An Athlete’s Guide to Bodywork

Without regular maintenance and proper attention, a car breaks down. Responsible drivers know that before embarking on a road trip, they need to make sure their cars are road-ready. Otherwise, an unruly tire may roll down the street without them.

Athletes have to pay the same care for their bodies or else the wear and tear of exercise will grind down the muscles they rely on. That truth was hammered home to me last Saturday, I neglected my regularly scheduled bodywork and my wheels came off.

Bodywork is essential to an athlete’s longevity. But it’s not as simple as walking into a spa and asking for a sports massage. The variety of treatments and approaches can be overwhelming. Here’s a quick guide to types of bodywork. Bring on the acronyms.

Acupuncture, Acupressure And Dry Needling

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The body’s fascia system is a web-like network of closely woven muscle fibers draping over and connecting the parts of our musculoskeletal system. Myofascial Release, or MFR, is a very individualized form of treatment, so there’s no “typical” session. But all patients can expect light but consistent pressure on the muscle fibers. Myofascial release aims to relieve tension by lengthen the fascia. Unlike other forms of massage therapy, MFR works directly on dry skin without oils or chemics and the pressure is sustained, rather than kinetic.


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Cupping has boomed in the West thanks to high profile endorsements from high profile athletes. Cups (glass or silicone are most typically used) are placed over the body and suctioned to create a “vacuum”-like sensation on the skin. The cups decompress tissue, separating fascia and other connective tissues from the muscle, creating space, easing the flow of blood and expediting healing.

Once the cups are removed, areas of redness may remain on the skin. But when performed correctly, cupping and its aftermath is painless—the experience is often likened to a light pinch. Bruises can occur, but should not be the goal of treatment. If your bruises are dark enough to have you looking like a ladybug after the session, you may want to find a different practitioner.


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Named for founder Ida Rolf, rolfing combines myofascial release with movement. It’s often performed in a 10-session series, so practitioners can work to address and correct long-standing alignment issues. Rolfing reduces chronic pain, tension and can dramatically reduce the risk of future injury by correcting fundamental problems causing pain. Rolfing is unique because it doesn’t just treat the symptoms; the goal is to find what’s causing the pain and prevent future occurrences by improving posture.

Kinetic Release Therapy

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Kinetic Release Therapy is relatively new. Created by Edan Harari, KRT was influenced by several different kinds of bodywork, including myofascial release. Many turn to KRT after other forms of therapy fail to relieve their pain. Harai’s methodology is gentle, non-invasive, and may include mobilization work with the joints and light partner acrobatic work to facilitate healing through the force of gravity. Although there is no “one size fits all” approach to KRT, Harari aims to create a safe space for healing, without the pressure to “muscle through” anything.

Craniosacral Therapy

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Craniosacral Therapy (CST) works with the fluids and membranes surrounding our spinal cord and brain—but it’s not only used for brain and spine issues. Through soft touch and holding, practitioners release tension and chronic, pattern-based pain in the area. Because this region is known as the command center of our bodies, CST is thought to work with many ailments and diseases related to the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s and PTSD.

Active Release Technique

Active Release Technique (ART) is a cutting-edge soft tissue management system that deals with injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. It was developed by Dr. Michael Leahy, a chiropractor who’s worked with members of the U.S. Olympic team, the Denver Broncos and other athletes. But ART is not just for athletes. It can help anyone who has injured soft tissue through trauma or repetitive stress.

Back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, headaches, knee problems and tennis elbow are just a few of the many conditions that can be resolved quickly and permanently with ART.