COMPREHENSIVE SPORTS MASSAGE FOR WORKING WITH SPECIAL POPULATION MILITARY ATHLETES

By Jane Kordish, LMT, US Army Veteran, Community Relations Chair/1VP Tampa
Bay Chapter
By definition sports massage is pretty broad and flexible. That’s one of the reasons
sports massage therapists love our field. We reach into our toolkits and pull out the
tools we need for the work at hand. In a session with an athlete we use many
techniques and methods from myriad modalities. The best part is, the longer we do
this work, the more education, experience, and confidence we acquire, and the more
tools we have in our kits. That’s good news for our athletes who are counting on us
to help them recover from injuries, avoid injuries, and compete at their best every
time they go out onto the field, the track, or dive into that pool.
Working with special population military athletes, however, presents a new and
dynamic set of challenges for the sports massage therapist. You may be presented
with an athlete who approaches your table in a wheelchair. What do you do? There
may be a service dog at your athlete’s side. You may begin working on a runner or
cyclist with a prosthetic limb. Are you comfortable working on that athlete’s
“stump?” Do you ask permission first? Your athlete may have extensive scarring or
may even still have shrapnel in his or her body. Many returning service members
have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) from explosions or other events. Some
have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress issues. Invisible injuries can cause
unpredictable changes in behavior and adverse reactions to treatment. How do you
best work with all of these possibilities coming at you at once?
My experience over the past few years working with the extraordinary athletes of
the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard of the Military Adaptive
Sports Program (MASP) has shown me time and again the need for education for the
sports massage therapists working with these recovering men and women. I believe
that therapists should be highly trained in our modality, but in addition we need to
learn how to work with scarring from severe burns and other injuries, amputations,
and bodies which have had extensive surgeries (at times having whole swaths of
muscle and tissue removed) often resulting in very limited range of motion of joints.
Just as importantly, if not more so, we must be familiar with invisible wounds such
as TBI and post traumatic stress. We need a basic primer in trauma and in recovery
from trauma, and we need to then practice what we have learned.
If you want to work on this very special population of athlete, consider courses in
cupping technique, scar tissue release, Active Isolated Stretching, scraping,
Kinesiotaping or Rock Taping, active release technique, and others. A specific course
given by a licensed psychotherapist to learn about trauma is also an excellent idea.
Forewarned is forearmed. Get yourself trained up and get yourself out to the field,
the track, and the pool with your athletes. The work is awesome.

In closing, I’d like to invite all FSMTA members, especially all my fellow sports
massage therapists, to think about giving back to your military community by
volunteering to work with wounded, ill and injured veterans and active duty service
members in your community. They need and will benefit greatly from your work,
and believe me, you’ll benefit too. It is an extraordinary experience to work with
them. Contact your local chapter of the Red Cross, the USO, the Veterans
Administration, or Disabled Veterans of America. They’ll point you in the right
direction. Welcome to the field!

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