How massage therapy helps one athlete achieve his goals – including successfully completing cancer treatment
CASEY KELSO HAS ALWAYS BEEN a sports enthusiast: cycling, mountain biking, running and long-distance hiking in rugged terrain such as the Grand Canyon.
For years, he has used massage therapy to help his body recover faster so he could get back on the trails. “It’s not all just deep-tissue and trigger-point,” says the 33-year-old software engineer from Phoenix. “They stretch you, too, which is really important.”
In 2008, he started experiencing daily pain that didn’t ease up. On his doctor’s orders, he stopped exercising for five weeks, but the pain persisted. Then, after a series of tests, he learned that the problem wasn’t his physical activity. Kelso had bone cancer.
Doctors thought the tumor on his pelvis was inoperable so they started Kelso on an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. He couldn’t miss a single treatment or it wouldn’t work. As it turned out, massage therapy helped him get through chemotherapy more comfortably. “With massage therapy, I would feel pretty good about three days a week,” says Kelso. “Before that, I’d maybe have one good day.”
He says the therapist would use a gentle touch right after a chemo treatment and Kelso would follow that up a few days later by scheduling a deep-tissue massage. Although, Kelso, a high performing athlete, was able to tolerate deep tissue work over the course of chemotherapy, most clients undergoing chemotherapy report being more comfortable with lighter massage techniques.
“The body of research on massage and cancer is small but growing. From the available literature, the strongest support is that massage helps pain and anxiety,” says Tracy Walton, author of Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy and national oncology massage educator and researcher. “Clients also tell us that massage helps them sleep. Sleep is a precious resource during cancer treatment, as it’s an important time to heal and restore.”
Determined to reach the Summit
After the first course of chemotherapy, Kelso was treated with a combination of chemo and radiation. At that point the doctors thought they could finally perform surgery. But they warned Kelso he might never ride a bike again.
The athlete wasn’t about to accept that outcome. “I kept telling my doctors I was going to do an endurance mountain-bike race when it was all over,” he says. “I went through physical therapy for six months, and in February I did a 24-hour bike race.”
Kelso continued massage therapy to ease the soreness from physical therapy and the side effects of chemotherapy. He believes it helped him heal faster and gave him the strength to do physical therapy three times a week despite the physical toll of chemotherapy.
Achieving Peak Performance
Today, Kelso has fully recovered and is back to his full athletic potential. He completed the endurance mountain-bike race – considered one of the world’s toughest and credits massage therapy for helping him prepare. “It’s easy to get sore and want to take a day off when you really shouldn’t,” he says. “Massage was critical to my training because it relieved the soreness and helped me stay on my training schedule.”
Sports massage therapy is great for athletes of every kind, from world-class professionals to weekend joggers. Massage therapists customize sport massage treatments to address each athlete’s sport of choice and focus on areas of the body that are overused and stressed from repetitive and weight-bearing movements.
Kelso considers massage therapy part of a balanced lifestyle. “Just like we take care of our cars or go to the doctor for a checkup,” he says, “I see massage as preventive maintenance.”
- By Amy Lynn Smith