Sports Massage for Runners

Running Health & Lifestyle Advice,Running Injuries: Tips & Inspiration
Sports Massage for Runners

What is sports massage?

Sports massage is for managing, manipulating and rehabilitating soft tissues throughout the body. Soft tissues are our muscles, tendons and ligaments. Each bone has muscles and fascia to surround it and each joint has muscle, tendons and ligaments to support it. When your muscles are strong and elastic they stabilise motion, produce more power and reduce impact stress.

For runners, sports massage helps with:

  • Relieving tightness/tension – obviously this is one of the main aims of a sports massage and often one of the reasons people get one. A sports massage will stretch and lengthen your muscles in a much deeper and possibly more specific way than when you stretch after your run.
  • Improving blood flow – when blood flow to a particular area is increased and improved, healing can take place and so the fatigued or injured muscles are rejuvenated.
  • Increasing flexibility – with increased flexibility your range of motion and the mobility in your joints will be improved. This could then reduce the chance of an injury occurring or re-occurring.
  • Breaking down scar tissue – when scar tissue is left to repair by itself it will form a criss-cross pattern rather than the healthy linear formation. Massage can be utilised to promote the healthy formation of scar tissue so that it forms in a natural, strong linear pattern. A build up of scar tissue can cause tightness and weakness in the muscles. Massage will help to break down the scar tissue, promoting correct, strong scar formation in the muscle.
  • Lymphatic drainage – this helps to reduce inflammation and swelling. It can also help with the removal of lactic acid and other waste products caused by slight tears or over use in the muscle.

What is special about sports massage as opposed to other types of massage?

Some injuries are caused by overuse of a particular muscle. Overuse injuries often result in sore, painful and inflamed muscles. Sports massage will reduce the likelihood of the muscle becoming overused in the first place. It will reduce the initial inflammation that leads to an overuse injury.

There are many forms of massage, but a sports massage practitioner will focus on your needs as an athlete. If sports massage is received regularly and applied skilfully it is a powerful aid to injury prevention.

Sports massage releases muscle tension and restores muscle balance to the musculo-skeletal system. Muscular tension leads to stress on ligaments and tendons as well as to the muscle itself.

A massage practitioner can detect variations in the soft tissues and correct muscle imbalances before they become serious enough to cause discomfort or impede your performance. They will use three main techniques:

  • Effleurage mainly stroking movements to warm up the muscles and accustom the client to touch.
  • Petrissage – kneading into deeper tissues.
  • Friction – for deep muscle work and breaking up scar tissue or locked muscle fibres.

Tips on when to get a sports massage

I've always found a good sports massage to be hugely beneficial to my running. Whenever I am training for a specific event I have always tried to get a sports massage about once a month. I've always looked on it as a “runner’s MOT” – a sports massage keeps me ticking over, stops me getting too tight and has often stopped niggles turning into injuries.

Obviously you don't need to be training for anything special to benefit from a massage! Especially if you are new to running a massage will help to loosen off those stiff muscles that are just getting used to the running action.

When to get a massage of course varies from person to person, as well as the intensity of the training. If you find regular massages are not keeping injuries away, go and see a physio.

Pre-competition massage – if I am getting a massage to loosen my muscles off and get rid of any residual tightness I generally have a massage 3 or 4 days before the event. However, there is a type of massage which would be specifically done pre-competition – this increases blood flow to wake up the muscles without using up energy. This could be used as an alternative to a warm up. Obviously this type of massage would be done immediately before the event.

Post-competition massage – This can help to kick start the recovery process and help to relax your mind and body. The gentle and relaxing massage techniques used in this type of massage help to flush out toxins from the build up of post-exercise lactic acid. It can also help lessen the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness.

What can you expect from a sports massage?

During the first visit you will be asked about your past medical history, the nature of the injury if you have one, and questions relating to your training and competition. If you are going for a massage when injured you will need to demonstrate actions you are or are not able to perform.

Will it hurt?

There are stories that a good massage is a painful massage. This is not true. A good masseur will always start off easily so you can get used to the feeling of a massage. The masseur may eventually need to work deeply into the tissues and this can cause pain. However, deep massage should only cause good and manageable pain only. If at any point you feel uncomfortable the masseur will happily alter the treatment. According to my sports masseur there are many techniques that are not painful but very effective.

How to choose a massage therapist?

I have tried many therapists over the years and found that the active ones were the best because they can relate to injuries and other challenges runners go through. When the therapist is a runner or active in some sport then there can be an understanding of what the client is experiencing both physically and emotionally. It is ideal when the massage therapist is willing to work with other sports-minded health care professionals such as chiropractors, podiatrists, physiotherapists...etc.

How does sports massage help to prevent injury?

A good Massage Therapist will be able to prevent injury in a number of different ways. She or he can identify if you are training correctly and using the correct shoes. If you are running on the camber of a road for example and you are doing it too often, this will show itself to a masseur by the imbalance and tilt of your pelvis and associated muscles. The masseur will then be able to release the areas of tension that would otherwise develop into an injury and give you training advice.

What to do when you can't have sports massage often?

When you can have sports massage only occasionally it is good to pay more attention to other ways to regenerate your body. Consistent stretching and icing as well as self-massage is so-called “maintenance work”, which can be tedious but well worthwhile. There is a lot that can be done before injury develops even when you can't afford sports massage regularly. I find self-massage tools such as the stick, foam rollers and massage balls extremely helpful.

Trigger Point massage for runners

A technique that is flooding the running grapevine at the moment is trigger point massage. Trigger points are hypersensitive spots in the skeletal muscle. It feels like a tight area in the muscle tissue. It is called a trigger point because it triggers a painful response not only affecting where the trigger point is located, but also causing referred pain elsewhere in the body. For example, a trigger point in the back may reduce pain in the neck which has itself been causing headaches. Releasing these constricted areas in the muscles can help naturally manage pain and stress from minor and chronic injuries. There are special trigger point massage products, which you can use to unlock these dysfunctional muscles. Releasing each muscle group means the muscles can work together to give you a fast and smooth running gait.

What to do after a sports massage?

Immediately after, drink lots of water! Make sure you are really well hydrated. This will help to flush out all those toxins and other waste products that the massage has removed from your muscles. For maximum benefit REST for perhaps 24 hours after a massage, or at least don’t do a tough session. Think of your massage as an intense training session. Treat your body accordingly.

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