Q. I am new to running and I am trying to establish a good training routine to keep me injury free. I am not very flexible and have had some injuries in the past when I have tried to run. One of my runner friends suggested I try getting regular massage. What do you think? Might massage help me?
A. In a word, yes! It is very likely that massage would help improve your flexibility and reduce your risk of injury, as well as deliver a whole host of other benefits too! Massage and running go hand in hand, and here’s why…
Running requires sustained, repetitive muscle contractions. The greater these contractions are, the greater the force generated is, and the more muscle fibres are required to shorten. These sustained, repetitive muscular contractions translate into speed, power, and distance allowing us to run further and faster. However, this can also translate to shortened, tight muscles, joint range of motion losses, and decreased circulation to compressed tissues. Massage works to elongate the muscles, relieve muscle tightness, restore joint range of motion, and improve circulation.
In a nutshell, massage improves the effectiveness of the circulatory system. This system is responsible for oxygen transfer, nutrient delivery, and waste removal at the cellular level. Our circulatory system delivers blood enriched with oxygen and nutrients, like glucose and electrolytes, to muscle tissue. It then picks up and removes muscle metabolic by-products and waste.
Furthermore, the circulatory system impacts all the other systems of the body too. Therefore, increasing the effectiveness of the circulatory system directly or indirectly impacts our entire body. Better circulation means better delivery of nutrients and oxygen to surrounding cells and tissues.
Therapeutic massage can elicit very specific physiological responses, such as, increased blood circulation, increased diameter of blood vessels, and decreased blood pressure. These effects are significant for everyone, but are of particular importance to a runner looking for ways to recover faster, prevent injuries, and improve performance. Keep in mind, though, that “therapeutic” massage means a specific type of massage, which involves applying a deep pressure that is designed to be corrective to soft tissue. This is very different than spa or relaxing massage and it must be administered by a licensed and trained professional.
More Massage benefits include:
1. Dilates blood vessels which promotes circulation and lowers blood pressure
2. Assists venous blood flow
3. Promotes rapid removal of metabolic waste products
4. Improves the oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cell
5. Improves pulmonary function by loosening tight respiratory muscles
6. Reduces muscle soreness and fatigue
7. Increases/restores joint range of motion
8. Reduces cortisol levels and norepinephrine and epinephrine levels
9. Restores posture and gait
10. Improves connective tissue healing
It is important to note that the effects of massage are cumulative. This means that the effects and benefits increase with sequential, repetitive massages. Receiving one massage prior to a race will not reap the same benefits as a regular program of massage therapy throughout your training. Massage therapy also works best as a preventative program. Once an athlete sustains an actual injury, seeking medical attention comes first. After a proper diagnosis and treatment, massage therapy may become part of the recovery process.
Massage treatment plans are very individual. The most important goal is to set a regular schedule for your massages whether it is once a week, once a month, or every two months. Assess your running goals and your budget when deciding how often to get a massage. Take into consideration whether you have recurring injuries, are you tackling a new distance, or are you pushing your limits? Next, consider how much you can realistically afford to spend on massage. Look at your training schedule and note the dates of long runs, key workouts, or races. If possible, schedule your massages around these targeted dates. For example, if you are increasing your mileage for a long run every second or third weekend, schedule your massages a day or two after these long runs. Pre-Race Massages should be scheduled 3-5 days before the race and, likewise, Post-Race Massages should be scheduled 3-5 days after a race when muscles are no longer sore to the touch. After assessing your training schedule, budget, and available time, plan accordingly. Massage is a nice training reward to look forward too! And, last but not least, between massages, drink lots of water, stretch after your runs, foam roll often, and eat clean healthy foods to extend the life of your massages.