"10 years, has it really been 10 years?" I keep asking myself this over the last month. I graduated from Kalamazoo Center for the Healing Arts on March 31st of 2006, all fresh faced and wet behind the ears. I moved out of my parents house into a town house with my now wife. I started my career with the same company I just received my certification from. Had my first client in the first week of April. Started teaching massage a year later, starting with Anatomy classes, and quickly moving up to my own bodywork based class. So many changes that first year after graduation, it seemed like it was all moving so fast. Early in 2007 I asked my wife to marry me whilst on a hike in the Grand Canyon. A lovely foreign couple who obviously did not speak a lick of English graciously took our picture while I knelt down and sprung the question. They understood that! I just kept plugging along and moving forward.
Then in the following year I grew stagnant. My wife got a job over in Clarkston, so I vowed to follow her. I failed to find a massage job over there, so fell into holding two jobs one a third shift gas station attendant, the other screen printing T-shirts. After a short 6 month stay, we moved back home, and I went back to work for KCHA. However the brief absenteeism left a hole in my clientele. Many had moved on to other therapists. I got married in August of 2008 and things began to move forward again.
In 2009 my wife and I began to look at purchasing a home. A ritual both agonizing and exciting in it's own right. That Easter while playing an innocent game of 21 with a kid 10 years my younger, I broke my elbow. I made sure to eat my Mother's Lasagna and then go to the hospital. Found out shortly there after I would need arthroscopic surgery for my elbow, right about the same time we were due to move into our new home. (got me out of that I guess) My future as a massage therapist was in the dark. How would it heal, would I be able to practice again? The unknowns drove me, and probably my wife in kind, nuts. It took about 6 months to begin doing mild work and about a year before I was able to practice at my full potential again. Needless to say, this also punched a gaping hole into my recently rebuilding practice. It was at this time I decided I needed to reevaluate my goals as a therapist. What was the one thing I could see myself truly enjoying in my career. Then I thought, as I watched football on Sunday, "Wouldn't it be great to work for the Detroit Lions?" Bam, like a Hummer full of concrete it hit me. Sports, I could work with athletes!
Now I never was much into sports, outside of auto racing, as a kid. I played backyard football and little league before high school, but nothing in high school or college. I grew a major passion for football, in particular, in my twenties. I immediately started to do research into what it took to become a sport massage specialist. I started taking continuing education classes, did a lot of self teaching of techniques, and gained a deeper understanding of kinesiology. I also started taking classes at KVCC that I thought could help me communicate with coaches and sports med staff. This turned into me pursuing a coaching certification. I began to gain a love affair with fitness and wellness as well as combining those things with massage. I started bugging my boss about starting to promote to local colleges and schools, and being the amazing supporter that she is, she gave me the reins. As I began to change the way I thought about massage and wellness, I started to realize I would need to someday have complete control if I were to create my dream. However this was still a 10 year plan in my eyes.
In early 2013 my boss, bless her heart, had to reveal the unfortunate news that we were losing our main spa facility. This is the place I had called my second home for 6 years. We still had a satellite office at the Bronson Athletic Club, but hours were limited there. Many therapist were choosing the path of opening their own office. I had to think long and hard at this time. In a few months my first child was due, I was still in school and planned to graduate that winter, and now I was losing hours at work. Do I dare try to open my own business at the same time? Sure...why not.
It was a mad dash to find a business partner, create a business plan, find a location, create a brand, and let all my clients know all while caring for an infant. Needless to say, things were chaotic at best. Somehow, through the dust, Kalamazoo Athletic Wellness was born. Finally my vision was beginning to develop. It was a nerve racking first two years. But I feel now that I am finally into the swing of things, it has to be time to throw a wrench into the spokes...right? Big changes are always afoot, especially at milestones like these.
As I look back, one thing is clear to me, I can only move forward if I remain open to possibilities, I say yes more, and I can always figure it out, or ask someone to help if I need it. Ok so that is like 4 things, but you get the idea. Sure when I think about it, I have accomplished a lot in the past 10 years, both personally and professionally. But there is always that piece of me that feels like the fresh faced, wet behind the ears kid, scared out of my mind about what's next.
Let's face it, if you are an athlete, injury is inevitable. It's not a matter of if, but when, especially in the more grueling endurance and contact sports. There is no magic way to avoid injury, plain and simple. However there are many ways you can help yourself avoid many of the more "preventable" injuries. Such as repetitive strain injuries, strains and sprains, and joint dysfunctions. True some people are just "injury prone" due to structural or postural idiosyncrasies, but they to can help reduce maybe the severity, or frequency, by following these steps. By no means am I revealing anything new to many of you, but hey, we learn through repetition ya? So here are your 5 reminders of how to play safe and avoid injury.
Remember those sit and reach tests in gym class? That was to check the flexibility of your back and hamstrings, and somehow that was supposed to show how flexible you are...like one plane of movement tells us anything. Flexibility is a widely recognized factor in tissue health. "The more flexible you are the less likely you are to injure." They say. Tell that to dancers and gymnasts! While it is true that there is no major correlation between flexibility and injury prevention, it certainly makes sense the reasons we do it. Ridged muscles and ligaments don't elongate well, thus create an increased risk of tearing, otherwise known as a strain or sprain respectively. The trick is knowing if you are inflexible due to a shortened muscle, or an elongated muscle. Sometimes a muscle can be what we call hyper-tonic or ridged and short. Other times the muscle can feel tight because it is already over stretched or elongated. Think of a rubber band already pulled tight, ready to snap. This is where it is important to know which is which, because an already elongated muscle, will not respond well to repeated elongation. Those muscles will actually respond better to strengthening versus stretching. This is where a knowledgeable massage therapist, PT, or personal trainer can help you. We would be able to look at your posture, do some assessments and tell you what is short and what is elongated. Then we can do what we do to improve upon that.
