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Massage for Runners - It Feels Great But What Does It Do?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Empower Physiotherapy’s Remedial Massage Therapist Raef Hobbs-Brown shares some valuable information originally outlined in an article by Kelly Bastone, posted on the Runner’s World website.  Full article here:

http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/the-pros-and-cons-of-massages-for-runners


There is good reason massage therapists are part of an elite runner's entourage, and why the lines for a post-event massage seemingly extend forever.  A rubdown - even a deep, intense one - feels great!  Most runners report that massages help decrease muscle tension and improve range of motion, while also making them feel relaxed and rewarded for their hard efforts.  By optimising recovery and mobility, runners also claim that their risk of injury is reduced, meaning time lost from training is minimised.  If there’s one thing a runner despises - it’s forced time away from training!

A rubdown - even a deep, intense one - feels great!  Most runners report that massages help decrease muscle tension and improve range of motion, while also making them feel relaxed and rewarded for their hard efforts.  By optimising recovery and mobility, runners also claim that their risk of injury is reduced, meaning time lost from training is minimised.  If there’s one thing a runner despises - it’s forced time away from training!

Yet despite massage's popularity and positive reputation, there's been limited scientific evidence to support why athletes feel so good when they hop off the table, or are so keen to make massage part of their training regimen. Many practitioners say massage relieves muscle soreness, promotes circulation, flushes toxins and lactic acid from the body, and eases joint strain - claims that have traditionally been supported due to centuries of anecdotal evidence from China, Sweden, and around the globe.  But science hadn't investigated just what massage actually achieves - until recently. Recent and ongoing research continues to investigate precisely what a massage achieves.

First, let's set the record straight: Science doesn't support some ingrained beliefs about massage. It can't push toxins out of the muscles and into the bloodstream, nor does it appear to flush lactic acid from muscles, after an analysis on muscle tissue from subjects who had cycled to exhaustion and then received a 10-minute massage.  There has been an assumption that because lactic acid build up feels “burny,” “achey,” or even painful - and that massage can reduce said pain - that the lactic acid is being flushed away. This is simply not the case. 

What massage does do however is apply moving pressure to muscles and other tissues such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia.  That movement softens fascia tissue and makes overly contracted muscles relax. It also assists in breaking down adhesions between fascia and muscles (places where the two stick together and restrict free movement of the muscles). That's especially great news for runners, who rely on mobile joints and muscles for pain-free and peak performance.

The most promising area of research, however, explains what massage can do for athletic recovery. Studies published in the Journal of Athletic Training and the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that massage after exercise reduced the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) - that is, intense soreness you get one or two days after an intense run or workout.

In addition, there have been findings that suggest that massage can also accelerate the regeneration of muscle tissue following exertion, though these are early and quite small studies.

Other research suggests that massage improves immune function and reduces inflammation. Studies found that just one massage treatment resulted in an increased number of several types of lymphocytes (white blood cells that play a key role in fighting infection) while also decreasing levels of cortisol (the "stress hormone" linked to chronic inflammation). So yes, massage CAN help runners taxed from exertion!

If you think your training could benefit from implementing some Remedial Massage into your training regimen, feel free to email me @ raef@empowerphysio.com.au to discuss what Empower Physiotherapy can offer!

Can't afford weekly treatments? Self-massage with foam rollers and other tools like tennis balls can be beneficial in between visits, and are a regular inclusion in most of our clients’ home management programs.  Just give us a call!

Until then, keep moving!


Raef

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