Sports massage is a form of physical therapy that is designed to help athletes prepare and recover from intense training and activity. This style of massage aims to prevent injury while supporting the repair of damaged muscles, tendons and soft tissues.
When is the right time to get one?
There is no right answer for this question as it’s subjective. Generally speaking, however, there are four main categories of sports massage: Pre, post, general and injury-specific.
Each category has a different purpose.
The main purpose of this style is to prepare the body for intense exercise or for an event. While some people prefer a light session, others request intense, deep work a couple days before or the night before an event.
The nature of the session depends on the request of the client. Trained masseuses adjust their routines to suit the wants and needs of their clients, especially the intensity of the session.
The athlete should feel light and refreshed after the session, not still and sluggish. Pre-event massages usually involve light strokes, dynamic/isolated stretching, and deep tissue techniques.
The goal of a post-event massage is to minimize the onset of muscle soreness. In most cases, a runner will need a post-event massage within 26 hours of an intense workout or event to stop the body from becoming sore.
Since the muscles can undergo micro-trauma and tearing, it’s important to help the body heal. Unlike the pre-event massage, the post-event massage is lighter but slightly deeper.
It uses slow, flushing and controlled strokes as to avoid causing further damage to the muscles. It incorporates static stretching into the session, using 30-second holds to massage certain regions on the body.
Apart from the massage, athletes can also take ice baths after stretching to decrease post-work out trauma. The combination of these two treatments can drastically speed up recovery.
The purpose of a general massage is to loosen tight muscles, enhance range of motion, release trigger points and minimize the chance of injury. Generally speaking, runners tend to respond better to deep tissue work when experiencing a general massage.
It is the job of the masseuse to alter the intensity of the massage to ensure that it’s effective but won’t cause further damage. If the runner continues to experience painful, burning aches more than 36 hours after a general massage, it’s usually a sign that the masseuse has applied too much pressure.
Injury massage is slightly more specific than the previous styles. It is usually done to heal a specific damaged muscle, ligament or tendon. This style can be incredibly effective when applied appropriately and by a trained expert.
Similarly, athletes are advised to work alongside a doctor or physical therapist before establishing a proper treatment plan. Every injury is unique and each treatment plan should depend on the extent or nature of the injury.
Common injuries among runners
Tendinopathies- This is an injury to one or more tendons. Trained masseuses use deep, stripping strokes on the tendon and also perform cross-fiber friction to help heal the area. You’ll need to apply ice to the injured tendon for 10-15 minutes.
Ligamentous- This is an injury to one or more ligaments and is treated similarly to tendinopathies. It also incorporates deep, stripping strokes and cross-fiber friction.
Strained muscles- Strained muscles should be treated no more than twice a week since the muscles also need time to relax between sessions. Masseuses apply deep work around the area and use light, flushing strokes on the strained muscle.
When the muscles start to heal, the masseuse will use deeper strokes and cross-fiber friction on the actual area of injury. Gradually, the intensity of the static stretch will increase and resistive stretching will be introduced towards the end.
Iliotibial Band- This is one of the most common injuries among runners. Also called as Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, it is usually detected through pain on the outside of the knee. Treatment usually includes intense, deep massage techniques in order to work three of the gluteal muscles: the tensor fasciae, latae and the band.
Achilles Tendinopathy- This is an injury associated with the Achilles heel. Masseuses usually start with deep, stripping techniques, since the muscles and Achilles are connected, and these can tug on the tendon when tight.
Runner’s knee- Runner’s knee is easily distinguishable because it causes pain behind or around the knee. Although common among runners, it is exclusive to them. In most cases, the underlying cause is muscular imbalance in the four quad muscles.
Physiotherapist and chiropractor, Greg Lehman believes that one of the main benefits of sports massage for runners is pain relief.
“Pain changes how we function and can even inhibit healing. Massage may also help with recovery after a workout and may help get us out of a stress dominated state of our nervous system.”
He also put emphasis on how relaxation is an overlooked, yet critical aspect of a runner’s training regime. He explained that stress can impact all elements of training, including mental strength and focus.
Studies have shown that regular massage therapy can reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol. At the same time, it can also encourage the production of hormones, such as oxytocin, which increase happiness and relaxation. The benefits of massage suggest that runners, and most athletes for that matter, can recover faster after a hard workout or an event with the help of sports massage.
All runners are prone to injury and sports massage is one good way to prevent that. If you aren’t comfortable seeking help from a massage therapist, self-massage is a free and easy alternative you can try.