Sports massage should be a vital part of a runner’s preparation. Massage can not only help the injured runner, but can also help with the avoidance of injury. Here's a guide as to why sports massage should be a part of any runners routine.
Massage is beneficial to runners as it contributes in the following ways:
- Maintains the body in better condition
- Helps with injury prevention and loss of mobility
- Restores mobility to injured muscle tissue
- Can extend the overall length of a runner's career
- Boosts performance
Sports massage works through a combination of physical, physiological, and psychological processes. Here are some of the effects of sports massage on the runner:
Pumping blood and lymphatic fluids around the runner's body
The stroking movements in massage suck fluid through blood vessels and lymph vessels. By increasing pressure in front of the stroke, a vacuum is created behind. This is especially important in tight or damaged muscle tissues, as a tight muscle will squeeze blood out like a sponge, depriving the tissues of vital nutrients and energy to repair.
Increasing a runner's tissue permeability
Deep massage causes the pores in tissue membranes to open, enabling fluids and nutrients to pass through. This helps remove waste products such as lactic acid and encourages the runner's muscles to take up oxygen and nutrients, which aid recovery.
Massage can stretch tissues that could not be stretched by the usual methods. The bundles of muscle fibers (fasciculi) are stretched sideways as well as longitudinally. Massage can also stretch the sheath or fascia that surrounds the muscle, so releasing any tension or pressure build-up within.
Breaking down scar tissue
Scar tissue is the result of previous running injuries or trauma and can affect muscle, tendons and ligament flexibility. This can mean that these tissues are prone to injury and pain. Massage may not rid the body of the scar tissue completely, but should make the tissue more supple and flexible and therefore able to function normally.
Improving tissue elasticity
Running can make tissues hard and inelastic. This is one reason why hard training may not result in improvements. Massage helps reverse this by stretching the tissues and circulating blood and nutrients.
Massage increases blood flow to tissues (although so does exercise, in fact probably more!) What massage also does though, is open or dilate the blood vessels by stretching them. This enables nutrients to pass through the runner's body more easily.
Physiological effects of sports massage on the runner
Reduction of running pain
Tension and waste products in muscles can often cause pain. Massage helps reduce this in many ways, including releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
Muscles relax through the heat generated, circulation and stretching. Mechanoreceptors in the muscle, senses: touch, pressure, tissue length and warmth. When they are stimulated there is a reflex relaxation of the muscles.
Runner anxiety reduction
Through the effects mentioned above relaxation is induced and so reduces anxiety levels. Invigorating the runner's mind If massage is done with brisk movements such as what would be done before an event, this can produces an invigorating feeling.
When should you have a sports massage?
Sports massage can be useful for recovery after a major event like a marathon, and can be employed immediately after, or a day or two after. The best results are obtained when the massage is performed regularly. Don't have a deep massage the day before a big race as this could have the effect of making you tired and lethargic, or in some cases there could be muscle soreness which could impact on your performance.