A massage therapist uses the skill of his healing hands on athletes and many others.

I used to have a pretty narrow definition of “massage” in my head. It involved lying on my belly, undressed, in a warm room at a spa while someone kneaded all my muscles until I was nice and relaxed. As I began to study for my certification as a health coach, I came to learn that a qualified massage therapist can do a lot more than alleviate stress and muscle soreness. Massage can actually help with healing.

Rick Halle-Podell of Massage Therapy of Oak Park showed me how massage can help athletes and exercisers to speed healing and improve performance. As an athlete himself (hockey and skiing are his favorites), he understands how important it is to use all available tools to increase performance and reduce injury.

“The concept of ‘no pain no gain’ is very retro – back in the ’70s and ’80s we didn’t know as much about the pressure we put on our body mechanics,” Rick says. “Our focus on exercise and massage is the same – working deep, but not whaling on muscle tissue.”

A little soreness after a workout is to be expected. It means the muscle tissues have been stressed enough to increase their strength, and scar tissue is adding additional muscle. With the help of a qualified massage therapist, the tissues can be coaxed to line up in a way that reduces pain and aids strength.

My neighbor, Chris Boyer, is one of those super-athletes who runs marathons and has been known to participate in 100-mile bike rides when he isn’t on the job as a professor at UIC. He turns to Rick when he has an endurance event both to prepare for and recover from the stress on his body.

Between one and five days before a marathon, Rick performs a pre-event massage, which is less oriented toward relaxation (though it does help with the stress of competition) than with “waking up” the muscles by enhancing blood circulation and reducing muscle stiffness.

After the event, Chris visits Rick again for a massage that emphasizes stretching and guiding the muscles in a more healing way. This speeds recovery by guiding the muscle fibers and gently breaking apart the scar tissue.

“I find that massage both speeds recovery after an endurance event like running and helps to ease the aches and pains I often experience more intense workouts, like skiing or hockey,” Chris says. “I also feel that Rick’s help stretching and working on problem spots in the muscles helps to prevent injury, which can be a problem for middle-aged people like me. I sometimes use massage as a motivation. For example, I’ll schedule a massage for the day after a long run and think of it as way of rewarding myself for a good effort.”

In addition to treating serious athletes like Chris, Rick’s work can also help the “weekend warriors” who are getting used to less strenuous activities like golf and softball as the seasons change. “We work on rotator cuff injuries and those twisting muscles in the torso that golfers use,” Rick explains. “I also use the term ‘office athlete’ to describe my clients with repetitive stress injuries. I try to guide all of them to increase the personal awareness of their bodies and use proper equipment and shoes.”

In addition to his athletic proclivities, Rick has a background in mental health counseling, which certainly informs his outlook on how stress and anxiety can reside in our muscles and central nervous system. His ability to listen is matched by the intelligence in his hands. Rick and his colleagues at Massage Therapy of Oak Park provide many healing services to address a variety of needs, from stress relief to pregnancy massage.

Exercise is a great benefit to your health – and with support from a qualified massage therapist like Rick, the risks of soreness and injury are greatly lessened. The simple act of setting aside an hour for healing treatments shows that your self care is a priority – that helps get your mind in the game, whatever that game may be.

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Lisa Browdy

We all know what to do, and many of us resolve to do it every year: eat better, exercise more, lose weight and reduce stress. We may have many demands on our time and energy, and not a lot of cash to spare...