The benefits of self-massage for runners

DIY massage for runners

Massage is a great way of reducing your chances of injury, as well as being a a great way to soothe away aches and pains. Self-massage takes time to get right but could be a very useful addition to your running preparation. Here's a guide on how to get started in DIY massage.

Massage is a useful tool for aiding your performance and reducing your risk of injury. In addition, massage can help you return to full fitness more quickly than otherwise without it. Massage helps by warming muscles and getting them ready for action by increasing blood flow. It also helps remove waste products and separates any muscle fibers. DIY massage could save you a lot of time, trouble, pain and money.

This article deals only with massage for the thigh, quadriceps and hamstrings, but these techniques can be applied elsewhere.

When runners should opt for a massage

  • Before the race — do this just before your usual warm-up for a run.
  • During breaks from running — massage will help keep you warm, and prevent stiffness setting in and remove built-up waste products to help you retain efficiency.
  • After the race — remember to cool-down and then you can use gentle flushing strokes to help prevent stiffness.

Before the race

  1. Flushing — warm the muscles by stroking from knee to hip one flat hand after the other all around your leg for about 30 seconds.
  2. Squeezing/pressing — beginning with the front above the knee take handfuls of muscle, press between your thumbs and fingers and then let go. Work along from bottom to top squeezing, up the center and then up each side of the quads – both hands together or one hand on each side for the sides. Use two hands together for the top and hamstrings behind. Try this out until you find a comfortable method. Do each section twice, pressing in towards the thigh bone the second time. Now, when you grab each handful, instead of squeezing together, draw your thumbs across the muscle towards your fingers. Move up each leg doing this then repeat, drawing fingers to thumbs across the fibers the other way.
  3. Shaking — take a center portion of the main muscle in your hand and shake; how hard you do it is up to you. It’s a sort of wake-up shake for about 10 seconds. Repeat on different areas.
  4. Tapping — using alternate loose fists, tap all along the muscles from knee to hip. To reach your hamstrings raise your knee, reach around your leg, use fists moving upwards.

During breaks between running

Use some flushing strokes and gentle squeezes up your legs.

After the run

Later, once you have got your breath back, have had some food and are ready for a rest, this massage will speed up recovery and enable you to run some more!

Wait until your legs are ready to be worked on. This may be in a few hours if all is well, however, depending on the length and severity of the race it may be a day or so, particularly for strokes other than gentle flushing.

  1. Flushing
  2. Squeezing/pressing

Now draw your elbow

(Lightly if your legs are sore) several times up the quads from knee to hip to separate layers and allow fibers to move freely. Hamstrings have to make do with you drawing your fists or all your fingers together along them, but it isn't as good. I can't reach around the back of my leg with my elbow!

Be guided by how sore your legs are to tell how much pressure to use. Use the post-race massage to find any areas that are tender. Work over them with little circular movements of your fingers or thumb as well as flushing.

For injuries ...

While the injured area is too painful to touch, massage just above it to help blood flow to and from the area. This flushes away the damaged cells and opens the way for fresh oxygenated blood to flow in. Use flushing movements only to begin with.

As soon as the area can tolerate it flush from below to above the injured area in long sweeping strokes. Then little by little as pain allows, begin pressing and squeezing.

At other times ...

Once or twice a week, massage yourself to encourage top performance. A regular appointment for remedial massage will ensure that your legs are kept in running order and any injuries cleared up quickly.

A maintenance massage could be:

  1. Flushing (as before)
  2. Squeezing or pressing
  3. Tapping — done with the sides of the hands called hacking

Include any of the other strokes mentioned that you find particularly helpful.

If you have stiffness in your hamstrings, this can be relieved by sitting on your closed fist, gently lean and hold your weight over the area. Stiffness in quads can be relieved by leaning over the area on your elbow.

You can also massage the points where the muscles are attached to the thighbone. Do this with your thumbs or fingers using small deep circular movements. The hamstrings are attached to your sitting bones and down the thighbone at the back; your quads are attached to the hipbones that stick out at the side. They are all attached at the other end around the knee, some above and some below. Don’t be surprised if these feel tender.

Massage with oil is a matter of preference, although using oil can prevent skin soreness. Putting arnica in the oil reduces stiffness following the run (you can buy massage oil with arnica in it). Also don't forget to stretch. Massage does not replace your stretching but makes it more effective.

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