Sports Massage for a Quicker Recovery

Wed, 12 Oct. 2011 - 9:02 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Most runners visit a physical therapist when pain has made running uncomfortable or impossible. But as opposed to waiting until after injury, there are preventive secrets professional athletes have utilized on a regular basis for decades. Among them is sports massage.
 
Sports massage relaxes the body, reduces pain, and speeds recovery. The enormous training loads elite runners maintain each week make massage a necessity once a week but frequently up to three times weekly. Massage helps maintain muscles in their normal resting length. The more activity a muscle undergoes, the greater its tendency to contract in a resting position. These tight muscles are injury prone when the next vigorous workout arrives.
 
Massage increases blood flow and realigns muscle fibers. It also breaks up adhesions, which are formations of scar tissue made up of collagen that appear during the tissue healing process. By stimulating and then relaxing the system, massage flushes toxins from these healing muscles, which speeds recovery. As blood brings oxygen to the muscles, the veins remove waste products more efficiently. A relaxed muscle enjoys increased blood flow, and therefore freer pathways to remove toxins.
 
Sports massage also helps to identify problem areas that are as yet not full-blown injuries. The role of a sports massage therapist is to locate and work on minor aggravations, in many cases, trouble spots you didn’t even know you had.
 
For this reason, it is vital to make the distinction between ordinary massage and sports massage. While Swedish or other conventional massage techniques feel relaxing, they are generally not effective therapy for athletes. Sports massage goes deeper, and is more intense than other types of massage. As mentioned, sports therapists are trained to find trigger points and adhesions. Additionally, they know which sports tax which muscles, and aggressively target the same areas over and over. As running takes its toll on the body in specific ways, a running specialist is an even better choice than a general sports massage therapist.
 
When you go in for a sports massage, let the therapist know of old and new injuries. Fresh injuries require a lighter touch than veteran aches, which can benefit from intense cross-fiber friction. The therapist will then work on related areas of tightness or unbalance that may have contributed to or resulted from the original trouble spots. Not surprisingly, many runners require the most attention to be paid to their legs and gluteal muscles, but allow the therapist to provide full-body tension relief throughout your arms, head, neck and shoulders. These muscle systems are all interrelated and can contribute to problems in running form that lead to injury.
 
These sessions can be intense but need not be painful. Work with the therapist to find a level of discomfort that is tolerable yet effective. If you’re not used to sports massage, you should allow five days or even a week between the session and the next race or hard workout. Runners accustomed to the rigors of massage can leave three days for recovery before the event. Wait at least a day after your race—and up to a week after for marathons—before returning to the therapist. Again, this recommendation applies to deep tissue work. Many marathons offer gentle, stroking massage immediately following the race.
 
Visit www.amtamassage.org to find a massage therapist in your area. Be sure to type “sports specialty” in the search criteria, and then inquire as to their experience treating runners.
 
(Runner’s World Guide to Injury Prevention by Dagny Scott Barrios, 2004, Rodale, $14.95)
 
(RUNNING & FITNEWS®February / March 2007 • Volume 25, Number 2)


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