I love a massage, there is no getting away from it. In fact before I started running I used to love a massage. But now that I train and run regularly, I find that a massage has gone from almost a pleasure that I afford myself to a necessity.
But there is actually not all that much scientific research on the benefits of massage that I can find (if you have any, please post a link in the comments section!) A little like ice-baths, there seems to be more anecdotal than empirical evidence for their value. But given the range of types of massage on offer, I think that there is most certainly a market and that wouldn’t exist if there weren’t benefits, however intangible.
So what should you be doing?
I believe that if you can have a massage once a month then you should. More than that could be a bit indulgent and actually not have that much more benefit. And there is the cost factor. Once a month seems to be regular enough for ‘normal runners’ (I know that many elite athletes are on the masseurs table at least once a week and often more than that) and then you can always throw in another one if you have a niggle or something that needs working on in between your regular sessions.
As far as what to go for, I would say that you should see a sports specialist. Anyone that isn’t familiar with the rigours of regular training is unlikely to know exactly what is required and there is no value in seeing someone who is too soft, too hard or simply doesn’t know which areas to concentrate on.
I would also say that many chiropractors and osteopaths offer sports massage and their intimate and specialist knowledge of the human anatomy means that they can treat any little issues that they find as they go. I tend to also always have a look at the books that a practitioner has in their massage room or in the surgery and have yet to find one where the books are about athletes physiology and specific injury treatment or prevention, where I have not had a great treatment.
How to choose your masseur
It is also important that you choose someone you are comfortable with in an environment you are comfortable in. Lets be honest here, we are talking about a stranger (certainly to begin with) rubbing your skin with oils and, if they are doing their job right, getting into some pretty intimate muscles – glutes, anyone? If you don’t feel comfortable, you will be tense and that is not great for you or the masseur trying to loosen off your muscles.
As far as which type of massage to go for, I think that there are lots that can help. This article in Competitor Magazine describes four of the most common and is worth a read.
But for me, I tend to not worry what the massage is called. The person that I go to see, Chris Wilson at BodyLab in Islington, London, has never discussed the actual type of massage he uses, but he is a runner and triathlete and knows what needs to be done to keep me feeling supple and uninjured. I am sure it is a hybrid of all the things he has learned and I feel completely safe in his hands.
So there you have it: massage – possibly one of the best things you can invest in as a runner and if you find the right person, a great way to keep your body in great shape.