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Massage & Running Go Hand and Hand

By Michael Simmer B.S. CSCS, LMT, FST

So you have decided to start running, maybe you have even signed up for your first 5k or maybe you are getting back into running after being away from it for a few years. Whatever the case may be, there are some things you need to know about running and recovery. First off let’s think about what our body is doing when we go for a run. When we run our body will use almost all of our muscles to a varying degree while the primary muscles used will be the muscles composing your quads, glutes, hips, calves and hamstrings. Our body will also use all three of our energy systems, first our Phosphagen system (consisting of Adenosine Triphosphate system (ATP) and Creatine Phosphate) which is short lived and can only maintain for a few seconds, next is the anaerobic system or glycolytic system, followed by your aerobic system, the breakdown of these systems and how our body utilizes each is rather incredible, and a little too long to explain for this article, but if you want any more information on the topic please ask. Along with using these systems, other hormones will be released during the run to help a runner push through the “wall” and achieve a type of “runners high” but now let’s think about after the run. 

You just finished a nice 30-minute run, you are breathing heavy but feel great, from the second you finish your run and your cool down your body will go to work repairing the muscle damage that the run just caused, as with any form of exercise and whether you are running for a long distance over a long time or a short distance over a short time, your muscles break down and need to recover. Everyone who has exercised as felt the feeling of this repair, usually 24 to 48 hours after exercise, that feeling of oh my god my legs do not work anymore, well that feeling is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMs, and yes it happens to everyone. When it comes to running, there is constant muscle contractions happening during every stride we take, the greater these contractions are, the greater the force generated is, and the more muscle fibers are required to shorten. These sustained, repetitive muscular contractions translate into speed, power, and distance allowing us to run further and faster. However, this can also translate to shortened, tight muscles, joint range of motion losses, and decreased circulation to compressed tissues. When our muscles are constantly put through this process it can become common for our muscles to stay in this tight and shorten position and will even become what our body considers normal, so if you are training for a 5k, 10k or a marathon, your training schedule can start dictating how your body will feel. There are obvious things you can do to help yourself, performing a proper warm up as we have discussed in the past and performing proper stretching and foam roll methods will all go a long way in aiding recovery and health during your running schedule, but there is a reason elite marathon runners are adding an extra member to their team, a massage therapist. Why?

Well that is because a sports massage therapist will work to elongate the muscles, relieve muscle tightness, restore joint range of motion, and improve circulation. In general, massage can improve the effectiveness of the circulatory system; which is responsible for oxygen transfer, nutrient transport, and waste elimination. If we can increase the effectiveness of the circulatory system directly or indirectly can have an impact our entire body. Better circulation means better delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the surrounding muscle tissue. It is also important to understand that this type of muscle therapy is not the same treatment as walking into a spa, this form of therapy requires a therapist to not just apply deep pressure but also to be able apply that pressure correctly and work with the muscle and not against it. Think of your body like your car, you will bring your car in for maintenance to ensure it works and runs smoothly, so why not do the same thing for your body especially during training programs, you are putting wear and tear and miles on your car (body), so taking yourself into the shop and working with a muscle therapist can reduce your risk of injury while also helping to increase your performance. It is important to understand that just like your car, receiving one massage preceding a race will not obtain the same benefits as a consistent treatment of massage therapy throughout your training. Massage therapy also works best as a preventative program, helping the runner stay on the path and running while helping in decreasing muscle strains and pulls. It should be noted that once a runner has an injury, receiving proper medical treatment and care needs to be first, but often after a proper diagnosis, massage will be utilized as part of the recovery process.

It is also important to know that massage does not “push toxins out of the muscles” as many have said, this is physiologically impossible, it will also not impact or flush lactic acid from your muscles. What massage is doing is working to move pressure from muscles and other tissues, while removing adhesions between the fascia and muscles, these adhesions are where the two meet and stick which restricts movement, which is important for runners cause the less restrictions you have the better your performance can be. Another important benefit of a regular therapy program including massage, stretching, and sauna use, is reducing your muscle stiffness and soreness, which can throw off your gait and running stride leading to complications over training and can develop imbalances within your body. It is important for the athlete and therapist to communicate during the treatment, deeper is not always better and no pain no gain does not always apply. Prior to a run or a race the body work should be light and fast as we do not want the muscles to feel over worked before starting the event. After a race or a hard training session is when the therapist may go deeper, but again it depends on the person, talking and working as a team and through touch and working with the body a therapist can make sure the athlete stays safe and recovers faster.

So, stop waiting and start running, and then come see our therapists at Pulse.  Contact us today to make an appointment.