Is the Key to Your Recovery Regular Sports Massage?

English: A still shot taken during the video p...

The dimly lit room. The faint spicy aroma. The trickle of the water element in the corner. The chanty sounds of gongs and the lowest of low-key world music. Where are we? No, not a yoga studio. Not your hippy high school boyfriend’s pimped out basement crib.

Bingo! It’s time for a massage!

Now you might think massages are for the stressed out or for the pampered privileged set, but massages are so much more than that. In fact, if you’re looking to take your training up a notch, regular massages can be integral to getting in the miles and keeping injury at bay.


In the past, recovery was seriously lacking from my running/training routine, and I learned the hard way that neglecting that part of training was bad news. Before I got with the recovery program, I injured my hamstring not just once, but twice! As a former member of the “no pain, no gain” club – I’ve learned that I must pay attention to recovery JUST as much as I do to my training plan to meet my running goals.

In researching how to properly recover, I came across this book: the Athlete’s Guide to Recovery.  In this book, I learned the importance of sports massage and want to share why she says it should be an integral part of your recovery routing. She says massage “gives you time away from training, work, family demands, and technical devices that tether you to training, work, and family” (p. 125).  A sports massage routine results in lowered blood pressure, emotional stability, and a sense of holistic well-being.  It also has positive effects on circulation, removal of adhesions (or trigger points, cramping, and muscle spasms), and general reduction of pain. Sold!

I started getting sports massages as a part of my hamstring injury rehabilitation process.  My hamstring injury, proximal hamstring tendinitis, is actually very common for runners; the pain usually radiates from the base of our buttocks, and (in my case) was so dehabilitating that I had to stop running completely.  Stretching wasn’t enough to alleviate the pain, so massage has literally been my savior.  I’ve also found that it helps me with my flexibility, especially in my hips and hamstrings, where stretching just isn’t enough.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hobbled into my massage therapists office and felt like I was floating as I walked out.

I’m currently scheduled to have a 90 minute massage every two weeks after my long run, and I’ve been getting regular sports massages for over a year and a half now.  Over that time,  I’ve learned a few things about sports massage and choosing the right therapist:

Massage therapist working at a Triathlon in Fr...
Massage isn’t just for post-race recovery. Incorporate it regularly to maximize your recovery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Request a massage therapist that is trained to work on runners. It’s even better if they run too.  A runner has VERY different needs then a cyclist and you want to ensure that they are focusing on the right areas (i.e. IT Bands).  Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist a ton of questions before letting them work on your body to determine if they are the right therapist for you.

2.  Sports massage and deep tissue massage are completely different.  A sports massage is often targeted to a specific body part (or region) and goal (i.e. hamstring rehabilitation).  If your therapist doesn’t know the difference, it means that they are not specially trained in sports massage, and you want to avoid those therapists if your goal is running recovery.  While pain is NOT required for massage to be beneficial, keep in mind that these also aren’t for relaxation either. A good sports massage will sometimes hurt.

3.  Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist to stop, to move on, or that you want them to change the focus of the massage.  Don’t be intimidated by them because they are the professionals.  On a related note, if you do not feel comfortable and safe with them, trust yourself and find a different therapist.  Massage can be very intimate and you will not reap the full benefits of the massage if you are stressed about the therapist himself.

4.  Sports massages are expensive because you are going to a specialized therapist.  Take the cost into account; if it isn’t necessary, don’t feel like you have to do it for recovery.  I know I need it because I get injured when I try to eliminate them from my recovery routine – but it is not required for all runners.  It’s just another tool in the recovery toolbook.  When I’m not training, I reduce the number of massages I get to save money.

Sports massage is the key for me to stay healthy, but it’s only one part of my recovery routine.  Along with my rest, ice and stretching, it helps me to stay injury-free throughout my marathon training.

Do you incorporate sport massages into your recovery routine? 

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Ultrarunner, yoga teacher, academic, and feminist. I write about ultrarunning, feminism, and the intersection of running and life.

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  1. Oh how I love and hate this post at the same time. I love it because you are right, I hate it because I HATE massages. Hate ’em. But I know they are beneficial. So now I am thinking about adding them back in – particularly because my hamstrings would really appreciate it.

    1. I love/hate them too – but for me, it’s because they hurt! I had to try many therapists to find the right one too – and the “creep” factor is big for me. It’s definitely about trial and error.

  2. I LOVE massages and my massage therapist, but darn is it hard for me to find 2 child-free hours to drive there, get the massage and drive home. Sure, they’re also really expensive, but it’s the time that prevents me from indulging regularly.

    Mint, if you can swing it do it! Maybe you just need to find the right therapist?

    1. Yes, the time thing is really hard for me too. I found someone last spring that specializes in runners and she seems fine. It just makes me SO uncomfortable. I don’t like random people touching me – ugh. I HATE it. You know how some people dislike the dentist? That is how I feel about massage.

        1. It would definitely help if I did it regularly. It was fine once I got through with it – it just took a LONG time (and the advice of my coach) for me to finally go do it. Oh, and there is no way my hubby could ever pull off a sports massage. He’d get way too distracted. 🙂

  3. I am a fan of sports massage, but for those who can’t find the time and/or money, (or those who want to do some maintenance massage between appointments) self-massage techniques such as foam rolling can be the next best thing. Tennis balls or lacrosse balls can work well on smaller areas that a large foam roller can’t get to. I will always try self-massage as a first line of defense, and see a sports massage therapist only if the problem persists.

      1. Yes, agreed! My problem is with those methods is that I never have the patience to do them as long as I need to! I need a massage therapist to help me stick with it!