I used to think that getting a massage was a luxury I couldn’t afford. I saw no value in lying on a table having someone “rub me down.” My resistant attitude towards massage faded as I aged beyond my twenties and continued to get injured from the miles upon miles I was logging. I decided to give it a try.
Luckily, my physical therapist knew a great massage therapist and referred me. After my first session, I was hooked. I scheduled monthly appointments, just for maintenance, injured or not.
Massage is helpful for several reasons. When injured, massage can speed healing by increasing circulation, releasing endorphins and flushing waste products from the body. Recently, science has taken an interest in massage, and research shows that massage has benefits beyond 'feeling better'. When uninjured it’s important to continue to get massages. I try to see my therapist every three to four weeks, just for maintenance. These sessions release areas of concern that, left untreated, could become injuries. And finally, it just feels good to be able to relax with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
To find someone, look for referrals. And don’t stop there, massage therapists are not all equal in terms of skill and personality. If you are not happy with the massage you have gotten, first tell the therapist so that they might give you a partial or full refund, and second, start looking around for someone else. I highly recommend finding time to chat before your first appointment so you can determine if that person is a good fit for your needs and personality. As a runner, I do think it is important for the therapist to understand a runner’s needs/injury prone areas and habits, but the therapist need not be a runner themselves. Keep in mind that while experience is important, it is not always the best indicator of skill. I have had some really good “green” therapists and some really bad “seasoned” ones who can’t seem to resolve the problem.
Keep in mind that our bodies all respond differently to massage. Some can get a massage the day of an event and feel wonderful. Personally I typically feel sluggish and sleepy after any massage work, so I schedule them carefully into my training cycles. After several sessions, you will learn how your body responds.
As you start looking, you will notice that massage therapists specialize or are trained in certain modalities. Some of the more common types of massage are described below:
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT): This type of massage uses soft tissue manipulation to balance the body’s central nervous system with the musculoskeletal system. The outcome of the therapy is to help relieve pain and dysfunction by alleviating the underlying cause using trigger point release.
Swedish: This type of massage uses a variety of techniques specifically designed to relax muscles by applying pressure to them and rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart. It involves the use of kneading, stroking, friction, tapping, and vibration and may provide relief from stiffness, numbness, pain and other health problems. The main purpose of Swedish massage is to increase the oxygen flow in the blood and release toxins from the muscles.
Deep tissue: Deep tissue massage is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue or fascia. This type of massage focuses on the muscles located below the surface of the top muscles. Deep tissue massage is often recommended for individuals who experience consistent pain, are involved in heavy physical activity such as athletes, and patients who have sustained physical injury. Sessions can be quite intense due to the deliberate, focused work.
Myofascial release: This massage modality stretches the fascia and releases bonds between fascia, integument, and muscles, with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and equilibrioception. Myofascial release usually involves applying shear compression or tension in various directions.
Sports massage: This modality includes pre-event, inter-event, post-event and maintenance/training treatments, each of which promote greater athletic performance and reduce injury risk. Sports massage includes a variety of massage modalities, including assisted therapeutic stretching, myofascial release, neuromuscular release, lymphatic drainage, compressions. This modality focuses primarily on the muscles relevant to one's particular athletic activity.
Julie Bergfeld is a “Master” master’s runner who lives and trains in St. Louis, Missouri. Bergfeld has run more than 20 marathons and two 50K races. She is also a Certified Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher.