The 5 Benefits Of Massage For Runners, According To A Sports Massage Therapist

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Are you feeling sore after running? Have you tried a runner’s massage?

Massage therapy has existed for millennia and is an extremely popular choice for runners; it is a safe and effective treatment protocol that is widely used for the treatment of soft tissues.

Massage is an umbrella term, as there are numerous techniques that manual therapists can use. Massage may be accurately described as manual manipulation of muscles and soft tissue by a qualified professional.

Getting a massage after running could be a worthwhile investment if you want to take care of your body, prevent injuries, and improve your running performance.

Several scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of massage for runners. We will look at the key findings and limitations of massage therapy and give you the best info to keep yourself pain-free!

In this article, we will cover:

  • Massage For Runners: An Overview
  • 5 Benefits of Massage For Runners
  • Limitations Of Massage For Runners
  • How To Stay Injury Free
A person getting a massage for runners.

Massage For Runners: an overview

Massage and running go hand in hand. As you cross the finish line at any marathon, you are likely to see a pop-up tent full of Sports Massage Therapists and Physiotherapists attending to chaffed, hobbling runners looking for some soft tissue work to reduce pain and discomfort.

Massage after running has been shown to have many benefits to runners but is often over-prescribed as a golden bullet for preventing injuries. We’ll discuss the benefits and limitations in more detail later on!

Massage is most useful when used as a preventative approach to injury. It is one of many options a runner has at their disposal to ensure they continue running as smoothly as possible.

When incorporated correctly, it can be an effective tool in any runner’s arsenal.

5 Benefits of massage For Runners

There are plenty of researched benefits to massage therapy. Here are 5 key points!

Sports massage.

#1: Reduced Muscle Soreness

A study looking at the effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness and physical performance found that massage can help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue in runners.

After a run, you can typically expect to feel a degree of soreness caused by tiny tears in the muscle fibers that occurs when muscles are put under stress during exercise. This is a normal process that occurs as the muscles adapt to the stress of running, but it can also be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

Massage can help locally increase blood flow to the muscles, which can help remove waste products and reduce inflammation. This increased blood flow can also help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, promoting faster recovery.

Reducing soreness also allows us to slowly re-integrate painless movement before we otherwise may have been able to. Making us more able to participate in active recovery activities.

A therapist checking the range of motion of someone's hip.

#2: Improved Range Of Motion

Tight muscles can restrict movement and limit range of motion, which can affect running performance and increase the risk of injury.

A tight muscle is defined as a muscle that is overly contracted or tensed, which can lead to a feeling of stiffness or discomfort in the affected area. Tight muscles can also put additional stress on other parts of the body, which can lead to pain, discomfort, or even injury.

Sports Massage can help release muscle tension by applying deep frictional pressure to the muscles, which can help relax and loosen tight muscle fibers.

#3: Locating Problem Areas

A Sports Massage Therapist can also use muscle activation tests to determine which parts of the body are under-activating or overworking.

This, coupled with passive range of motion tests, can help identify areas of the body that may be prone to injury or tightness.

A Sports Massage Therapist can then make recommendations on what areas need working on to decrease the risk of injury in the future.

A person smiling while getting a massage.

#4: Mental Health

Although this is not directly related to running, it is an extremely important aspect of all of our lives. Many runners will run, in part, as a method of looking after their mental health.

Massage therapy provides human touch, which can be comforting and help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Human touch has been shown to release oxytocin, a hormone that is associated with social bonding and can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Due to the relaxed atmosphere in sessions, it is normal for clients to open up, and sharing our problems often reduces the internal burden that the problems hold.

Massage has also been shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that are associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.

It’s important to note that massage should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care but can be used in conjunction with other treatments for these conditions.

Sports massage on a calf.

#5: You Feel Better

If a sports massage makes a runner feel better after a race or long training session, that is a positive, evidence-based outcome.

The simple fact that a runner ‘feels better’ after receiving a sports massage might be sufficient to justify its use despite the absence of clearly measurable physiological benefits. We’ll discuss some of the reasons behind the lack of quality evidence later.

