I have re-discovered an incredible recovery tool for runners—massage. With all the high-tech physical therapy techniques out there from STEM to needling to ultrasound to injections, we often forget about the big-time benefits of massage for runners.
And I am talking about real massage with real hands, not massage guns (though there are benefits of them, too).
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Any of my readers know that I battled major running injuries over the past couple of years. When I returned to running this summer, I transitioned from regular physical therapy visits to regular massage.
I had a mysterious compensatory quad injury (from training with a hamstring tear) that many physical therapists couldn’t figure out. I eventually found a neuromuscular massage therapist (who focuses on attachment areas in addition to doing deep tissue massage) and decided to give her a try for four weeks.
Related: How to Return to Running After Injury
I am not exaggerating when I say, she is the reason why I am feeling so healthy and training so well.
Four weeks have turned into months, and it is worth every minute and penny…
Actually, getting a massage for runners weekly takes less money and time. I book a slot of 30 minutes. Don’t even need to change. Walk in, she works on my trouble spots and I’m back in my car just over a half hour later. No waiting rooms. No surprise insurance bills. (Plus, she is awesome and acts as a therapist, too).
Related: Lessons Learned from My Running Injury
She (okay, it is time I call her by her name, Sandra Corbitt of The Power of Touch) worked out the mysterious quad issue that plagued me for years plus a hamstring strain, plus any little niggle that crops up during training. Indeed, massage for runners has proven to be an amazing injury prevention tool.
I’ve sent many friends to Sandra, and they’ve seen the benefits of GOOD, skilled massage for runners.
My Experience with Massage for Runners
In fact, when I was struggling with my hamstring tear and high hamstring tendinopathy in 2019-2020, it wasn’t until I stopped doing physical therapy (which has value for sure but had been exhausted at this point) and got weekly massages did I start to finally overcome my chronic pain.
I ceased physical therapy and any run/walking I was doing and instead focused on loading exercises for my hamstring, walking and getting a massage once a week for four weeks. This is how I finally got back to running pain-free.
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Later I learned that these strategies had mental benefits as well as physical because they helped calm my overactive nervous system. Things like gentle walks and massage therapy tell your sympathetic nervous system it doesn’t need to be afraid of getting hurt again and to essentially CHILL. Often, that is the cause of chronic pain—a hyperactive nervous system.
Related: How to Cope with Fear of Reinjury
How cool is that? And what more reason do you need to get a massage therapy session than for me to tell you it’s going to help you overcome and prevent injuries while calming your mind?
But I won’t stop there.
For this article, I got with CG Funk, a certified massage therapist with 30+ years’ experience and Senior Vice President of Culture and Industry Relations at Massage Heights, to go over the benefits of massage for runners.
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Specifically, in this article, I will answer:
- What are the benefits of massage for runners?
- What kind of massage should runners get?
- How often should runners get a massage?
- How can you find the right massage therapist?
- Should you get a massage before a marathon or race?
- Should you get a massage after a marathon or race?
- Can you run after getting a massage?
- Massage for runners tips
Every BODY and every injury is different, so massage may not always be the best recovery tool. But, I think it is definitely one runners should have in their toolbox!
So, let’s get going!
Related: Do PRP Injections Help a Torn Plantar Fascia?
What are the benefits of massage for runners?
According to Funk there are 4 major benefits of massage for runners. Massage can:
- Aid in healing and recovery for runners. Lower back pain or shin splints are often major issues from avid runners, but it can be different for everyone. What’s great about sports massages is that depending on what is causing pain, a massage therapist can target that area and use a combination of stretches and massages to help relieve the pain.
- Eliminate Inflammation from hard running. Running causes a huge amount of stress on your body which can cause inflammation. By adding massage therapy for runners into your recovery routine, a massage therapist can create more circulation to the areas that are inflamed and help release tension.
- Prevent injury. Prevention is often forgotten about for athletes until they sustain an injury. The American Massage Therapy Association has found that regularly receiving massage therapy can reduce your chances of injury and chronic pain. Massage relaxes muscle tissue, improves flexibility, calms the central nervous system and can increase range of motion which can lead to reduced pain and improved function. In addition, research shows that massage decreases stress and anxiety, improves sleep and increases the function of the immune system. All these benefits are very beneficial for athletic endeavors such as running.
- Relax after a run. Any athlete knows that sports like running involve both physical and mental exertion. Massage can help relax both your muscles and your mind, as it has been shown to reduce anxiety and relieve stress and tension while simultaneously promoting relaxation by activating the parasympathetic
Related: Is Yoga Good for Runners?
What kind of massage should runners get?
The type of massage is best for active runners varies depending on the individual’s current needs based on overuse, acute or chronic pain or injuries, pre or post a running event, and other factors, says Funk.
A professional sports massage therapist will take different approaches depending on whether the client is in training for an event or rehabilitating after an event. The massage should offer medium to deep pressure full body experience with concentrated time on areas of the body that are stressed or experiencing discomfort.
Massage relaxes muscle tissue, improves flexibility, calms the central nervous system and can increase range of motion which can lead to reduced pain and improved function. In addition, research shows that massage decreases stress and anxiety, improves sleep and increases the function of the immune system. All these benefits are very beneficial for athletic endeavors such as running.
How often should runners get a massage?
If a runner is in training for an event and is healthy, a massage every few weeks will benefit greatly. For those experiencing physical ailments from their running schedules, receiving a massage weekly will assist by decreasing pain, increasing flexibility, and relieving physical stress.
How can you find the right massage therapist?
For best results, select a therapist that specializes in sports massage, advises Funk.
There are two national massage therapist member associations:
Both associations list their members along with the member’s specialties.
I found my massage therapist, Sandra, by asking my doctor who I trust. If you call a salon, you can ask them who is the best at sports massage or treats runners.
Should I get a massage before a race?
It’s best to receive a massage 5-10 days prior to running a race, advises Funk. There are pre-event massage techniques, but these are typically done for about 5 minutes just to loosen up the body before starting the race.
Should I get a massage after a marathon?
Timing will vary on the condition of the runner following the marathon. If a massage is given within 7 days of the event, it should be a more calming approach as opposed to vigorous, says Funk. This will help increase blood flow and aid in recovery.
Related: 7 Marathon Recovery Tips to Recover Faster
Can you run after getting a massage?
It’s best to relax after a massage to allow the body to reset and unwind, says Funk.
Massage Tips for Runners
- Do not get a massage on an area with an acute injury such as a broken bone, damaged joint with edema, or medical conditions that prevent physical activity.
- Massage pressure should not hurt. It should be enjoyable, not painful.
- Drink lots of water after a massage.
- Do not run after a massage. Relax instead.
- Get a massage about a week before a marathon or race.
- If you are getting a massage close to before or after a race, keep the pressure light.
- Get a massage within a week after a marathon or race.
- Do your homework and find a local massage therapist who treats runners.
- Speak up during a massage and tell them what areas need attention and if you need more or less pressure.
- If you’re training for a marathon, aim to get a massage as often as weekly or every few weeks.
If you want guidance with your training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan