Sports massage can be a really useful tool in recovering after a race that’s pushed your body hard. Whether you choose to make use of on-site massage therapists at a big event, or to wait to see your usual therapist after you get home, a sports massage after a race can leave you feeling ready for the next challenge.
Yes, studies seem to suggest that massage can help with recovery after exercise.
This infographic, produced by @YLMSportScience on Instagram, demonstrates the results of a study comparing passive recovery, active recovery, cold water immersion and massage (using effleurage, petrissage and friction) in 46 male recreational runners following a half marathon. As the graphs demonstrate, running-based active recovery appeared to have a negative effect on recovery, but both cold water immersion and massage seemed to have positive effects1, as perceived by the study participants, although it should be noted that objective measures of muscle fatigue remained unchanged by either cold water immersion or massage.
Post-event massage has a number of potential benefits. Runners in the study referenced by the image perceived that they experienced less muscle soreness and that they felt more prepared for further exercise in the period following their treatment.
A 2018 study found that 'when administered to skeletal muscle that has been acutely damaged through exercise, massage therapy appears to be clinically beneficial by reducing inflammation and promoting mitochondrial biogenesis'2. In other words, massage reduces levels of inflammation causing chemical compounds within the muscles, and increases levels of mitochondrial growth, allowing the muscles to heal micro-tears caused by hard exertion.
A post-event massage is also a good opportunity to stop and relax after a strenuous event, and psychologically may help to draw a line under the now completed activity, helping you to move on and feel ready for the next challenge.
A massage carried out immediately after an event (within 1-2 hours) will take between 10 and 20 minutes, and be a calming, gentle experience. The therapist will use lighter, smoother strokes which move towards the heart, helping the client to relax and soothing any sore muscles.
Some clients may choose instead to have a massage within 24-48 hours after an event, in which case the duration of the treatment may be longer. However, this should still be a treatment focussed around long, soothing strokes.
If you are having a massage on the day of your event, it is best to wait at least 30 minutes before heading to the couch. This will allow you some time to cool down and relax, and also to rehydrate and recover a little from your exertions.
If you would rather have a massage a few days after the event it’s best to wait a day or two. This allows time for any injuries, which can be masked immediately after the event by adrenaline, to surface.
It’s important to recognise the limitations of massage therapy, as well as its benefits. A single massage can leave you feeling really good and help to relax tight muscles, but it can’t solve a long term underlying issue in one go. If you have a weaker muscle due to your gait being uneven after an injury, for example, a massage may help to relieve the tightness you may feel - but it won’t make that muscle stronger or ‘fix’ you. It’s perhaps best to think of regular massage in the same way that you do of eating a nutritionally balanced diet, staying hydrated or getting enough sleep - as a health and performance supporting measure that is one part of you performing at your best.
If you have an event or race in the diary, consider booking a massage for the days following the event as part of your recovery strategy, being sure to let your therapist know that you were competing recently! Book an appointment with me, or search for a Sports Therapy Association registered therapist near to you.
Author Hannah Tabram. Category Blog. First published Tue, 22 Feb 2022 16:02:46 +0000