Why Is Massage Important for Runners?
Massage has long been a part of a runner’s training program, and for good reasons. Running is a weight-bearing exercise. So, when you train rigorously, the muscles of the lower extremities can develop stiffness and fatigue. Runners are advised to ensure adequate recovery in their training programs to avoid the risk of injuries.
During recovery, you may either take complete rest or active rest by performing low-impact activities, such as swimming, an easy cycle ride, or yoga. Another way to enhance recovery is by incorporating a massage in your training schedule. While runners do report positive benefits from getting a massage, there is only limited scientific evidence to support its effects.
What is a massage?
Massage is a technique of applying manual pressure and manipulating the soft tissues of the body such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. The force may range from light stroking to deep pressure based on the target concern.
Massage has been practiced in most cultures to help manage health conditions and for overall wellness. However, now the application of massage is not just restricted to overall well-being. It is also used as a part of an athlete’s recovery or as a treatment option in clinical rehabilitation.
How does a massage benefit runners?
Fascia is a web of connective tissue that covers the entire body and provides support to surrounding tissues. Moreover, it helps reduce friction and plays a supportive role for the tissues and organs. When working out, the fascia undergoes micro-trauma, which can result in it getting tightened at different locations on the body.
A few positive points of massage for runners include:
- Helps relax tense muscles and removes adhesions between the fascia and muscles when the two stick to each other and restrict free movement
- Aids in reducing perceived pain and soreness after an intense workout or a long run
- Contributes in improving blood circulation to the muscles during the recovery phase
- Improves immune function and lowers inflammation and cortisol, which is a stress hormone
- Enhances your psychological state by making you feel relaxed and providing relief from anxiety and fatigue
What type of massage should you opt for as a runner?
Here are the different kinds of massage that you may consider:
1. Swedish massage
This is a regular massage with the application of soft pressure on muscle tissue without going deep into the muscle. The therapist generally applies long stroking movements (effleurage) while gently kneading muscle groups to ease tension and enhance blood flow. This massage is ideal for relaxing your muscles and enhancing your energy. You may take this massage any time during the week to recover from long runs.
2. Sports massage
A sports massage targets muscles, tendons, and ligaments. In this type, the therapist focuses on soft tissues to improve the overall flexibility and physical function of muscle groups. This takes away the tension, which may reduce the range of motion around joints and affect movement patterns.
Compared to a relaxing massage, such as a Swedish massage, a sports massage fixes and corrects problems. So, besides injury prevention, it helps in recovery and performance. It is best not to schedule a sports massage the day before a race to avoid any race-day soreness. A four-five day window before a race helps the body recover from any soreness from the massage.
3. Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue massage targets deeper layers of muscle and fascia by using kneading and squeezing techniques. It works to release adhesion between layers of fascia and loosen muscle fibers. It is intense and focused. Due to hard training, you may develop tight spots and stiffness in particular areas. This form of massage works best if you are training hard, and you should not take it on the days immediately before or after an event. You may take this massage once or twice a week during your training period, depending on your training intensity.
You may schedule a massage at a spa center or visit a qualified massage therapist. Either way, it is important to work with the therapist to explain your target concern and assess your condition before the massage. In case of any underlying health condition, it is best to consult and get approval from a doctor before scheduling a massage.
What is the difference between sports massage and deep tissue massage?
Although both techniques use similar strokes including kneading, squeezing, circular movements, and tapping to relieve pain, the key difference is that sports massage therapy is used on athletic individuals with specific concerns. It is a targeted massage approach that focuses on specific areas of the body that require healing or relief. It is better suited for an athlete or someone who engages in regular physical activity and is prone to overuse injuries.
Conversely, anyone can undergo a deep tissue massage for relieving muscle tension, reducing stress and muscle stiffness, and increasing circulation. It is often administered as a full-body massage rather than focusing on a specific body area. It is more suited if you are looking for general relief from muscle and mental stress.
When and how often should you schedule a massage?
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when planning to go for a massage before and after a race.
1. Before a race
Scheduling a massage a day before a race can be counterproductive. When you schedule a massage before a race, make sure to do so with at least four to five days to go before the event. Taking a massage right before a race can leave you sore. So, it is advisable to give the body some time to recover from the massage.
2. After a race
Just after an event, your muscles are inflamed and sore. So, it is not recommended to take a massage, as it can only worsen the soreness. It is better to wait for three to four days post the event to schedule a massage. You may choose any of the aforementioned types of massage to enjoy after an event. However, note that you must take a deep tissue massage only once the body feels recovered and the soreness has diminished.
Also read: How to Recover Well from a Race
Based on these suggestions, you may opt for your preferred type of massage. If you have to choose when to schedule a massage, it is certainly a good idea to do it after a hard speed workout or a long run. In such a case, you may choose a sports or Swedish massage.
Massage is an extremely useful recovery tool. When you work to increase mileage or particularly add speed workouts, your muscles need to be relieved of tight spots and tension. Apart from helping you in recovery, massage can go a long way in preventing injuries from an imbalance in flexibility or issues on a range of motion due to tightness.
1. Weerapong P, Hume PA, Kolt GS. The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports Med 2005; 35: 235–56.