The Best Massage for Runners and When to Get Them
Are you, or is somebody you know, a runner? Good for you and/or them! Cardiovascular exercise keeps your blood flowing, your muscles growing, and your mind happy!
But while your brain and heart are feeling great, your leg muscles might be a little rough. Haggard hamstrings. Quarrelsome quadriceps. Cantankerous calves. And it’s not just your leg muscles going to town when you run! I bet your glutes and core are sore too.
Be kind to your muscles, as I say in just about every massage-related article I write. And especially be kind to your hardest working muscles. In the case of a runner, the muscles listed above should be the areas of focus, even though a full body massage is still recommended. Now, what is the best type of massage for a runner? And when’s the best time for a runner’s massage?
The Best Massage for a Runner
It all depends on the runner! When did you last run, and when are you running next? Are you preparing for a marathon, or do you just run because it’s your favorite exercise? Let’s list off the best types of massage for a runner, and when each type is the best choice.
When to get Sports Massage
The Day of the Run
You probably guessed this would be the first massage listed. Sports massage, as the name suggests, targets sports injuries. It involves manipulation of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia with the goal of improving function and breaking up adhesions.
Sports massage is often accompanied by proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF stretching), pin and stretch techniques, assisted joint range of motion, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy. I’ll elaborate on each one of these techniques in the next section!
Heading to the racetrack or the gym soon after the massage? Then a sports massage is ideal for you! However, sports massage is a good post-event treatment too.
Remember the techniques I just listed above, though? Let’s talk about the ones that are most helpful in a pre-event massage.
Pre-event or Pre-workout
- PNF involves a combination of physical assistance and resistance training. Your therapist will lift, push, or manipulate a specific group of muscles in your body. In this case, it will be the muscles impacted by running. In PNF, your activated muscles will be taken to their full range of motion with the assistance of your therapist. Once full range is reached, you’ll be asked to press your affected body part against your therapist’s body. Your range of motion will increase right after the first stretch! After your first resistance, your therapist will be able to stretch your muscles even further. This stretching technique is typically performed three times for each muscle group. (I talked about this in the stretching section of my sciatica blog https://moyerwellness.com/sciatica-relief/)
- Why is PNF so great for a pre-event massage? Because it does exactly what I told you it does! It instantly improves your range of motion, which will be really helpful for the strides your legs are about to take! It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise or sport you’re about to perform; PNF will boost your muscular function and you’ll have an easier time moving.
Joint Range of Motion
- This assisted technique is usually done after some gliding massage strokes have been used, so the muscles are warmed up and more flexible. Your therapist will manipulate specific joints in your body; for runners it will probably be the ankles, knees, and hip joints. This will be used to assess the mobility of your joints either before and after PNF is performed.
- You know that type of massage you see in movies where the therapist appears to be playing the drums on the client’s back? That type of massage is called tapotement. It’s often used to break up adhesions, but it has another nice benefit too! The face pace and intensity of it will wake your body right up. You need that energy before you head out for a run!
- Motion palpation is a good one too, even though you’ve likely never heard of it. Your therapist will rock your body side to side as you lay on the table, waking your body up with the quick motions. With runners, the therapist may only rock the legs, ending the technique with a pull on the ankles and a gentle shake.
Post-Event or Post-Workout
- There’s going to be some overlap with this one and the next one. Fascia is the connective tissue that encapsulates your muscles, and running can lead to some sticky fascia. To release it, your therapist will massage the layer just above your muscles with slow un-oiled glides. Along the way, trigger points will likely be found. But we’ll have to loosen that fascia before moving onto the trigger points!
Trigger Point Therapy
- When fascia becomes adhesed, the nerves beneath it compress into the muscular tissue, leading to hypersensitive spots called trigger points. They hurt! Athletes tend to have lots of them. Ok, so fascia has been loosened and we’re moving onto the trigger points. Your therapist will press down on a painful point, either with a finger or an elbow, and dig until the pain lessens. It can be unpleasant, but it can also work wonders!
- In this active technique, your therapist will palpate the insertion site of a specific muscle and ask you to flex that same muscle. When the muscle is activated, your therapist’s fingers will glide deeply toward the origin site of the muscle. As your muscles extender, the deep glides break apart the knots they encounter along the way. This is very effective post-running, as your muscles will have likely tightened up from all that hard work. Break up the knots before they get knottier!
When to get a Deep Tissue Massage:
The Day After the Run
Or two days after the run, whatever’s more feasible. Why is that? Well, let’s talk about what you can expect from a deep tissue massage first. When receiving one, your therapist is going to treat your muscles from superficial to deep, and it can be downright uncomfortable though oddly satisfying. While it’s an effective treatment for muscular tightness, it can lead to soreness the following day. Doesn’t sound like something you want to the day before the run, right?
If you have a marathon coming up, wait until the day after the event to schedule a deep tissue massage. If you’re just an avid runner with no upcoming event, take a rest day and schedule a deep tissue massage then. If you’re achy the day after massage, maybe ease up on the running that day too. Always give your body rest when it needs it.
When to get a Swedish Massage
The Day Before the Run
Oh yes, the Swedish massage. Sometimes called the wuss massage, as it’s so often associated with light touch and soothingness. You may ask, why would a Swedish massage ever be the ideal modality for an athletic type?
There are plenty of reasons! With its soft kneading and light rhythmic strokes, a relaxing Swedish massage is perfect for the day preceding a long run. A relaxation massage not only promotes restful sleep, it’s also less likely to cause soreness the following morning. So get that energizing rest for the next day’s run, and avoid the soreness that comes with deep work.
When Are You Running?
Schedule your runner’s massage based on when you’re running next!
Author, Licensed Massage Therapist
Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.
Canva by PR Image Factory
Mateo Ashley Mateo is a writer, Ashley. “There’s a Reason Why Pros Swear by Sports Massage-Here’s Everything You Should Know.” Runner’s World, 12 Aug. 2020, www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a33546733/sports-massage/.
Ratini, Malinda. “What Is Sports Massage?” WebMD, WebMD, 2020, www.webmd.com/balance/qa/what-is-sports-massage.
Santos-Longhurst, Adrienne. “Deep Tissue Massage: Benefits, What to Expect, and Side Effects.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 13 Dec. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/deep-tissue-massage.