Desmond Diaz, LMT, OMT, is the team massage therapist for Orlando City Soccer Club, which competes in the premier American professional league, Major League Soccer (MLS). In this role, Diaz also provides massage therapy for the team’s minor league club (Orlando City B), and sister team (Orlando Pride) that’s a member of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). In addition, Diaz has represented the United States as a martial arts assistant coach and competitor, earning several medals in international tournaments. For this Q & A article, he discusses his role with Orlando City, martial arts experience, massage therapy background, and how implementing HawkGrips has made such a great impact on his practice.
When did you become the massage therapist for Orlando City Soccer Club?
In February 2015, which was the start of our first season in MLS. During the season, it’s definitely a full-time role. In the offseason, I work with a physical therapy company called Holman Rehab and with NFL players at Tom Shaw Sports Performance, located in the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. I also see patients at my own clinic.
How would you describe your involvement with Team USA for martial arts?
I became an assistant coach in January and have represented the United States as a competitor since 2013. My specific martial art is Goju Ryu Karate. In my first international competition, the 2014 World Martial Arts Games in Vancouver, I won two silver medals. Last year, I went to the World Games in South Africa, where I won gold and bronze medals.
Then this year the World Games were actually held in Orlando, and I won two gold and three silver medals. On the first day, I competed in traditional Okinawan routines. The second day was more focused on fighting, so I fought in multiple divisions, including continuous fighting, kickboxing, and a traditional form called kumite.
Getting back to massage therapy, do you find time to treat patients at your own clinic during the MLS season?
I see some clients throughout the season, but not as many because my schedule is pretty busy with the soccer teams. So I’ll usually treat those clients in the afternoon or evening. I don’t travel with Orlando City on road trips, but this season I did travel a bit with the Pride. The amount of traveling I do should increase each season going forward, which I’m looking forward to because I love travel.
How would you describe your massage therapy background?
I became a massage therapist about 10 years ago. Initially when I got out of school, there wasn’t much work available for a male massage therapist. So I spent a lot of time working in spas or massage franchises, as well as at physical therapy clinics as a rehab technician. In that role, I assisted physical therapists and occupational therapists and learned about how to apply treatments for rehabilitative purposes. Then in 2010, I founded my own clinic in Orlando called A Balanced Life Center.
How and when did you learn about HawkGrips?
I’d say a little over a year ago. But I actually started looking into instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) tools a few years before that because I worked for a sports chiropractor at the time who had a set of Graston tools. Unfortunately she wouldn’t share her knowledge about IASTM or let me touch the tools because I wasn’t certified. That made me decide to do some research and learn about it on my own.
Some of the companies I looked into seemed OK. I initially spoke to Graston and was told they didn’t certify massage therapists. I kind of took that as a slight, so I started speaking to a couple people in Europe who had been developing tools, but those weren’t available in the United States yet. Eventually a colleague of mine named Brittany Fought introduced me to Frank Osborne, the founder and president of HawkGrips. Frank and I had a long conversation about his instruments and vision for the company, which definitely piqued my interest.
Do you treat the Orlando pro soccer teams as well as other clients with HawkGrips?
Absolutely. I’ve actually had an influx recently of Olympic athletes to my private practice, along with some World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestlers, and pro and college football players. I also treat the U.S. women’s national soccer team, University of Central Florida women’s soccer team, and Cirque du Soleil performers. So I utilize HawkGrips with all of those clients any chance I get.
In your role with Orlando City and the Orlando Pride, do you utilize the instruments on a daily basis?
Definitely. Some of the common soccer-related conditions I’ll use HawkGrips for include cervical or lower-back pain, plantar fasciitis, hamstring and quad strains, even sciatic and gluteal-related dysfunctions. If a goalkeeper is having forearm or hand issues, I’ll utilize some of the smaller tools. So I pretty much treat the whole body with them. The players really like HawkGrips, especially the goalkeepers. That’s the first thing they ask for when coming in for treatment. And many of the field players will say to me, “Hey, can you ‘scrape’ my leg?” Sometimes players specifically ask for handlebar treatments on their hamstrings.
How would you describe the outcomes from HawkGrips treatment?
I would say we receive a very high-level response. I use HawkGrips in conjunction with other skills, but they certainly make my life a lot easier because I don’t have to just use my hands. In the course of a 20-30 minute treatment session for a given player, I can treat with HawkGrips for 5-10 minutes to make the tissue supple and easy to manipulate.