The feeling of getting a tight hip or glute “released” can help you move more freely and confidently during your next training run.

The danger is when a massage after running is sold as having an excessive array of positive results, even if they have not been proven.

This overstatement of runners massage benefits risks runners ignoring other preventative treatment protocols that they can partake in.

A foot massage.

limitations of massage For Runners

The bottom line is there is a small amount of high-quality research done to analyze the effects of massage therapy. Studies rely on patient-reported outcomes and often suffer from detection bias.

It is also very hard to accurately measure the cellular response from the muscles before and after a massage.

That said, massage therapy can be a helpful tool for runners to aid in recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and promote relaxation. However, it’s important to keep in mind the limitations and use it as part of a comprehensive training program.

Here are a few limitations to keep in mind:

  • It’s not a substitute for proper training: While massage can help with recovery and reduce muscle soreness, it is not a substitute for proper training. Runners still need to follow a well-rounded training program that includes strength training, cardio, and rest days to improve performance and prevent injury.
  • It may not be suitable for everyone: Massage therapy is generally safe for most people, but there are certain conditions where it may not be appropriate, such as certain injuries or medical conditions. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before getting a massage if you have any concerns.
A physical therapist checking a patient.
  • It can be expensive: Massage therapy can be costly, and the frequency of sessions needed to achieve optimal results may be unaffordable for some runners. In clinic, I always recommend a homecare plan for runners to get the most out of their sessions.
  • It may not provide immediate relief: While some runners may experience immediate relief after a massage, others may not feel the benefits until after a few sessions. Some, not at all! It also depends on what practitioner you are seeing and what techniques they use.
  • It may not address the root cause of the problem: Massage therapy can help alleviate symptoms, but it may not address the root cause of the problem. For example, if a runner is experiencing pain due to overtraining, massage therapy alone may not solve the issue.

How to stay injury free

All things considered, massage therapy can be an important tool to keep runners feeling their best! In clinic, I will encourage runners to put equal focus on other methods of injury prevention, such as:

A person running on the road.

#1: Training Volume

Runners should always bear in mind the progressive overload principle. It is a key principle of training that involves gradually increasing the amount of stress placed on the muscles over time.

This gradual and manageable increase in stress stimulates the adaptive response of the body, allowing you to run faster for longer. If we ignore the gradual nature of progress, we risk injuring ourselves through overuse.

To ensure you are applying the progressive overload principle, consider the following:

  • Determine your starting point: Before you can begin to increase your running volume or intensity, you need to know where you are starting from. Don’t suddenly go out and run 50 km; you’ll probably get injured. Start with a short run and go from there.
  • Increase distance and intensity: To apply the progressive overload principle, you need to gradually increase the distance or intensity of your runs. Start by increasing your total weekly volume by around 10%. If that is too much or too little, you can adjust accordingly. An increase should be challenging, but not impossible, to complete.
  • Track your progress: Keep track of your progress by recording the volume and intensity of your runs. This will help you determine if you are making progress and if you need to adjust your program.

Remember that progressive overload should be applied gradually and in a safe and controlled manner to avoid injury. By gradually increasing the stress on your muscles over time, you can achieve significant gains in performance.

A deadlift.

#2: Strength Training

Strength training is an essential component of a well-rounded training program for runners.

Running is a high-impact activity that puts a lot of stress on the muscles, joints, and bones. Strength training helps build muscular strength, which reduces the risk of injury by improving the body’s ability to absorb and withstand impact forces.

Appropriate strength and conditioning training can help improve posture, balance, and stability, which can translate into better running form.

Good form can help reduce the risk of injury, improve running economy, and enhance performance.

As you can see, massage can be a very helpful tool with a runner, but it is important to have a well-rounded injury prevention plan in place and pay attention to every detail.

If you haven’t already added strength training to your training program, check out our strength training for runners here.

Four people are doing air squats.
Photo of author
Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

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