As every seasoned runner knows, regular sports massage should be scheduled into your program just as you schedule in your sprints and recovery runs, but how exactly does sports massage negate the potential negative impacts of running?
1. Muscular Trauma
As your miles ramp up, so does muscular and soft tissue (ligaments and tendons) trauma. Trauma causes muscles to tighten up, affecting gait and running economy. Without proper recovery, overuse injuries such as strains and sprains arise.
Sports massage speeds up the rate at which muscles recover by increasing circulation; this brings blood, oxygen and other vital nutrients to the area that is being targeted. Lymphatic drainage is also promoted which removes waste products such as lactic acid. Specific massage techniques such as cross fiber frictions promote optimal collagen healing specifically in finer structures such as tendons and ligaments keeping joints strong and supple.
Everyone has felt sore after a run- it may not be the searing DOMS you experience after a maximal squat test, but muscle tightness is to be expected after pounding the pavement. Muscle tightness has a direct impact on biomechanics due to the way muscles span joints and attach to bones. If a muscle is shortened (tight) then so is our available range of movement. When the training ramps up in preparation for a race, volume demands often limit our recovery time, pair this with our modern lifestyles involving lots of sitting down and suddenly your stride length, toe off and propulsion are affected.
Sports massage lengthens shortened muscles by implementing advanced stretching techniques, breaking down adhesions and realigning muscle fibers. This can improve our biomechanics by removing joint restrictions, improving mobility and increasing flexibility allowing us to run with proper form. Massage also increases the suppleness of the muscle by releasing surrounding fascia (the connective tissue that encases muscle, allowing it to glide past nearby structures). When muscles become stiff, so does the fascia and then restricted fascia becomes ‘sticky’. Sticky fascia can bind muscles together inhibiting their ability to perform to their potential!
3. Mental Fatigue
Training for an endurance event involves so much more than just sticking to your training plan. You have to ensure you are eating the right foods and in the right amount, you are hydrating adequately, you are sleeping enough, you are supplementing as required and unless you are a professional athlete, you are probably doing all of this alongside a career, family, social events and daily chores and tasks.
Constantly ticking off your to-do list can leave you in a state of mild to moderate panic and when there is no time to switch off, we can end up in a constant fight, flight or freeze state. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between the threat of a lion chasing us versus the threat of being late to a meeting and so the nervous system reacts in the same way. To restore calm and quiet a busy mind, we need to trigger our parasympathetic nervous system. Alongside meditation, breathing exercises and yoga, a sports massage is one of the quickest ways to enter this state by activating sensory receptors and increasing oxytocin. Monitoring and lowering the bodies stress response allows us to be primed for further activity meaning harder and faster training sessions and improved ability to handle daily pressure.
So in short, if you’re not already incorporating Sports Massage into your running routine, then you should definitely think about starting to. Decrease your risk of injury, improve your biomechanics and performance whilst distressing and priming your body for training. It’s a no brainer!
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