After finishing the Ragnar Relay, I planned to get a massage the following Monday. Boy, did I need it! After 17 miles of running, very little stretching, a lot of finishing up the run and hopping right into the van to head to the next exchange, not to mention my attempts at sleeping in the van, my body was tired, sore, and basically felt like it was frozen in my “sleeping in the van” position.
I actually didn’t get the massage until Friday, but I was able to get my favorite masseuse for a 90 minute sports massage that left me energized, limber, and rejuvenated. That massage got me back on the road, feeling healthy and strong.
There is nothing like a great massage to reward yourself for a great effort in a race or in your training. But can massage go beyond the “feel good” level and offer benefits to improve a runner’s performance?
Benefits of Massage for Runners
The benefits of a therapeutic sports massage go way beyond just making you feel good. Massage provides a multitude of benefits for runners, including:
A therapeutic massage improves blood circulation and increases the effectiveness of the circulatory system, which is responsible for oxygen transfer, nutrient delivery, and waste removal at a cellular level. Improved recovery comes with the faster, more efficient operation of these processes. Massage can also decrease soreness and improve the healing of connective tissue.
Sports massage, particularly when done on a regular basis, can stimulate blood and lymph and help keep the leg muscles, joints, and tendons in optimum shape. It can help increase range of motion and shock absorption capability of the muscles, and improve posture and gait, which helps you work more efficiently. The increased blood circulation, which helps in recovery, also improves performance by increasing nutrition and oxygen availability to muscles, which are needed for optimal function.
Running is an activity that requires repetitive motion and powerful muscle contraction. The more force that is generated, as in sustained training, the more it causes the muscle fibers to shorten. A therapeutic sports massage can aid in injury prevention by elongating muscles, relieving muscle tightness, restoring range of motion, and improving circulation.
What is a Therapeutic Sports Massage?
There are many massage modalities all of which have benefits, depending on an athlete’s needs. The most common types of massage include:
- Swedish, a system of long stroking and kneading techniques that focus on the superficial layers of the muscles and can help increase blood flow and reduce tension.
- Deep Tissue, which helps to realign deeper layers of muscle and releases tension with slow, deep, concentrated strokes.
- Hot Stone Massage, where heated stones are placed on pressure points on the back, between the toes and on the hands. The warmth helps to increase circulation and relax muscles.
- Thai Massage, where a therapist uses everything from their hands, elbows, knees and feet to massage and stretch the body.
While all of the above techniques are excellent for relaxation, relieving muscle soreness and tension, and improving circulation in general, a Therapeutic Sports Massage has the most to offer a runner because its techniques are specifically designed to improve recovery, increase performance, and prevent injury. The strokes are deeper and more vigorous, designed to prepare the muscles for activity by improving circulation and increase flexibility and range of motions. A therapist will use myofascial release and assisted stretching techniques to keep the athlete in top shape. A post-race sports massage would be slower and more targeted to clear the system of lactic acid, prevent muscle soreness, and reduce fatigue.
The benefits of massage are cumulative, so planning a regular course of treatment, if possible, is important. Receiving one massage before a race will not provide the same benefits as a regular program of massage therapy throughout your training. Whether it is weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, a regular sports massage can help to keep you in prime running shape.
Have you used massage therapy in your training? Have you found it to be beneficial? What are your thoughts?