Source: Runners World
There is good reason massage therapists are part of an elite runner’s entourage. And why the lines for a postrace massage seemingly extend for miles. A rubdown—even a deep, intense one—feels great. Runners report that massages help lessen muscle tension and improve range of motion, while also making them feel relaxed and rewarded for their hard efforts.
Science’s biggest discovery is what massage can do for athletic recovery. Studies published in the Journal of Athletic Training and the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that massage after exercise reduced the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—that is, the peg-legged feeling you get two days after your marathon. And other research suggests that it improves immune function and reduces inflammation. Emory University researcher Mark Rapaport, M.D., found that just one massage treatment resulted in an increased number of several types of lymphocytes (white blood cells that play a key role in fighting infection) while also decreasing levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone” linked to chronic inflammation). “More research is needed, but it’s reasonable to think that massage could help runners taxed from exertion,” Rapaport says. It may also help curb chronic diseases. “We know that systemic inflammation is associated with a lot of deleterious effects, such as heart attack and stroke, and that it predisposes people to cancers,” he says.
The new evidence is so convincing that even the researchers have made massage a regular part of their routines: Crane, Rapaport, and Best have all become devotees as a result of their findings, and they recommend that runners follow suit. Regular massage can boost recovery and be a valuable training tool to help you run your best. “Muscle stiffness can throw off your gait, which leads to problems over time,” Sefton says. “And by getting a sense for how your body should feel when everything is in balance, you’re more likely to notice small issues before they turn into chronic problems.” Even beginning runners can benefit from massage, because alleviating the soreness that comes with starting a new sport makes people more likely to stick with it.