Manual Therapy For Artistic Athletes

Something that has truly become a niche of mine over the last year or so has been sport specific work, specifically with young artistic athletes. Our main goals with artistic athletes are to improve flexibility as much as possible, while doing so in a safe and effective manner. We also spend considerable time on body awareness/strengthening exercises, which makes their treatments look significantly different from the average individual.

Flexibility is most easily gained before an individual stops growing. After this, it is still attainable, however much more attention and dedication is required. This is due to the fact that a child’s joints are still hyper-mobile, and their muscle tissue cells are recovering and replicating at a quicker rate.

Hyper-mobility for the most part isn’t a bad thing however, our treatment approach is significantly different in the following regard:

No Joint Distractions of Any Kind. Joint distractions are a manual therapy technique intended to improve the mobility of a joint capsule. While children already are subject to hyper-mobility, use of this technique in children could result in injury.

PNF Passive Stretching. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is an advanced form of flexibility training which involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group being targeted. PNF stretching is one of the most effective forms of stretching for improving flexibility and improving range of motion.
*PNF stretching, or passive stretching of any kind should not take place ever without proper training. Improper use/knowledge could result in serious injury.

Considerable Home Care Time – We spend considerable time on stretching/strengthening exercises as they help with back flexibility, improve balance and overall body awareness, prevent imbalances/weakened muscles, keep the individual learning and engaged, and gives the individual something to work towards at home.

What an Average Treatment Consists Of

An average Stretch Therapy session lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on the needs and attention span of the individual. Our sessions begin with an assessment to the individuals needs through a variety of strength/length/postural tests.

We begin the manual portion of our treatment on the massage table where we are able to conduct a variety of passive and PNF stretching techniques, particularly to the lower extremities – hamstrings, adductors, hip-flexors.

Table stretching is followed by quick hamstring and or hip-flexor active stretching if they feel they need a bit more. From here we will do our ‘splits’ in wherever the clients range of motion is – attempt/full split/over split etc.

Followed by splits, we begin to actively warm up the spine, co-ordinating movement to breathing patterns – extending into a stretch on the inhale of the clients breath, while coming out of the stretch on the exhale. This promotes a positive Parasympathetic Nervous System response which will put the body in a relaxed state, and help to increase their mobility further.

Once the spine begins to feel as it’s getting warmed up, we do a variety of Stretch Therapy/Thai Massage techniques from the Yoga mat to improve spinal range of motion and length to the latissimus dorsi/pecs for increased movement to the shoulders.

Depending on the needs of the individual, we may throw in a few balance exercises here such as single leg good mornings, pistol squats, lunges and/or core to help with muscle activation and balance

The following few minutes is spent working on positions such as scorpions, leg holds, back bends etc. I use these positions as a ‘second assessment,’ as i am able to further restrictions/imbalances when the individual is fully warmed up to the point that they would be in practice/competition. We can use these findings as a guidance for future treatments.

At the end of the session, I will usually walk through a few strengthening exercises with the individual. These exercises are specific to their goals/needs/findings, and differ from person to person.

Although it sounds like a lot, majority of our treatment is passive stretching and home-care based, which are within the scope of practice massage therapy techniques. It is just the approach to our treatment sequence that makes us so unique and effective! This means that we are able to bill these services through your medical insurance, likely making it an affordable treatment for your athlete. We have had many girls show great success while working with us, and would love to have you join us if flexibility is something that you are looking to improve on this new year.