuncture, energy medicine: the list goes on. If you’re into any sport long enough, you’re guaranteed to run into one of these "alternative medicine" practices. Whether you’re tired, injured, or just tight, bodywork may help you not only get over aches and pains, but have a better mind-body connection, too. I’ll touch upon four practices that have saved me from injuries and unnecessary rest.
Before we go any further though, I know some of you are skeptics. While most people like a nice, relaxing massage, there are plenty of athletes out there who think chiropractors are quacks, and many doctors who will try to dissuade you from holistic methods for the same reason the car salesman doesn’t want you buying from the dealership next door. It’s worth mentioning that the American Medical Association was found guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act for their unfounded persecution and defamation of chiropractors in the '70s. The Biology of Belief is a great read comparing our culture of drugs and surgery with ancient healing methods and mind-body connection. I am not suggesting these methods are for everyone; I do hope you will keep an open mind as you learn more. Seek expert medical advice from professionals you trust. Get second opinions. Trust your gut instinct. Never stop asking questions: especially when prescriptions and surgery are concerned. Take control of your health: it’s your body, and you can’t trade it in.
"...he quietly remarked that it was my gallbladder. At the time, I knew nothing about meridians, and frankly thought, maybe this guy is crazy."
For months, I cycled with pain behind my knee. It came from the popliteus, a small stabilizing muscle with the important task of unlocking the knee on the upstroke while spinning. "You’re riding how many miles a week? It’s overuse. All you can do is rest," said both a local chiropractor and orthopedic doctor. I rested. I iced. I made sure my bike fitting was still on point. Still, the pain persisted. I was training for my first full Ironman at the time, so not willing to take weeks off, I drove nearly two hours to see the highly acclaimed miracle-working chiropractor, Dr. Lawrence Teixeira in Altamonte Springs, Florida. After doing some muscle testing (analyzing where I was strong and weak), he quietly remarked that it was my gallbladder. At the time, I knew nothing about meridians, and frankly thought, maybe this guy is crazy. Knowing the sport, he explained that my being crunched over in aero position for so long put tension around the gallbladder and other organs. After some release techniques under my ribcage and a low back adjustment, the knee pain disappeared. Since then, I’ve limped into his office more than once only to walk out perfectly normal again.
Of course, not all chiropractors are miracle-workers like Dr. T (p.s., he also works on professional athletes). Find one who also does soft-tissue and ideally neuro-muscular work. If your body is out of alignment and all they do is snap you back into place, your muscles and tissues that have been compensating for so long may quickly undo the work.
Active Release Technique (or A.R.T.)
After running 30.4 miles in two days at Gasparilla, I had an excruciating pain in my foot, towards the heel. Paranoid, I suspected plantar fasciitis. It hurt so badly I thought worse yet that something might be broken and got an X-ray. A leading sports medicine doctor told me it was either tendonitis or a stress fracture, but that I needed an M.R.I. to be sure. I went instead, to A.R.T. practitioner and chiropractor Dr. Natalie Otoya in Charlotte, NC, where I was traveling on business. While lying on my stomach, she noticed that my entire leg was turning out. My gastrocnemius, one of the two major muscles making up the calf, was so tight that everything up through the hip was compensating. After a series of soft-tissue techniques, which are applied with movement, my foot was literally good as new.
Speaking of plantar fasciitis – if you have it – try A.R.T. I have two close friends who were laid up with P.F. for months only to be clear from the pain after 2-3 sessions.
My recent Bowen treatment was the equivalent of having several years’ worth of dents pulled out of a car. "Bowen is a holistic remedial body technique that works on the soft connective tissue (fascia) of the body. Bowen therapy can be used to treat musculoskeletal or related neurological problems including acute sports injuries and chronic or organic conditions."*
Myofacial release techniques like Bowen open up the pathways for our central nervous system to heal the body. If there is a blockage, a trapped nerve, or an adhesion of soft tissue, our blood flow and body’s ability to communicate to our muscles can be impaired. This became ever clear to me after a wide-excision of melanoma left me with substantial nerve damage. It is so obvious when my right shoulder is "out" (i.e., not getting a signal from my brain to release/contract at the right time) that my swim pace slows 30 seconds/100 yards.
In just one session (albeit 3 hours), a skilled Bowen practitioner fixed my shoulder, untrapped a nerve in my leg causing my foot to go numb on long rides, and released a visible dent in my quad that’s been there for 10 years when a 1,000 lb horse stepped on it.
"You can save yourself both injuries and money on therapy by implementing soft-tissue practices at home."
At-home soft-tissue work like foam rolling, a massage stick, or trigger point balls can be very useful if practiced regularly. My new favorite device – recommended by my coach Stephanie “Pezz” Pezzullo, who’s qualified not once but twice for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the Marathon – is the "Roll Recovery." A foam roller with all my body weight doesn’t hold a candle to this spring-loaded contraption.
While you cannot expect to randomly roll yourself around on the floor and get the same effect as a bodyworker or chiropractor with 20+ years of experience, there is huge benefit to home care.
According to Coach Pezz, "There are so many ways we can protect our bodies and enhance performance through self-recovery methods. When it comes to soft tissue, I think one of the best and most simple tools one can use is a lacrosse ball. Not everyone can make it to a sports masseuse everyday, but a lacrosse ball is a very a powerful massage device that can help relieve pain and improve function in sore muscles. In short, it can loosen and stretch the fascia in our muscles and really smooth out and clean up the tissues that are disrupted from training."
Summarized here are some of my conclusions after nearly two years of experimentation with bodywork:
- Where you experience pain is often not where the pain is coming from. Everything in our body is intertwined.
- Neglected nagging pain and tweaks will quickly cause your body to compensate, making things worse over time.
- Many traditional sports medicine doctors and orthopedic doctors reject alternative therapies that work.
- Mis-diagnoses happen. Often.
- You can save yourself both injuries and money on therapy by implementing soft-tissue practices at home.
- Rest is important. You can roll, massage and ice all you want, but it’s no substitute for listening to your body and recovering when needed.
*College of Bowen Studies
Written By: Sarah Vita, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahvita316
What experiences have you had with bodywork? Tell us about it in the comments below!
This blog was created for informational purposes only. It's content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or online.