Connective Issues — Women’s Tennis

Do you ever get asked by a patient “does my tissue feel normal?” Hard for me to answer because no one really comes to see me who has normal tissue.

In early August the US Tennis Association had a small entry-level WTA tournament at the Theroux Club in Concord MA, the first such event here in thirteen years. I was approached to provide sports massage by the massage organizer who lives in New Zealand. She was my first sports massage teacher back in the mid-90s, before she went into organizing. So, after jumping through all the online hoops; ethics, equal rights, diversity, CPR, proof of vaccination, insurance, and an onsite PCR test, I was credentialed.

The women players, about 40 of them, lived in a tight, masked bubble, just allowed to to-and-fro, hotel to venue. The nine-day tournament started with two days of qualifying, before the tournament proper. Medical support consisted of a Ukrainian doctor, a British PT and me. We each had our separate rooms and were always masked up. My days started at 10am and sometimes went until 9pm. It wasn’t all hands-on work; I took court temperatures, fetched ice, cut anti-blister strips and maintained the ice bath.

At first business was slow, but then my online schedule started filling up with healthy, fit, young women, along with seasoned older players. They hailed from all over; India, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, Georgia, Russia and Mexico etc. They all knew each other well and mostly got on with each other. An immediate question was where could the unvaccinated get a vaccine as they would be in the country until after the US Open. They could get both doses. Of course, there was the occasional adamant holdout too.

I had to stay until one hour after the last match just in case they needed work, which they seldom did. Appointments were strictly 25 minutes or 55 minutes. No days were more than six hours hands-on for me. Because they were used to deep tissue massage they knew what they wanted, mostly work on their legs. There were some wanting work on the low back, the neck, shoulders and arms. One common finding was that they all had very rough palms of their hands. Pre-match was vigorous, post-match was repetitive and deep. I could barely identify a trigger point in any of them.

The penultimate day was a scorcher. The winner of the last match of the day hobbled in barely able to walk because of a severe cramp in her quadriceps. She was told to sit in the ice bath for two minutes, have a long warm shower and drink an electrolyte drink with three extra salt sachets added. She then got worked on by the PT on the right leg and me on the left. We gradually increased the depth of pressure until we could feel the tissue let go. No way did I think she could play in the final the next day. She won the tournament!

This event was for me a great exploration into the tissue quality and recovery ability of finely tuned athletes. I found the women to be engaging, interesting, appreciative and all driven to succeed. Even though the days were long I did get to see some great tennis. Watching live tennis really shows just how hard they hit the ball. I can now say that I’ve worked on a former women’s number two. Best of all, I can now answer the question of what normal tissue feels like.



If you think you would like to apply to work in a WTA tournament, drop me a line.