Self Massage How-To
How we roll: self massage can play a significant role in helping you to feel better and run faster
The road to healthy running isn’t the same for everyone. Some runners are genetically gifted with optimal physiology, while others struggle to put in even a few miles without encountering an injury. Treating and preventing injuries may include a myriad of techniques and therapies, such as stretching, strength work and physical therapy.
While those treatments work for some, a growing number of runners are discovering real relief in massage. In fact, a recent study out of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario showed, for the first time, how effective massage might be. This research, published in Science Translational Medicine, had participants exercise and then gave them a 10-minute massage on one quadriceps, but not the other (http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/4/119/119ra13). After taking muscle biopsies of both legs, the results revealed that the side that received the massage had reduced
inflammation. This means that the healing process post-exercise was kick started more quickly, allowing for damaged muscle tissue to begin repairing. What’s more, massage is something you can do on your own, free of charge, even at home or in your office chair.
What’s the Rub?
Tiana Cain, a trail buff who trains in Greenville, South Carolina, is one of those runners. After visiting a massage therapist for a leg injury, Cain says her entire body benefited. “Not only was massage therapy more cost effective than physical therapy, it had benefits that went beyond helping that particular injury,” she explains. Since then, she has added regular self massage to avoid injury and stay loose and ready to run.
Similar to Cain, Ray Churgovich, a trail ultrarunner in Boulder, Colorado, says that massage played a major role in making running possible for him. “There was a point where my shin splints were so bad that it was impossible to distinguish the pain between my muscle and bone,” he explains. “Massage helped break down the build up of unhealthy tissue.”
David Abookire, the Director of Therapies for Boulder Therapeutics and massage therapist for the Colorado Rapids, says that massage assists in injury prevention and, in turn, improves training. “The pounding, your gait and your own physiology can all lead to various issues and imbalances that can cause injury.” He says massage can help combat everything from shin splints to Achilles tendonitis to back pain, by improving circulation, eliminating tight spots and working out adhesions and scar tissue that impede optimal functioning.
While prevention is the best option, injuries are still bound to happen. When scar tissue build-up in the soft tissues is neglected long enough, problems often result. Through hands-on massage or the use of a self-massage tool, like a foam roller, these fibers are broken up and reabsorbed, thereby restoring the original state of the tissue. Through this process, proper movement patterns are reintroduced, allowing the athlete to avoid secondary injuries that can occur as a result of overcompensation. For instance, if scar tissue has built up around your hip, you may not be effectively swinging your leg forward with each step. By restoring full movement to the hip joint, you’re better able to maintain a healthy gait.
Abookire emphasizes that while regular professional massages are most beneficial, at-home massage is important for sustained running health. “I can give you the greatest treatment ever, but if you go home and don’t do the maintenance, the problem won’t get solved,” he explains.