Spring is here – and with it comes the season of marathons, half marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, and initial attempts to get off the couch, get fit and lose weight. That also means that spring is a season of back pain and cramps. So make sure that springtime brings not just April showers and May flowers, but massage. Massage is an important part of any running training program, whether you’re a new runner or an ultramarathoner.
Before talking about massage and massage techniques for runners, it’s important to know what running does to your body, and specifically your muscles. Running always puts stress on your body and muscles. If you haven’t been running regularly, your body is likely to be less efficient. Less efficient muscle cells can be slightly damaged after your run – displaying what’s called “microtears.” Don’t worry, we know microtears sound alarming, but in fact this is the process that helps your muscles get stronger as they heal and rebuild. The downside is that this repair process can cause soreness, muscle knots, muscle cramps and pains. This condition is often referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
Massage can help reduce or even avoid DOMS for runners, if timed correctly, if the correct massage technique for runners is chosen, and, of course, if the running massage is performed by a licensed massage therapist. Massage has also been proven to reduce inflammation (which can delay the healing of muscles post-run) through reducing cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
Massage can also prevent injury for runners. That’s because massage loosens the fascia (the covering of the muscles), boosting flexibility (important for avoiding sprains).
So when should you get your massage for runners, and what massage techniques should you choose?
During race training
During the course of your running regimen, you may experience cramps or muscle knots in your legs or lower back, or the misalignment of hips and other joints. In cases like those, a sports massage or deep tissue massage is best to target those problem areas. The most important thing to keep in mind is that getting a deep tissue massage is much like a workout – it’s best to schedule a light day or a rest day afterward.
After a race
Many runners aren’t sure what the best time is to schedule a massage after a long race, when muscles are likely to be sore, or what kind of massage to choose as a runner. While there are several schools of opinion, most running experts agree that it is best to wait 24 hours after a race to allow the process of repairing those microtears. The type of massage depends on how you feel after that time period. If you’re not experiencing significant muscle soreness, go with a sports massage or deep tissue massage to loosen stressed muscles. If you are feeling achy, you have minor muscle damage. In such instances, a runner should get a Swedish massage, a light massage designed to reduce pain and inflammation and improve circulation.
No matter when you get a massage, avoid a strenuous run the day afterward (light exercise is fine) so as to reap the maximum health benefits from your massage.
Happy running and have a great massage!
Marcy is the SVP of People and Communications at Zeel. In addition to overseeing the humans of Zeel, Marcy has written about workplace topics for more than 20 years both at Zeel and as VP of Content for Vault.com, a career information web site and publisher.