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Does massage boost recovery after running?

Does massage boost recovery after running?

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Massage is often used to speed up recovery after a running event. Andrew Cate investigates just how effective a massage can be.

The benefits of massage

Massage therapy is commonly used to help reduce pain and promote recovery from injury.

Massage helps to relax tight muscles, relieve pain, moderate inflammation and improve blood flow.

Massage may offer a number of unique physical and mental benefits that combine to maintain good health and improve your well-being.

Massage helps to:

  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve circulation
  • Improve digestion
  • Improve mobility and range of movement

Massage and recovery from exercise

Intense physical activity such as running involving continuous muscle contractions may trigger damage and inflammation to the muscles cells. This can limit movement and cause soreness.

By improving blood flow, massage may increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, and improve the removal waste products. It may also reduce tissue stiffness and make you feel relaxed.

Research has now emerged that provides a better understanding of how massage affects the muscles at a cellular level.

The research

study reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine tested the thigh muscles of 11 men after exercise-induced muscle stress involving a 60 minute cycle to exhaustion. Participants had only 1 of their thighs massaged, with the other thigh used as a control for comparative purposes. Small tissue samples were taken on both legs prior to working out, 10 minutes after the workout (after the 1 thigh had been massaged), and again after a 2.5 hour recovery period.

The researchers found that the massaged thigh showed signs of reduced inflammation and improved growth of mitochondria (energy-producing units) compared to the un-massaged thigh. At a cellular level, massage was shown to reduce the trauma of exercise-induced muscle damage. It also led the researchers to theorise that massage therapy may reduce inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications.

However, it's important to note that only 11 subjects were used in this study. With such a small sample size, more detailed research is needed to help develop a better understanding of what role massage plays in recovery from exercise.

Using massage to help recover from running

When considering massage as a therapy to improve recovery after running, consider the following tips to help get the most out of it.
  • Seek out a suitable therapist - Seek out a therapist who is qualified, and who is experienced at dealing with runners. While there are many different types of massage, a therapist who specialises in sports massage would be ideal. Talk with the therapist beforehand and let them know the details of your event or training schedule
  • Dealing with discomfort - While massage doesn't have to hurt to be beneficial, you can expect slight discomfort, especially if you have any existing muscle soreness. Some techniques and locations may also be less comfortable than others. Because people vary greatly in their tolerance to pain, make sure to let the therapist know if you find anything unpleasant or significantly painful
  • Timing your massage - Try to schedule a massage within 24 hours after completing your running training or event to maximise its capacity to help you recover
  • Experiment with different techniques - Because there are many different types of massage (such as sports massage, Swedish, deep tissue and shiatsu), experiment to find what works best for you



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