2.Proper warm-up and cool-down:
All to often I hear about people stretching during a warm-up or getting right into their car after a run. Sure we have a time limit, we have to go to the bank, get groceries, and meet Franny at the restaurant by 8. But your body will thank you, and you will get much more out of those exercises if you warm-up and cool-down properly. To warm-up you want to move! Static stretching should be avoided as most studies have shown that static stretching done before activity actually reduces performance and does not help in reducing injury. If anything it may actually promote injury to stretch cold muscles. Instead do a "dynamic" warm-up. This is a combination of movements designed to promote increasing of your heart-rate, warming of the tissue, and range of motion exercises. This can be done in 5-10 minutes and you should be breathing heavier, and a starting to sweat. It is, after all, a WARM-up. Consult the wonderousness of this Youtube sourced video!
A proper cool-down is NOT walking to your car. A proper cool-down involves gradually letting your heart rate normalize by slowing your pace or walking, if you are doing cardio. Now this is where static stretching fits into the picture. If you jump into the sitting and stretching too soon you may incur a blood pressure imbalance. Your heart is still pumping at 160 bpm, however you are no longer assisting in the venous return by flexing your muscles in a rhythmic manner, causing blood to "pool" in your extremities. To suddenly stop moving you risk passing out or unnecessary fluid build-up. Once you have reached a heart rate of 120 bpm or less do some stretching for all your major muscle groups. Hold each stretch for at least the count of 10-20. Your muscles are nice and warm and pliable now, you will get much better stretching gains post workout. Holding it for a longer period of time will also help your nervous system remember the new tissue length.
3. Proper form and posture:
This bit is so important. Many people, much smarter than myself, have spent hours, and years even, to study and discover the proper technique to perform just about any athletic or work related action. Your body was built a certain way, you have muscles that attach at certain spots on certain bones, and they have a certain kind of leverage that is most efficient in a certain position. This is why teaching kids at a young age how to properly tackle an opponent is so crucial. This is also why we pay so much extra to see a good personal trainer or coach to show us how to do these things. I can tell you that a high percentage of work and play related injuries occur because of bad form and posture. This is also a topic that is constantly evolving. Remember in the old days of running you were probably told to strike with your heel roll to your forefoot and push off while you run. Well thanks to innovations in science, namely pressure plates on treadmills and slow motion HD cameras. We now know that it is far more efficient to run on our forefoot and create forward momentum through hip flexion and body angle. Say whaaaaat?! I offer a free running gait analysis with your first massage for this very reason. Most people have terrible running form and we certainly see a lot of them walk through our doors for Plantar Fasciitis, knee, hip, ITB, or back pain. Ask about our 9 week back to proper running form. Gazelle sports in Kalamazoo also has a free Good form running clinic I often recommend.
4. Proper Equipment:
Is your sporting equipment worn out, outdated, or simply the cheap option? Well you are asking for trouble my friend. Shoes, Helmets, Pads, cups, goggles, and such of all shapes, sizes, and brands. Now is not the time to be a cheap skate. In this world of sporting equipment, all to often, you get what you pay for. For example, football helmets. We all know that concussions are a major concern in this sport (Though concussions happen in almost all sports with football, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, cheerleading, and soccer leading the pack). Football helmets are actually rated by a scale to test how concussion prone you would be if wearing this helmet called a STAR rating. This number is created after extensive testing, the lower the number the better the helmet. A good helmet would be about a .300, which roughly means you have a 30% chance per season of concussion. Some helmets on the market are actually rated over a 1.0. Which essentially means you are guaranteed a concussion during this season! Why would you buy that helmet? Bottom line is, do your homework, make sure it fits, and replace it before it fails.
5. Take care of your soft tissue:
What is the best way to care for your soft tissue you ask? Why, massage and a good strength training program is. Even if you are an endurance athlete, you NEED to strength train. Quite frequently runners knee is due to weak hip abductors not doing their job. You may hear health professionals throw the word "imbalance" around from time to time. We are usually referring to the fact that in a certain area of your body, the muscles that work opposing to each other are not of equal strength. This happens most often in the core muscles. A majority of people are very strong in the back and hip flexors, but weak in the abdominals and hip extensors. This leads to a postural inefficiency known as lower cross syndrome. The tell tail sign of this is over curvature of the lumbar spine. This type of "imbalance" can lead to groin, hamstring, and back injuries if not corrected. Cue the massage therapist, PT, or personal trainer to the rescue. Get some massages done on the Back and hip flexors, do some exercises for the abdominals and hip extensors, your posture should start to get better with repetition. Now you are on your way to being less injury prone. Another way massage can help is helping to break up old scar tissue from previous injuries. Scar tissue tends to be a bit like wet spaghetti, once its stuck in a wad, you need to carefully break it apart so you don't rip the strands. Scar tissue that has healed improperly is much more likely to re-injure, versus those that have been properly treated. Any good sports massage therapist should know how to properly treat an injury. Finally, make massage and strength training a regular part of your training program. Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, a frequent writer for Men's Health, and author of the book "The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies" says "I'm a huge believer in having a massage twice a month and even more often when you are training hard. This goes for athletes of all types. A good massage is one more way to help keep your muscles supple and less prone to injury."
These are just a few ways you can make yourself less prone to injury. I'm sure I will think of others, as I currently am thinking of at least 5 more, so look for a future blog to have more ideas. Stay healthy.
Nicholas Garman, LMT NSCA-CPT