A Salty Guide to Sports Massage

Swedish Massage at The Spa at Foundry Park Inn
Do I really need to take it all off to get a good massage? (Photo credit: FoundryParkInn)

Do I really take all my clothes off? Do I want a male or female? What do I say before we start? Will it hurt? What if I fart?

All of those questions ran through my mind as I arrived for my first sports massage two years ago, and they might be running through yours if you’ve decided you need one as a part of your running recovery routine or to rehab an injury (learn about why you should consider sports massage here). As for me, I use sports massage as an integral part of my running recovery, and I credit it not only with rehabilitating injuries I’ve had, but with preventing minor strains from developing into further injury as well.

If you’ve decided to give sports massage a try, look no further for some tips to get you started!

What exactly am I looking for?

First, it’s important to find a specialized sports massage therapist. This is critical – your therapist needs to be specially trained to work on athletes. An ordinary therapist works well for relaxation, but a sports massage therapist has received the training necessary to maximize your recovery through body work.

My therapist is specially trained in rehabilitation, and trust me, if you’ve ever had a relaxation massage, you’ll immediately notice the difference!  Sports massages are work for both the therapist and the athlete, and you should expect to feel some discomfort as the tension is worked out of your sore and tired muscles.

Male or female?

I haven’t noticed a difference, so it’s up to what makes you feel comfortable. I prefer men, but I’ve received great massages from women. In fact, one of the deepest massages I’ve ever received was from a gal. However, the therapists that I’ve connected the most with have been male. They aren’t afraid to make me cry, and seem to know exactly how much pressure is enough without being too much.  Also, all of my therapists have been complete strangers, so even though I disrobe completely, it’s not weird because I don’t see them outside of the massage. I might feel differently if my therapist was also a friend or acquaintance.

How long should I go?

For your first time, I recommend you schedule 90 minutes, to give you time to relax and for the therapist to thoroughly do their job. I’ve found that 60 minutes every other week works great for me for maintenance and prevention, but if I’m rehabbing a more serious injury, I re-evaluate and may go more often or just for longer sessions, depending on what my therapist and I agree is a better tactic.

What happens when I get there?

When you arrive for your first appointment, your therapist should spend as much time as you need before your appointment talking about your needs. Make it clear that you are a runner, and mention any pain, areas of discomfort or target areas. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable.

After talking through your needs with the therapist, use the restroom one last time (trust me, it’s not fun to do it mid-massage), and disrobe completely… Yes, even your panties. Licensed massage therapists are professionals, and won’t get close to anything inappropriate.  If you’re really terrified and just can’t imagine baring it all, wear a thong, preferably the skimpiest one you’ve got.  Anything more will likely keep you from maximizing the benefits of a full body massage, especially if you’ve got a nagging pain in the butt!

General body massage en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayu...
Your sports massage probably won’t take place on a beach, but it can still be relaxing! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During your massage, you don’t have to talk to the therapist, but it might make you feel more comfortable your first time. Regardless, keep the dialogue open, and let the therapist know if something hurts too much, or if the pressure isn’t deep enough.

Speaking of pressure, I like my massages very deep now (so much so that it bruises sometimes), but that isn’t necessary for recovery. Communicating with your therapist allows him or her to let you know what you need and together you can decide how deep the massage will go. Pain is not required, but if you want a very low pressure massage, make sure that’s clear to your therapist, especially if you have a low pain threshold, if you’re on medication that thins your blood, or if you bruise easily for any reason.  This is something that will vary greatly from therapist to therapist and patient to patient – one runner may want a gentle touch, another may like a therapist who will really kick her butt!

[pullquote]I don’t feel like a massage has done me any good unless I’m in tears by the end of it.  It might hurt like crazy but I know it’s what my muscles need. The more it hurts during, the better I feel after! – Cinnamon[/pullquote]

Female runners should remember that our pain thresholds are lower just before our periods, at the peak of the luteal phase (thanks, progesterone!) and highest during our periods, at the beginning of the follicular phase.  Keep that in mind when scheduling your appointments!

After your massage, drink a lot of water and ice any particularly areas where the therapist went deep.  Massage can work out some toxins and water helps to flush them away. Sometimes I am sore the day of a massage, but almost always I walk out feeling better than when I walked in.  After particularly deep massages, sometimes I also having bruising, but that is normal, if not a little freaky.  Overall, however, post-massage I simply feel amazing.

Ready for your massage? What are you waiting for?


Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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    1. I’m with you! And for me, getting away for the drive time and the massage time during my therapists hours is next to impossible.