Written by: Sam Farnsworth
Runners Should Get Sports Massage
Regularly. About once per month. Especially after a big effort.
Massage may not be on your radar screen or if it is, it may be an occasional thing you take advantage of.
I want to make a case for regular sports massage for the following reasons:
- Prioritize recovery and self-care
- You don’t know what you don’t know
- The many leg issues that can stem from lack of mobility between muscle/tissue
- Long-term investment
Prioritize Recovery and Self-Care
Let me initiate my case with a Physiology 101 statement: you cannot adapt, if you do not recover. In other words, if you are looking to get better at running hills, you let your body absorb those hard hill repeats so that it can better adapt. Constant high intensity work will break you down and increase the chance of injury. Taking recovery days or recovery runs at the appropriate time help you absorb the high intensity stress.
With that understanding, I want to passionately add that everyone should have a daily recovery practice. That could be 10 minutes of stretching at the end of day, some yoga or a light spin on the bike or self-massage– something that relaxes your muscles and maintains mobility of joints and muscle tissue. It’s amazing that you can run 50 or 100 miles, but you’re going to feel better doing that with some routine recovery. Muscle and tissue are meant to glide past adjacent muscles and tissue. If they aren’t moving, your running stride will be affected.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Which brings me to my second point. A sports massage by design maintains mobility of joints, muscle and other tissue. Massage almost always uncovers some area that you had no idea was tight. Prompting statements like: “whoa, what is that!”, “I had no idea I was so tight there” or the classic “oooof”. For this reason alone, I encourage a monthly massage to runners. It reconnects your mind with your body: re-establishing awareness of your muscles, joints, tendons… and you can incorporate that awareness into your gait! By the time a month and another 200 miles slips by, most folks generally need a reset to that awareness.
There are things that a sports massage therapist can do that you simply cannot do in your own self-care practice. A massage therapist can exert greater leverage to move joints and tissue. There are also limits to what you can do on your own. The hips are a prime example. These are the powerhouse of your running and critical to maintain mobility through the joints. But unless you are an advanced yogi, a sports massage therapist can routinely get more movement through your hips – than you can from rolling around on a lacrosse ball.
The Many Leg Issues that can Stem from Lack of Mobility
Be it muscle, tendons, tissues or joints, movement = health. For example, your quads, by definition, are made up of four muscles. Ideally these four muscles are all sliding past each other as you flex and extend your leg. Some folks are able to stay exceptionally loose and maintain this mobility. Many cannot.
Running is not only traumatic, with ground reaction forces generating more than two times the weight your body on landing with each step, it is also balancing on one leg after another, again and again and again… requiring muscles in the opposite leg, back and arm to counteract the balancing. Which leads to tight muscles… especially after a long run (however you define that). But you know this.
What some may not appreciate is how connected tissue of all sorts is from head to toe. I have witnessed this not only in treating patients, but also in dissection. Fascia is real and if it stops moving, it literally “gums up the works”.
From MY experience, I have seen tight muscles, tendons and joints lead to these common complaints or injuries:
- Plantar fasciitis – tight calves, yes calves
- Achilles issues – tight calves
- Hamstring issues – tight hams, and probably calves/glutes
- IT Band syndrome – tight quad/hamstring and glute medius
- Knee pain – on knee cap, below knee cap to inside, below knee cap to outside – quads, hamstrings, glutes and IT band
- Hip pain – glutes/glute medius
- Low back pain – glutes
- Upper back pain – pecs/erectors
I acknowledge that these are generalities based on my experience. And I am not an MD. But I have had good success treating these conditions in runners and non-runners with sports massage.
In many cases, all of these can be linked to tight muscles from running.
Long Term Investment
Maintaining movement and mobility are key to a healthy, happy body. You love this sport. Obviously. Give yourself the best advantage to continue it for as long as possible. Take the long view: stretch, strengthen and get help from a sport massage therapist once in a while.
I will be 61 this year. While I am a solid middle of the pack runner, I have been running for more than 40 years. I credit that to a regular stretching practice, strengthening and routine bodywork for the last 30 years – chiropractic and massage. It’s kept me going for all types of adventures. You can check out my YouTube channel at Sam Farnsworth LMT for 40 different self-care stretches.
A bit more about Sam