If you’re looking for strategies to quickly recover from a hard run such as a half marathon or marathon you may want to consider massage therapy. Sore hips, tight hamstrings, aching calves, and stiff knees can all be specifically address and improved with massage therapy as I recently experienced.
Massage therapy is a proven method for relieving pain and soreness while reducing recovery time. There are several studies showing the benefits of massage therapy after strenuous activity and many who swear by its effectiveness in promoting recovery. While there is no data to suggest that it is harmful, there are times it may not be recommended.
The thought of a massage sound fantastic, but the cost deters many. I’m as penny pinching as the next person, and a massage after any run, regardless of how sore I felt, seemed like a luxury I shouldn’t indulge in – until I did. It’s worth evaluating the benefits you can receive before deciding to exclude it from your recovery plan.
Benefits of Massage Therapy
- Reduce muscle tension
- Increases joint flexibility
- Improves circulation
- Promotes tissue regeneration
- Improves range of motion
- Promotes durability for injury prevention
- Reduces pain and soreness
- Reduces stress
- Reduces inflammation
- Promotes the growth of new mitochondria (Massage reduces inflammation and promotes growth of new mitochondria following strenuous exercise, study finds — ScienceDaily)
Massage therapy has been around for thousands of years. As a traditional and non-invasive treatment, it was used to relieve pain, heal injuries, and prevent and cure illnesses. While all the benefits of massage therapy may be difficult to quantify scientifically, it is noteworthy that most elite athletes use it on a regular basis.
Personal experience with Paola, a licensed Massage Therapist
As my stiffness and soreness did not seem to be subsiding 9 days after my first marathon event, I decided to re-evaluate my recovery plan. I was resting and including a lot of active recovery strategies including stretching and walking, but I didn’t seem to be getting any better. I had also lost my motivation to run as my body was hurting from even light exercise. I finally considered getting a massage with Paola, a friend of mine who is a licensed massage therapist.
This was a big decision for me as I have only had two massages in my life prior to this and neither related to running or exercise recovery. As mentioned earlier, I felt a massage was an indulgence that I really couldn’t afford to splurge on. I was confident that with adequate rest I would sufficiently recover in a reasonable amount of time and resume running as I had in the past.
However, my recovery from my first marathon was taking much longer than I expected and I was feeling little improvement after more than a week. I did some research on the benefits of massage therapy outlined above and quickly decided to try it out. To get my money’s worth I decided to treat it like an experiment.
I ranked my soreness, stiffness, and pain levels before and after the massage to quantify the results I experienced. Before the massage, I was at about a level 5 and afterward a level 2 in all categories. The relief felt after the massage was really amazing as my stiffness, soreness, and pain all dramatically decreased. I was not aware how tight my muscles really were and only wish I had booked more time (plan at least an hour). I was pleased to be instantly relieved of such stress and tension for the first time in days.
Not included in the chart below is the result of returning to a light jog the next morning which I was unable to do before. I was still a bit sore and could feel the specific areas that were sensitive, but the pain and soreness were not like before and I actually enjoyed the run.
|*||Half Marathon (on Great Wall 4 years prior)||10||10||10|
|9 Days after Full Marathon (before massage)||5||5||5|
|Immediately after massage||2||2||2|
|Day following massage||3||2||3|
|* Event included for comparison purposes|
|Scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being most severe|
Other Benefits of a professional massage
I learned how to use my foam roller more effectively. Paola guided me through how it feels when a muscle knot starts to relax. She explained the need for patience as you can’t rush the process as even an experienced therapist must wait on the muscle to relax. She also recommended a bit softer foam roller as the harder ones can be more painful if you are not used to deep tissue massage.
A Massage gun can be a good alternative
According to Paola, a massage gun will not compare to the hands as a trained masseuse but can do a decent job if you know how to use it properly. She recommends having a massage therapist show you how to use the gun most effectively for your specific issues.
Paola often uses a gun as it can work a broader area more quickly than fingers alone. In addition, the vibration of the gun allows the muscles to relax faster than hands alone. She also finds many clients prefer the gun to fingers on sensitive areas since it is less painful.
Paola says using a massage gun can be an ideal way to maintain the benefits of a massage at home.
When NOT to get a massage
“There is no data to suggest that massage is harmful, but there are times it may not be recommended.” Therapeutic massage for pain relief – Harvard Health. According to the linked article, one should not massage an inflamed area of skin or area of infection as it might spread the infection. American Massage Therapy Association has a list of conditions or problems for when it may be best to avoid massage.
Paola does no recommended having a massage immediately after an intense workout. This would be counterproductive to a speedy recovery as the massage itself does cause some microtears to muscle and fascia. Many experts, including Paola, recommend waiting at least several hours after an intense workout to get the most benefits.
From my research and experience, massage therapy has many benefits to the body and mind that is worth considering after an intense physical performance. A balanced approach is best as message therapy will not result in a sudden and miraculous recovery, but you will see some immediate beneficial results. Massage Therapy is another tool that can be used to assist the body in recovering faster while it gives you the boost you need to respect the body and rest appropriately.