Updated: March 18th, 2022
The Pros, cons, dos, don’ts and alternatives to sports massages: for runners.

Don’t be misled, while sports massages can help any injury or tension, you do not need a prerequisite in sport to book one. They’re widely misconstrued, it is often believed that sports massages are done by big, burly men – when in fact it’s the smaller women with the needle-like thumbs that catch you unaware. And yes more often than not it is, painful, but shouldn’t be a torturous pain chamber and seen as a challenge of limitations. It is actually very specific, clever and complicated work, used to treat (and find more) muscle ‘issues’ than what you walked into the appointment complaining about.

The pros:

    Okay, I get, that didn’t sound great but sorts massages are, in my opinion, one of the most effective massage types or techniques, and here’s why:

  • Fantastic for postural correction (making your running more energy efficient)
  • Techniques that are great for pre-running event warm-up or preparation
  • Equally effective post-run event also
  • Can be incredibly specific both on target tissue and issue/injury assisting with
  • Is even more effective when used in conjunction with exercises, training and stretching
  • Massages are useful in conjunction with your training loads (and ideally should be part of your training plan or recovery sessions).
  • Can be replicated at home somewhat in-between visits (via foam rollers and tennis balls)
  • Scientifically proven to increase flexibility and decrease Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMs)
  • Adjustable techniques for areas of swelling (whereas other types of massage therapists often avoid swollen areas completely)
  • Many tools and equipment can aid the massage therapist in getting the job done
  • You feel the difference immediately after
  • Can cover multiple problem areas in one session, usually
  • Sports massages don’t only treat some injuries, They can prevent them too
  • They’re addictive. – once you’ve felt the difference post-massage, you will want one every day!
  • Happy runner having leg massage at race event

    The cons:

  • 9 times out of 10, it hurts!
  • Can’t help ligamentous injuries or bruises
  • Possibly involve moving positions throughout your session
  • Not renowned for being relaxing
  • May require a longer consultation, to get the specifics right
  • If you have had an issue for a long time, it will need multiple sessions to break down and treat
  • Pain sports massage with therapist using elbows for deep tissue relaxation

    The dos:

  • Drink water before and after your massage appointment – help your body out, eh.
  • If you need multiple areas treating, then book a longer appointment
  • Take the consultation seriously, and be honest
  • Keep communicating with your massage therapist – if the pressure is too much, or dare I say it; not enough, then speak up (we appreciate the feedback)
  • Come prepared wearing the right kit – there’s zero point turning up in leggings and hopping on a couch post-run event.
  • Book your massage on a rest day, and away from any intense workouts afterwards.
  • Arrive early. Usually, appointments are hour by hour and if you’re late there is zero time to make up for it at the end of your appointment.
  • Consider trimming excessive body hair – like athletic tape application – if you have a very hairy back or extremely hairy legs, it may hurt to get a massage. So consider hair removal or trimming it a little. – it is likely already going to hurt, don’t wanna add more pain, do we?
  • Leg massage through leggings on lower legs

    The don’t’s:

  • Do not train after a massage, give your body time to relax and adjust (it’s just been worked hard!)
  • Do not skip or ignore the exercises or advice given to you to help your problem (we will know if you’re lying)
  • Do not think a massage can put you right instantly, after 10 years of shoulder pain… it’s going to take time

Painful neck on a man

I’m not claiming that sports massages will make or break your running performances, but they will make a heck of a difference. So make sure you really do schedule them in – their benefits on the mind and body are tenfold, you might not feel necessarily relaxed on the massage couch, but you will feel like a whole new person once it’s over.

Alternatives to sports massage

Of course, there are a wide variety of other types of massages out there, so please don’t pigeonhole yourself to only booking a sports massage because you do sport. Find what works for you!
That can mean alternative therapies or tools to help you, yet reaping the same benefits.

Massage stick:

I think every athlete has one of these in their kit bag to help roll out muscle tension its brilliant! It has little rolling balls or beads with handles on either end and it’s perfect to roll out big leg muscles just before you head out, or after your race before you travel back home.

Massage sticks

  • Medical acupuncture:
  • This type of acupuncture still uses the traditional meridian system to target specific muscles and areas of tension. A highly trained therapist will use specific needles length to activate and stimulate muscles as well as relax and ease any point of pain. It’s the relief without the gruelling hour of massage pain.

    Medical acupuncture for runners

  • Massage gun:
  • A handheld (and seemingly expensive) piece of kit that uses vibration therapy or percussion to give you a deep, vigorous massage with different attachments and levels of intensity so it can be used by anyone, anywhere. But be careful, getting it wrong can really hurt someone, even yourself!

    Massage gun for runners

  • Foam roller:
  • For trigger point therapy especially, (targeting those sore, ball-like knots in your muscles) tennis balls and foam rollers are a perfect addition to your recovery-day kit – they’re cheap and brilliantly effective. You still run a risk of overpressure, bruising and acute muscle damage, read how to use your foam roller before you start!

    Foam rolling for runners

    You can even buy vibrating foam rollers from pulse, should you want to mix a foam roller and massage gun. Likewise, you can also find foam rollers with strong nodules for intense trigger point therapy that can somewhat resemble acupuncture (without the needles!)

    Whatever your preference, you can be sure to reap massage benefits even if you don’t book a traditional massage. Travelling to run? Grab yourself a foam roller, massage gun or tennis ball and you’ll be covered.

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