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Massage for marathoners

By Scott Feist, CMT, Supervisor – Massage Therapy

Is massage part of your training program? Therapeutic and sports massages are becoming increasingly popular with runners to reduce injury and improve performance.

An effective massage training program includes maintenance, pre-event and post-event techniques that improve endurance, lessen chances of injury and reduce recovery time. Massage therapy is used to prepare the athlete for peak performance, to drain away fatigue, to relieve swelling, to reduce muscle tension, to promote flexibility and to prevent injuries.

The overall objective of a massage maintenance program is to help the athlete reach optimal performance through injury-free training. Massage may increase range of motion, break up scar tissue that may be built up in muscle tissue, cut the recovery time between workouts, and lessen the strain of repetitive motion. The healing time for injuries incurred while training can be significantly reduced with massage therapy.

Pre-event massage is used as a supplement to an athlete's warm-up. It is usually somewhat vigorous and short, not lasting more than 15 minutes, with the specific goal of enhancing circulation and reducing excess muscle and mental tension immediately prior to competition.

Post-event massage reduces muscle spasms while helping to release lactic acid and other metabolic wastes that may be trapped in the muscle tissue. Many sports massage techniques enhance the body's own recovery process – they can accelerate the athlete's return to training and competition, as well as decrease the risk for injury. A massage immediately following an event aims to aid circulation and should be non-specific and rather gentle. Many marathoners also schedule an appointment for a more intense treatment 24-48 hours after the event.

When selecting a massage therapist, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Find a therapist that you trust and makes you feel comfortable. Ask about his/her training and experience, along with a tour of the facility.
  • Communicate with your therapist before and during the session. Let him/her know when you are training and how it's going. Always remember that you are in control of the treatment. Don't hesitate to let your therapist know if you dislike something, or if a technique feels particularly effective.
  • Schedule massages for your off-running days. Use the time to relax, reflect and recover.
  • Drink plenty of water before and after a massage. Hydrated tissue is more receptive to massage, loosens more quickly and stays pliable longer.
  • You may feel soreness during a massage. Let your therapist know what is tolerable for you. You could also experience some soreness known as "post-treatment trauma" a day or two after therapeutic work. It's normal, but should dissipate in another day or two if you stretch and drink plenty of water.

If you are not getting a regular sports massage, you are missing a great opportunity to improve your running, as well as extend the overall life of your sporting career. To experience this healing art first-hand, call the Aurora Rehabilitation Center-Complementary Medicine at 414-219-5241 to schedule your appointment.