The Skinny on Massage


By Dr. Jessica Seaton and Jeanne Underwood, AT, PTA


Over the past 20 years massage therapy has become increasingly popular with athletes and non-athletes alike. Many of us consider a weekly massage one of the ultimate pleasures in life, allowing our slowly aging and tired bodies to completely let go and relax.


Aside from feeling good and relaxed, what else does massage do for the body? Massage stimulates both the skin and the underlying muscles, tendons, and, in some cases, ligaments. It also can either stimulate or soothe the nervous system. The act of rubbing, kneading, and pushing helps the body to eliminate metabolic waste products in general, and especially locally. Also, it has been postulated that massage may increase the body’s secretion and excretion, as well as the blood’s’ oxygen carrying capacity.


I am just getting back into shape. Will massage help me?

Most people just beginning or resuming an exercise program experience some degree of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This usually peaks at about 48 hours post exercise. Studies have shown that sports massage will reduce DOMS, especially when administered two hours post exercise.


What kinds of massage are there?

There are many different types of massage. Some types or techniques are named after the therapist who developed them (e.g., rolfing developed by Ida Rolf). Others describe the tissues they’re affecting (e.g., myofascial release). Some massage therapists use only one technique (e.g., Shiatsu); others have a grab bag of techniques depending on the client’s and their needs. Some examples of the different types of massage available include:

·        Circulatory massage: a more superficial, stimulating massage. This includes the Esalen type (slower pace) and Swedish (fast pace).

·        Deep tissue: deep work into the muscles, slower pace (includes Heller technique, rolfing).

·        Specific work: triggerpoint work (very specific points).

·        Shiatsu: rhythmic compression along the body’s meridians. Includes stretching.

·        Sports massage: light, pumping type of work. The emphasis is on stretching and flexibility.


What kind of massage should I get the day before a meet?

If you are feeling sluggish, a light circulatory massage, such as an Esalen type massage would be helpful. If you are feeling fine, and are used to deeper work, a deep tissue massage would be fine.


How about the day of the meet?

If you have not yet swum or are between events, a light circulatory massage would be best. If you get deep work before you swim, you may end up feeling sluggish while you swim. After the meet, a circulatory or deep (again, if that’s what you’re used to) massage will help you to recover faster. While studies have refuted claims that post-exercise massage will make you stronger, they have affirmed that it will speed up your recovery. Generally it is wise to stay away from deep massage right before and during your events.


I injured my thigh muscles during the meet. Should I get massaged?

Generally it is better to wait 24 to 48 hours after an injury before you get massage therapy. In addition, you should have your sacroiliac joints and low back evaluated by a chiropractor to make sure that the reason for your muscle injury was not due to a biomechanical problem in those areas. That, and not warming up properly are the most common reasons for groin pulls, adductor, quadriceps, and hamstring strains during swimming. After an injury, your massage therapist should start with lighter, more superficial techniques. As you heal, then deeper work may be warranted.



What should I do after I get a massage?

This depends on where you are, and what you have scheduled for the day. Under ideal circumstances (such as in a spa setting) you would take a warm bath, drink plenty of water, and do a really good stretch. Even if you can’t find the time for a warm bath, it is important to drink a lot of water and to stretch at least before you go to bed at night.


Are there times when a masaage is not a good idea?

There are definitely times when a massage would be bad for you. If you think you are getting a cold or getting sick or you actually are sick, a massage will only make you worse. It is too much for the body to handle. Also, if you are over-fatigued, a massage may be too much for you. If you have any open sores or skin conditions massage may be contra-indicated. If you have any doubt about whether you should get a massage or not, a well-trained massage therapist should be able to tell you if a massage would be a good idea for you.


Jessica Seaton, D.C. is a chiropractic orthopedist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. She swims and competes with West Hollywood Aquatics. Jeanne Underwood is a certified Athletic Trainer, a licensed massage therapist, and a physical therapy assistant. You may contact Dr. Seaton at or (310) 470-0282.