ProFootballDoc: Rotating Team Of Massage Therapists Is Unusual Treatment Strategy

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Massage therapy is an integral part of an athlete’s rehab and recovery. It is part of integrated medical treatment to get through a long season and to prevent injuries.
Most professional teams have some in-house or in-facility massage therapists. During the pandemic when only official personnel access was allowed, most teams added one or more massage therapists as exceptions to tier one COVID testing to allow players regular access. In short, masseuses are considered a part of or an adjunct to the overall medical team. As such, it is not the medical norm to constantly rotate masseuses.

I make no opinion as to any guilt or innocence in the massage therapists vs. Deshaun Watson saga. My only comment is that medically, it is very strange for any professional athlete to have their deep tissue, Swedish, trigger point or sports massages performed by multiple different people on a rotating basis. 

The NFL players that I have interacted with have wanted consistency in the care and maintenance of their bodies. Whether surgeon, doctor, physical therapist, athletic trainer, strength coach, personal trainer, chiropractor, nutritionist or massage therapist, professional athletes demand consistency in what they need for their bodies to stay in top form.

Even though an NFL team will have five or more taping tables going before a game or practice, players typically wait for “their” therapist to strap their ankles, no matter how long the line is. Certainly, they want one consistent workout plan from the same personal trainer. At times, the Chargers have had two different chiropractors, and some players would skip the manipulation if their preferred adjustor was not in house that day. I never minded when a young player who didn’t yet know me wanted to consult with his college team physician instead. Meanwhile, I was always there for a second opinion for veterans who had moved on from our team.

Professional athletes find what works and stick with it. Sometimes this is just habit. Sometimes this is just comfort. Often the consistency and reliability are what helps get the best results. Certainly, some protocols may be tweaked, but it is rare to see a player bounce around from one person to another again and again.

I have never heard of a situation of rotating through 16 (or 24 or whatever number of massage therapists) in a year. To get the massage they want and trust, players often fly their masseuses to road games and put them up at the road team hotel to get their pregame ritual.

I have seen rookies searching for the right masseuse. I have made recommendations to free agent veterans who have joined our club and were new to the area. It seems very unusual that a star player would need to be on such a search four years into his tenure in the same town.

Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for Watson’s unusual massage therapist rotation. Maybe this is all made up and not true. Certainly, I have never heard of hiring massage therapists off Instagram (but maybe that just makes me old and out of touch). All I can say is that the merry-go-round of massage therapists is something that I have not witnessed during my two decades of experience in professional sports medicine.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.


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