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Injury Prevention: Sports Massage for Runners

Injury Prevention: Sports Massage for Runners

Now that it's spring the running season will be taking off.  If you would like to try and be injury free for the season you might find the this article form on how sports massage can help prevent injuries.  Keep an eye out for the Elements Massage tent at some of the local events.  

This week, I’m talking about injury prevention for runners, highlighting some of the most important tips and lessons I’ve learned throughout my own marathon and triathlon journey to keep me – and you – running healthy and happy. Today, I’m excited to share a strategy that often gets overlooked when we’re talking about how to prevent running injuries and/or speed recovery: sports massage.

In 2011, I was gearing up to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon. I had a fabulous winter training season and was running stronger and faster than I’d run previously to that point. I was incredibly excited to see what I was capable of after a not-so-stellar performance at the Chicago Marathon several months earlier in 2010. About 5 weeks before the race, I started to experience some pain in my right IT band (with the worst of the pain being on the outside of my knee). For a week or so, it was manageable. It hurt a little while I was running and after I finished, but I could run through it. On my last 21-mile run before the race and before my taper period began, the pain became so intense I could only run about 15 miles before I had to force myself to stop. I broke down in tears to my coach thinking about all the hard work I’d put in and the possibility of not running the race.

In addition to icing, taking a few days off, foam rolling, etc., I went to see my sports massage therapist, Tony Adams, once a week for 4 straight weeks before the race. Not only did he help me shake out of being a complete mental head case, he worked on my muscles with deep tissue massage and stretching.

On race day, I was at the start line, didn’t feel any pain during the race and ran a personal best … which still holds as my marathon PR today.



I can personally attest that for me, sports massage was, and continues to be, a huge part of my injury prevention and recovery strategy.

But are all massages created equal?

I’m excited to have Tony with me today to share more about what we as runners and triathletes should know when it comes to sports massage. Tony is a state licensed massage therapist and 2003 graduate of the Clinical Massage Program at the Atlanta School of Massage. He is an accomplished runner, with some impressive personal bests, including a 2:58 marathon, 1:20 half marathon, 37:33 10K and 17:55 5K. Tony is breaking down everything we need to know about sports massage.



“Helping others truly is my passion. It really does not feel like work. I love working with athletes and enjoy watching them reach their goals.” ~Tony Adams

What are the most common injuries you see from runners you treat?
Since the majority of my client base is runners or triathletes, some of the most common injuries I treat are illiotibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinopathies, plantar fasciitis and common muscle strains.

What are the key benefits of getting sports massages for runners and triathletes?
The benefits of sports massage are to help improve circulation, rebalance the body’s musculoskeletal system, loosen tight muscles and reduce stress on joints. All of these factors will directly improve the ability to train at a high level, thereby improving performance.

What is the difference between a sports massage and a massage at a spa?
There are many differences in sports massage and a massage at the spa. A good sports massage therapist will be familiar with the movements and muscles involved in a particular sport and will focus the massage on the areas that need the most work. Often times, the massage will not be a “full body” massage but may focus on the lower or upper extremities. Also, some of the therapies used in sports massage can be somewhat uncomfortable at times. These techniques are used to repair injured muscles and help promote the healing process.

How often should runners actively training for events get a sports massage?
I recommend weekly or bi-weekly massages during peak training. For those on a budget, you can still see major benefits from massage by getting one per month. I always recommend pre- and post -event massages for half marathons, marathons, Ironman races, ultras, etc.

If people can’t afford to get a sports massage that regularly, what do you recommend they do? Is there anything we can do at home to help prevent injury? 
For those who can’t afford regular massages, I always recommend consistent stretching and icing. Self-massage tools such as The Stick, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, etc. can supplement regular massage. I call this “maintenance work.” It’s not as fun as running, but it can help improve performance as much as speed work, diet and rest. I have many clients who have incorporated cross-training, yoga and pool running into their routine. I feel that all of the above can help prevent injury.The biggest problem that I see with injury is that most people do not address them soon enough.

What should athletes look for when trying to choose a good sports massage facility or therapist?
When looking for a good sports massage therapist, rely on running stores and other runners. In my opinion, a good therapist will be active, preferably a runner or at least understand and/or experience many of the injuries that they will address with clients. It is important they are able to relate to what you might be experiencing both physically and emotionally. They should also be willing to work with other sports-minded health care professionals, such as chiropractors, physical therapists, orthopedic doctors, podiatrists and athletic trainers.



When should runners go see a doctor vs. a sports massage therapist? 
I would recommend seeing a doctor over a sports massage therapist if you are experiencing a wound, swelling or a pain level of 10+ on a scale of 1 to 10 during weight bearing activities. I would always recommend trying to see an orthopedic doctor or general practitioner who focuses on sports-related injuries.

What are the best stretches you recommend to runners to help prevent injury? 
I typically utilize the active, isolated stretching method for clients. There are several books and Web sites with excellent diagrams and information on stretching. I always recommend stretching after runs, especially long or hard workouts. I would start with the larger muscle groups and work to the smaller ones. Most people seem to neglect stretching glutes and IT bands. Stretching these areas is vital in reducing injury and maintaining good balance.

What is your best tip for people training for a half marathon, marathon or triathlon when it comes to injury prevention?
My best tip for injury prevention would be consistent stretching and post-run ice therapy.

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