Improved circulation and relief of muscle soreness are claims that are often heard when discussing the benefits of massage. However, the science has never really been able to validate such claims, until now. A recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that massage therapy improves general blood flow and alleviates muscle soreness after exercise.
“Our study validates the value of massage in exercise and injury, which has been previously recognized but based on minimal data,” said Nina Cherie Franklin, UIC postdoctoral fellow in physical therapy and first author of the study. “It also suggests the value of massage outside of the context of exercise.”
You may be thinking to yourself, “Big deal, I already assumed this, now it’s been proven anyway, so what.” Well, it is a big deal to us in the sense that we can confidently validate what we are actually doing versus the wild speculations that surround the various myths of massage therapy.
One may think this solidifies the idea that all marathoners should be getting a massage post marathon. Nope. Regardless of the study, my professional opinion on post-race massages still holds true. If you have never run a marathon, you can’t imagine how painful a massage can feel on your legs. The last thing most runners want is someone to touch them. Although it may help improve fluid dynamics, it may also cause enough discomfort for the runner to start to cramp and seize up. Unless you are an elite athlete, I continue to encourage runners to keep moving instead. You can achieve virtually the same results from a massage by continued movement, hydration and replenishing lost nutrients. Sometimes a post marathon massage or any massage, can even cause what is known as Post-massage soreness and malaise (PMSM), if done too aggressively. This can be caused by a mild form of rhabdomylosis (rhabdo).
Continuing to move can trigger what is known as EIA or Exercise Induced Analgesia. This will better allow your body to return to homeostasis or a balanced state. EIA is often recommended to many chronic pain patients as well.
A post-race massage is best utilized 3-4 days post marathon. The remaining fluids that are in the area that no longer need to be can be assisted out (they would eventually move out on their own), with a target massage session. Couple a massage with some light stretching and you will start to feel those legs regain some life.
I am a loud and vocal advocate for massage therapy, but more importantly, I am a champion for your own self-care. We are your support team, not your body mechanics. Good luck runners. See you at 26.3!