More Than Skin Deep
Bethanie Mattek’s favorite thing to take with her on tour is not one of her wild out?ts, a fancy new racquet, or a top-secret sports-drink concoction. It’s her mas-sage therapist, Kim Toppel.
Mattek, like other pros, gets mas-sages regularly—at least twice a week when she’s home and for at least 30 minutes after every match. Massage is integral to her game, she says, because it loosens up her muscles, keeps her joints and tendons working properly, and stops injuries before they start.
“Regular massage can keep a pain or a strain from turning into a full-blown overuse injury,” says Chicago-area mas-sage therapist Marilyn Kier, who counts many tennis players among her clients. “You know how they say that when you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrat-ed? Injuries can be like that, too—usually some time in the making, and pre-ventable. A good therapist can head off a problem before it happens.”
Massage has other bene? ts, Kier says. Like working out, it produces en-dorphins, nature’s painkillers. It lowers blood pressure, helps strengthen bones, regulates metabolism, and promotes relaxation. So what’s not to like?
The painful techniques, according to Mattek. “It’s not the relaxing kind of massage, it’s the painful kind,” she laughs. “I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate it when Kim is digging into my tight hip ?exors with her thumb, but afterward I love it because I feel so much better.”
The techniques Toppel employs are deep-tissue massage like myofascial re-lease and trigger-point therapy.
Kier says deep techniques are best for keeping athletes’ bodies healthy. Myofascial release loosens up fascia—connective tissue that surrounds muscle, bones, organs, nerves, and blood vessels—through stretching and pressing the tissue. In trigger-point therapy, the therapist may use a knuckle or elbow to press and hold a tight spot in a muscle. When she lets up, the spot is ? ushed with blood and oxygen, which can help release spasms, elongate muscles, and heal the area.
Burt Abrams, 59, a Chicago-area ex-ecutive recruiter, is a 4.0 player who’s been a regular on the court twice a week for more than 30 years and a regular massage client for about 10 of those. While he’s had rotator-cuff problems for years, he says his time on the massage table has helped him stay off the operating table. “There’s no question it keeps my muscles toned and ? exible, and my shoulder nimble,” he says.
“A torn tendon I can’t help,” Kier says, “but with regular work on a client’s muscle strain, we can prevent some-thing more serious and get them back on the court faster and healthier.”
Mattek agrees. “Massage keeps me loose and pain-free, which may account for winning a few critical points in a match.”
DO TRY THIS AT HOME
Using a foam roller (a stiff cylinder of foam that’s usually about 6 inches in diameter) can feel almost like getting a massage, Toppel says. Sit on the ?oor, place the tube under your glutes and hamstrings and use your arms to roll on it until you feel the muscles loosening up. To ease tight quads, lie on your stomach and use your arms to roll the tops of your upper thighs over the cylinder.