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Getting a monthly massage is one of the most valuable investments you can make to improve your performance and increase the longevity of your running. So how do you get the most bang for your buck?
A 50-minute massage can cost you anywhere from $60-$120. That may seem pricey until you consider a month’s worth of physical therapy to treat an injury you’ve left unattended could cost you that or more in time and money. Research studies have shown that massage increases the rate of recovery by 30 percent and improves overall immune function. It has also proven to improve mood by stimulating the production of serotonin and dopamine. These factors can arguably lead to better performance.
Having been both the massage therapist and the runner on the table, here’s how I’ve learned to make your massage count.
“You ought to walk out of a massage knowing your body better than before,”
Tips For Getting The Most Out of a Runner’s Massage
1. Do Your Homework
Establish yourself with a therapist you trust. Ask running friends for suggestions and try out a few therapists, just like you would when looking for a doctor. Find one who listens to you and educates you on your own body during the session. “You ought to walk out of a massage knowing your body better than before,” says one of my massage therapists, Renee Geerdes, BCTMB.
As relaxing as a massage may be, maybe don’t fall asleep! It’s critical to know what you need, and know how to advocate for yourself when you’re on the table. Contrary to what many think, talking some during a massage is essential for both the athlete and therapist to provide feedback. Not sure what to request? It’s ok to say, “I trust you to find the places that need to be worked.” A good therapist will feel bound up areas and know the necessary trigger points to alleviate pain. If you need more or less pressure, ask for it. Also trust that a good therapist knows going too deep might cause more damage than good.
3. Be Consistent
Seeing a therapist consistently (like once a month) will help you both cover more ground. Think about it in terms of cleaning a house. If cleaners come every three months, there’s likely more dirt to clean in an hour. If cleaners come once a month, they can clean more areas because there’s less intense cleaning to do.
4. Remember Connectivity
It’s ok to spend the majority of time on one area causing you pain but have the neighboring tissue massaged too. Remember that pain you feel in one area, such as the low back, could be referring from another area, like trigger points in the buttocks. It’s also smart to address areas that may be compensating for an injury. Geerdes says it’s important for a therapist to follow trigger point work with touch that nurtures the parasympathetic system so the client doesn’t walk out in fight or flight mode.
5. Prep Before Massage
Warm up the tissue before coming to get a massage. It might make it less painful, and your therapist will be able to cover more territory. Use a foam roller, silicone cup, or infrared device to loosen tight areas before the massage. And while it may seem like a no-brainer, take a shower! A therapist will spend more time on your feet, for example, if they aren’t grimy from walking in sandals all day. If communicating your needs is not easy for you, pay attention to your body 24 hours before the session and write down a list of areas to hand to the therapist. Have trouble not fidgeting on the table? Meditate ten minutes in your car before your appointment. It’s easier to allow deeper work, on both physical and emotional levels, if you can settle your mind. Lastly, don’t schedule a massage within 24 hours after a big race. You’ll likely be too tight and sensitive for a therapist to get in deep.
6. Follow with Care
You might find yourself sore after a massage but hydrating well after will help flush “garbage” released during the massage. Go ahead and have that glass of wine, but don’t go on a binger. Also, it’s best not to exercise after the massage. Otherwise, it’s like jumping in a pile of mud after you’ve showered. Let your body benefit from the work you just gifted it.
7. Don’t Neglect Sensitive Areas
Massage shouldn’t feel invasive. Most therapists are trained with proper draping and palpation techniques to address sensitive areas. If you are feeling embarrassed to ask for massage to address pain in your groin or buttocks, for example, ask your therapist for a visual to understand the muscles being addressed and where they connect with the bone. Then ask them to talk you through the process. And, yes, it’s ok to keep your underwear on.
8. Cover Key Areas
We run with our entire body, so it’s all important. But the following muscle groups are most often where trouble originates if they aren’t addressed during a massage:
TFL (tensor fascia latae) and IT (iliotibial) Band: These two pieces come together to run the length of the hip to the knee. If the TFL is tight or the IT Band gets “stuck” to the quad, you’ll have problems further down the line that will inhibit fluid movement.
Glutes (medius, maximus, and minimus) and internal rotators (i.e. piriformis): These powerful hip extensors and rotators are often neglected but always need some attention. Tight glutes can lead to low back pain and hip instability.
Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus): Tightness here can often lead to plantar fasciitis, so make sure trigger points in these muscles are addressed.
QL (Quadratus Lumborem): These hip “hiker” muscles found on either side of the spine in the lower back work together with the glutes to help stabilize the back. When your glutes are weak (as is the case in a lot of runners), the QL works overtime.
9. Pay more for extra massage time, not the CBD cream
Think twice about trendy upsells: A lot of therapists now offer an upcharge for using CBD infused lotion or oil. While clinical studies have shown topical CBD to decrease pain related to arthritis and inflammation in laboratory animal studies, scientists say well-controlled studies in athlete populations are needed. So, consider putting that extra $15 towards hands-on work, and skip the CBD cream for now. Still curious about the new trend? Give it a try. It can’t hurt, and it might help.
Amanda McCracken is a runner, coach, and licensed massage therapist who has been working on athletes in Colorado since 2008.