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Massage For Runners

by Claudia Piepenburg - editor of Road Runner Sports Run Today Newsletter


Therapeutic massage and sports massage are becoming more popular with runners to reduce injury and just because they feel great!

Physicians are increasingly prescribing therapeutic massage to complement traditional medical treatment for illness and injuries. Therapeutic massage involves manipulation of the soft tissue structures of the body. It soothes, calms and aids in stress reduction; and it may also improve the rate at which the body recovers from injury and illness.

Sports massage is often based on Swedish Massage and frequently includes the use of some of the following techniques:
Massage For Runners

Swedish Massage

Muscle-specific applications of the standard effleurage, petrissage and vibration techniques.

Cross-Fiber Massage
A friction technique applied to a specific area to create a stretching and broadening effect in muscle groups, or on a site-specific muscle and connective tissue to reduce adhesions.

Trigger Point Massage
This technique involves positioning specific finger or thumb pressure on a trigger point in the muscle and connective tissue to reduce muscle spasms. If left untreated, such trigger points often lead to restricted and painful movement of body parts.

There are three areas of sports massage that may be utilized by runners.

Maintenance Massage
An effective training program is based on the regular massage. It's important that your massage therapist has an understanding of anatomy and kinesiology, combined with an expert knowledge of which muscles are used in running and which are likely candidates for trouble. The overall objective of a massage maintenance program is to help the athlete reach optimal performance through injury-free training.

Pre-Event Massage
Pre-event massage is used as a supplement to an athlete's warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance.

Post-Event Massage
Post-event massage is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Many sports massage techniques enhance the body's own recovery process, improving the athlete's return to training and competition, and reducing the risk of injury.


The key to getting a massage is not to wait until (A) you're injured or (B) you've just run a hard race, like a marathon. MASSAGE SHOULD BE A REGULAR PART OF YOUR TRAINING SCHEDULE. But why should you do that in the first place? Here are ten great reasons:

Massage will:

1. Break up scar tissue that may have built up in your muscles.
2. Improve blood flow to your muscles.
3. Loosen muscles that have contracted (shortened) with continued use.
4. Allow more oxygen to move into your muscles.
5. Improve the flow of lymphatic fluid, which aids in healing.
6. Reduce the chance of injury, through proper stretching, race preparation and through deep tissue massage.
7. Improve range of motion and muscle flexibility, resulting in improved power and performance.
8. Shorten recovery time between workouts.
9. Maximize the supply of nutrients and oxygen through increased blood flow.
10. Enhance elimination of lactic-acid build up (a by-product of exercise).


Are they expensive:

"Sounds like a great idea, but aren't massages expensive?" you ask. Well, relatively speaking maybe yes, but when you break it down and compare it to what else you may spend when it comes to running, you may re-consider. Think about these points:

1. At an average cost of $75.00 an hour (depending on where you live), a massage costs about the same as a good pair of running shoes.

2. A winter's worth of running clothing (tights, gloves, Gore-Tex jacket and a couple of turtlenecks) will cost three or more times the price of one massage.

3. The price of one massage costs less than the entry fee to most major marathons (plus the pasta dinner the night before).

Hand Massage
When you consider the benefits of massage, the cost is well worth it. You can have the best shoes money can buy, but if your hamstring is so tight that you're hobbling when you run, you might as well be running in flip-flops! And race directors don't refund entry fees, even if you're too injured to race.

Okay, now you're convinced! So how do you find the right massage therapist and once you've found one, how should you prepare? Here's what our running experts recommend:

You can find a massage therapist via these sources:

  • Talk to other runners.
  • Check with your local running store.
  • Call physical therapists and chiropractors, sometimes they'll have massage therapists on staff.
  • Next time you're at a race, look for massage therapists at the expo or set-up following the event. Take advantage of a free ten-minute massage and get their card.
  • Many large metropolitan areas have massage schools. Students are required to work on clients for free as part of their training. Check with the school to see when free sessions are offered.

If you've never had a massage before, keep these points in mind:

  • Although the experience will be pleasurable overall, be prepared to feel some soreness. Until you've had someone massage your feet, you can't appreciate how sore the bottoms of your feet get!
  • Plan a massage on your off-running day. Your body has been stimulated by the massage, relax and let yourself enjoy the feeling.
  • Don't be afraid to talk to the therapist. Let him or her know how you're feeling, particularly if the therapy becomes too uncomfortable. If the massage brings tears to your eyes, it isn't doing you any good.
  • Make sure you're well-hydrated going into the massage. Take a bottle of water with you and start drinking as soon as the massage is finished.

Claudia Piepenburg:
Claudia has been running for twenty years and is the current editor for Peak Running Performance. She holds or has held state age-group records in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia. In 1990, she was ranked 18th fastest masters woman in the world and 8th fastest masters woman in the U.S. in 1990 and 1991. She competed in the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials, was 20th woman overall in the 1987 Boston Marathon and women's winner of the 1986 Virginia Beach Marathon.

Mark Redpath:
Mark is one of the world-class trainers and instructors for Road Runner Sports' Athletes Helping Athletes program. Originally from Zimbabwe, Mark is an accomplished triathlete and marathoner.

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