Ain't No Mountain High Enough
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
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
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
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
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
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