Massage therapy gains popularity among runners and marathoners every day because of the effects it produces on the runners who use it. Massages contribute to the relief of muscle tension related to exercise.
In addition, they improve elasticity and range of motion while reducing stress.
What is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is a treatment used to improve well-being or to help treat a health condition by manipulating the soft tissues of the body through gentle movements of kneading, pressing, rubbing, & percussing to lead to the relief of many musculoskeletal symptoms. Massage therapy has been a widely used practice in most ancient Western and Eastern cultures. Benefits anecdotally attributed to massage include removing toxins like lactic acid, improving circulation, relieving swelling, improving energy levels, relieving pain, and even fighting depression, among others. While not all the benefits attributed to massages have solid scientific evidence to confirm these claims, there is something to be said about the multitudes who have benefited from massage therapy. Nonetheless, massages do have other scientifically-proven benefits for which they become a good tool for runners and marathoners.
What Types of Massage Therapy Exist?
Massage therapy includes a wide variety of different techniques. There are about 31 different types of massage techniques, although not all of these types of massages are specific to runners. The most popular massage styles in Western countries are known as Swedish or classic. There are also traditional massages from Asian cultures, such as Tuina and shiatsu, but are harder to find in the Toledo area.
There are also other types of massages such as clinical massages that are designed to achieve specific goals. An example of clinical massages is those designed to release muscle spasms. Sports massages are specific and personalized to the sports discipline and the needs of the athletes. Clinical massage and sports massage are often described as being deep tissue massages. For runners, the types of massage therapy can be divided into categories like injury rehabilitation, support before and/or after the race, and maintenance.
Benefits of Massage Therapy
The common mechanism of massage involves applying movement pressure on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia to eliminate adhesions, relax muscle tension, among others.
The benefits of massage therapy for runners include:
- Reduces stress and improves relaxation.
- Activates and improves circulation.
- Increases energy levels and alertness.
- Relieves pain, inflammation and decreases tension in the muscles.
- Reduces heart rate and blood pressure.
- Improves the function of the immune system.
- Improve the quality of sleep by combating insomnia associated with stress.
- Relieves symptoms of myofascial pain.
- Supports the treatment of sports injuries.
- Relieves low back pain, neck pain, and upper back pain.
- Possibly increase the endorphin production by reducing the hormone cortisol associated with stress.
- Assists with increased flexibility while eliminating tension in the muscles and contractures.
- Supports the recovery of muscle tone.
- Improves the firmness, flexibility, and elasticity of the skin.
- Stimulates the natural movements of the intestinal muscles, improving digestion and fighting constipation.
Conditions That May Benefit from Massage Therapy
Massage has been shown to be beneficial for people with headaches or migraines. Massages also relieve pain in people with pain caused by musculoskeletal disorders, post-operative pain, chronic painful diseases, labor pain, burns, among others. In addition, massages are effective in relieving fibromyalgia. They can also contribute to the treatment of mood disorders by relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Massages help newborns to promote sleep and improve digestive health. Massages have been associated with a better quality of life and a greater sense of well-being.
Are Massages Good for Runners?
The intense physical effort made by runners during their training increases stress on the entire musculoskeletal system, especially on the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, among others. Massage therapy is good for runners to help relieve training stress and promote post-workout muscle recovery.
Swedish massage can be especially beneficial for runners before big competitions. Swedish massage is popularly known for its relaxation benefits, plus it uses long, flowing strokes to increase blood flow and release muscle tension. They are also useful as a recovery strategy after strenuous workouts.
Deep tissue massage is focused on specific problem areas. It is responsible for working the entire muscle to relieve difficult points or interconnected problems. It is the recommended massage modality during intensive training segments.
A meta-analysis carried out in 2020 concluded that massages in athletes are associated with an improvement in flexibility and an improvement in muscle strength and endurance. In addition, fatigue and delayed-onset muscle soreness were reduced.
How often should runners get massages?
There is no general rule about the ideal frequency to receive a massage, therefore, the frequency depends entirely on your preferences, interests, or budget. It can also be a good option to incorporate massage as part of intensive training. If your budget allows, getting a massage weekly, every two weeks or monthly is a good option, especially if you are in strenuous training for big competitions. Massages may help prevent injuries by tapping into tight areas before they become a more serious problem. You can also simply include one or two massage sessions per training segment. You may get the most benefits during the hardest training block or also when you are in the most intense speed work. Since the higher the speed, the greater the risk of injury, massages could be effective in contributing to the prevention of injuries. After an intense workout, you can get a massage that same night or the next morning. You can also schedule a lighter massage 3-5 days before a big race to prepare your muscles.
Contraindications of Massages
Although most people will benefit greatly from massage, it is important that if you have any of the following conditions, you speak with your doctor before receiving a massage:
- Bleeding thrombosis or taking anticoagulants.
- Deep venous thrombosis.
- Healing wounds or burns.
- Very low platelet count.
- Severe osteoporosis
They may cause bruising and bleeding in people with low levels of platelets in their blood or with bleeding disorders. Massage is not recommended for people with metastatic cancer.
How do I find a Good Massage Therapist?
One of the best ways is to ask your friendly neighborhood chiropractic sports medicine specialist. I would obviously recommend my office’s massage therapist as Bri is amazing.
That being said, finding a good massage therapist can be as easy as asking your other healthcare providers. Ask your chiropractor, physical therapist or even your medical doctor if they have any recommendations. A referral from your chiropractic or medical physician might allow you to avoid paying taxes if it is deemed to be medically necessary and allow you to use certain things like flex spending or an HSA for your appointments. You can also ask your friends and family if they use a massage therapist.
Obviously, you can check licenses and find out things about their schooling but in general, you should find a massage therapist to meet your needs. One who meets you where you are and takes the feedback on whether or not things are too intense or not intense enough. You may need to try a few massage therapists to find somebody who works for you.
Massage therapy is an excellent tool to improve the results of training for runners. Not only does it help prevent injuries, but it also contributes to the recovery of muscle problems, relieves stress, and improves muscle tension before and after races. Any intervention that contributes to greater recovery in athletes is an acceptable option to include in your regular training routine. It is advisable to test the effect of massages on your sports results and determine for yourself if massages are favorable to your expectations.
For more information on massage therapy, be sure to check out my massage therapy webpage at https://harmonychiro.com/massage-therapy/
- Davis, H. L., Alabed, S., & Chico, T. (2020). Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 6(1), e000614. https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000614
- Massage for Runners: The What, When and How. (2014, 22 November). Runners Connect. https://runnersconnect.net/coach-corner/massage-for-runners/
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH). Massage Therapy: What You Need To Know. May, 2019. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/massage-therapy-what-you-need-to-know
- Sriwongtong, M., Goldman, J., Kobayashi, Y., & Gottschalk, A. W. (2020). Does Massage Help Athletes After Exercise?. The Ochsner journal, 20(2), 121–122. doi.org/10.31486/toj.20.0008