Whilst I was working as a Running Specialist in Runners Need it used to astound me how many customers told me that they had run several marathons, yet had never had a sports massage in their life. Some didn’t even realise the importance of a sports massage, regardless of whether you have suffered an injury or not.
I first understood the benefits of sports massage when I trained for my first half marathon about 5 years ago. I think I’ve gone through about 6 different therapists, but not out of choice, just purely because I’ve moved around so often. Luckily I’ve never had a bad experience and along the way my pain threshold has increased immensely! More importantly, my risk of injury has been vastly reduced.
Sports massage can help maintain the body in generally better condition, prevent injuries and loss of mobility, cure and restore mobility to injured muscle tissue, boost performance and extend the overall life of your sporting career or fitness ability. This is achieved through increasing tissue permeability, the breaking down of scar tissue, extensive stretching, improving tissue elasticity and increasing blood flow to the tissues.
The physiological effects of sports massage include pain reduction through releasing any muscle tension and flushing out the waste products that cause muscle soreness. Sports massage can also promote muscle relaxation through the heat-generated pressure movements and tissue lengthening.
Through my own experience I’ve always felt so much lighter after a massage and it also gives me peace of mind knowing that I’ve had any little niggles ironed out. Sports massage is just one vital element of giving your body a thorough MOT and I highly recommend seeking a sports massage therapist if you are training for any type of sports event.
Truthfully, it hurts a lot; this is not the type of relaxing, soothing massage you get in a candlelit room with fragrance mists and a Zen soundtrack. You need to brace yourself before, during and after, when your muscles will continue to ache for a day or two. But as they say — ‘no pain, no gain’ — and this could not be more true for sports massage! I think my most painful experience was when I saw a Chinese sports massage therapist. Looks can be so deceiving, and boy was I in for a shock when this pint-sized lady laid her hands on me. Somehow I managed to get through the first hour by breathing through the intense, tear-inducing pain. In fact, I managed to save the blubbering and wincing for when I got home, in complete disbelief that what she had done to me was even legal! However, to this day I thank her for being the miracle-worker she is. She saved me from a running injury meaning I could still take part in the London Marathon that year. Granted, she was very strict with me and ordered that I abstain from any exercise for a couple of weeks (which, for a stubborn runner like me, was very difficult to stick to!). I’m sure there was some magic in all those Chinese potions and lotions she doused me with, too!
A question I’d regularly get asked is how often to have a sports massage. This really comes down to the individual and the type of training they’re doing and for what event. For a marathon, for example, I would book in a sports massage every couple of weeks, particularly as I would be increasing my weekly running mileage in the latter weeks of training. I would alter the length of the session depending on whether I need the therapist to focus on lower body, back, or full body. Then, a couple of days before the marathon I would book a full hour’s session, just to release any last-minute tension (and nerves!) before race day. Post-race, I would book a session a couple of days afterwards, just to allow my body to recover on its own for a while. Anyone who has felt the after-effects of a race will know that the muscles are so tender and sore that there’s actually not a lot a massage therapist can do that will help promote recovery at that early stage. I’ve been to see massage therapists that are hired to treat runners on location after races, and whilst it’s good to get a quick rub-down, I prefer popping on my compression tights and heading home when I can have an ice bath (or hot bath — both are proven to promote recovery).
Post-sports massage it’s important to drink plenty of water, as the whole process is quite dehydrating on the body. You may not even feel that you’re sweating that much, but trust me it will feel like you’ve had a workout afterwards! Avoid caffeine and any other drinks (fizzy drinks, for example) that could dehydrate you. Another good tip is to try and regularly use the sauna in your gym or local swimming pool. This will relax and ease any tight muscles after your workouts. Even more effective is to use the sauna for 10 minutes or so before you have your sports massage, as it will help warm up the area allowing the therapist to massage deeper into your muscles.
Sports massages aren’t cheap! The average I would expect to pay is around £50 per hour. But it is worth it, if only to avoid the emotional cost of having to pull out of a race you’ve trained hard for due to an injury that could have been avoided.