The days are finally getting longer, the sun is occasionally peaking out and the bare, stark trees have been adorned with their summer coats. This can only mean one thing, marathon season is in full swing. A quick glance at my social media and I find myself in a front row seat witnessing the chatter of excited runners: the delights of smashed PBs, the ‘where-it-went-wrong’ stories and a constant rumble of debate surrounding the annoying niggles, which we all obsesses over.
As a Sports Massage and Soft Tissue Therapist, I constantly look to see where I can add-value to runners both before and after an event to ensure that I keep them on the road or trail and running at their best.
There is some debate as to whether a massage immediately before a marathon is a good thing with many people arguing that it can cause bruising and soreness before a runner even gets to the start line. Yes, Deep Tissue Massage too close to race day is to be avoided but a gentle massage and myofascial release a few days out will help to relax the muscles, free up the fascia from the body of the muscle and reduce stress levels.
However, post marathon massages are where many runners feel that they want to invest time on the therapist’s couch. Personally, I love a massage straight after a race but it doesn’t suit everyone. If I can’t have one straight away then I like to wait for 3-4 days when the DOMs have started to subside.
Once walking downstairs no longer feels like a challenge and you have stopped looking for bungalows to move into whilst muttering ‘never again’ to no one in particular, a massage is a perfect way to progress race recovery. There is a belief that DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) is caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles but the reality is that this product is removed relatively quickly. The soreness is in fact caused by micro trauma to the muscles caused by the abnormal amount of stress placed upon them. Massage helps to move the waste products resulting from this trauma out of your muscles and into the lymphatic system. Massage helps to improve circulation which will help bring new building materials in to help rebuild and adapt the muscles ready for whatever you throw at them next.
Massage is also believed to reduce inflammation and increase the immune response of the body. Greg Lehman, physiotherapist states that “Massage may also help with recovery after a workout and may help get us out of a stress dominated state of our nervous system.” Reducing this stress on our nervous system is, I believe, a key part of recovery and allows us to move on.
Many runners will leave it at that; however, the benefits of massage extend far beyond the post-run stage and can be an important tool in our box of injury reducing tricks. A maintenance massage once a month helps to stretch muscles and fascia, break down old scar tissue and improve joint range of movement. The overall effect of this is to improve muscle function, increase mobility and reduce the chance of injury.
Although clearly a fan of sports massage, it is worth remembering that everyone is different and treatments will vary from person to person. Formal injury diagnosis needs to be made by a physio or a GP.
Rachel Fawcett is a Sports Massage and Soft Tissue Therapist based in The Body Factory, Harrow, HA1 1TE.