What feedback do you get from patients outside your role with the Orlando soccer teams?
The football players I treat include members of the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and New York Giants, as well as college players training for the NFL Combine. They all really enjoy HawkGrips. Because they’re such large people, I often use the handlebars with them and they love how it feels. They’re much more loose and relaxed when they finish treatment, to the point that we actually have to remind them not to do anything reckless afterwards. Because they feel so much less restricted than when they came in, they want to go right out and start pushing their limits.
My patients who are Olympians and professional wrestlers feel great from HawkGrips treatment too. And it’s not just the elite-level athletes. I have many patients who are marathon runners, triathlon competitors and just average people in chronic pain. All of them love and swear by HawkGrips.
How did you reach a level in your profession where NFL players and Olympic athletes come to you for treatment?
Primarily it’s been through word of mouth. I work hard and travel all over the place, so I’ve become a good resource for people. The nutritionist for Orlando City also works at the Tom Shaw Sports Performance Center. So when they were looking for a highly skilled massage therapist, she referred me. With the WWE wrestlers, the circumstances were more coincidental because one of them happened to come in when I was working for a sports chiropractor. So I started talking to him just because I’m a wrestling fan. He ended up getting a treatment from me and has been one of my clients ever since.
Is the Orlando area a hotbed for pro athletes?
Absolutely, and I’ve noticed that trend becoming more prominent over the past five years. The part of Orlando where I live has a lot of hills, so many athletes train there, especially if they’re running or cycling competitively. The WWE also has a performance center in Orlando and Olympians come to train at facilities near Walt Disney World, so this area has definitely has become a hotbed for high-level athletes. It’s pretty amazing how I can just go to the store and run into baseball players I grew up watching. Obviously the Orlando Magic basketball players live around here too, and there are many athletes in general circulating around downtown as well as on the outskirts of the city.
What are some typical injuries or conditions an NFL player might seek HawkGrips treatment for?
Hamstring strains, patellofemoral pain, hip-flexor tension, glute tightness, lower-back pain, even thoracic or upper-back pain. I’ve had to treat shoulder strains and ankle mobility issues as well, but more frequently with football players I focus on the knee, quad, hamstring or calf.
How about common conditions you’ll treat with HawkGrips among the professional wrestling population?
My wrestling patients tend to have a lot of cervical strains and upper-body restrictions from their workouts, which focus on keeping the neck strong and upper body explosive. We also do many treatments geared toward hip mobility, because they must be able to move pretty quickly and often have a lot of tightness in their hips. Another population I work with is Olympic-level gymnasts, and they tend to have many of the same issues.
Have you tried other IASTM tools during your career?
Yes, I’ve used Adhesion Breakers, Smart Tools, and some of the other tools you can buy cheap on Amazon. I wanted to try all kinds of options so I could build my experience with them. But in going up the chain of quality, I’ve found that HawkGrips are my favorite. There are a lot of things I like about them, including the durability. The metal quality of HawkGrips is so high and it gives me a better feel for tissue restrictions when I use the scanning tool. Of course, the cross-hatch grip is great too because I don’t have to worry about a HawkGrips instrument slipping out of my hand. Versatility is important as well. I have a Gold Set, and the wide variety of instruments to choose from definitely helps when I’m trying to treat a smaller or larger anatomical area. Overall, HawkGrips are just higher-quality products than the other IASTM tools I’ve tried.
How has the implementation of HawkGrips benefited your practice?
Significantly. Maybe five or six years ago, people would ask if I did Graston treatments and at that point I didn’t really know what they meant. But fast-forward a handful of years and now I do offer IASTM treatment. I’ve tried HawkGrips with many patients who previously weren’t familiar with IASTM and now they’re super-excited about it, which definitely helps with patient retention.
For athletes who have previous experience with IASTM, they often breathe a sigh of relief when they find out I offer that skill set. They’ve even noticed that HawkGrips feel different than Graston or any other IASTM tools they’ve experienced before, so now they actually prefer HawkGrips too, which helps my athlete retention.
What would you say to clinicians out there who haven’t tried HawkGrips yet?
Definitely give them a try, and don’t be swayed by the name “Graston” just because it’s been around for a while. HawkGrips are the best IASTM instruments you can get. They’re definitely worth your investment and will improve your treatment outcomes.
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