Massage Q+A: Does it Work?

Elite runners swear by massage to speed recovery, dodge injury and boost performance - now you can too

by Sam Murphy

sports massage, running, injury

How do I know which is the best kind of massage for me?

Different strokes for different folks.

"There may be more than one type of therapy that could effectively meet your needs," says Western.

Look for a practitioner who has a range of techniques at their disposal, and who can match the treatment to your particular needs at each session - which can vary every time.

"No single technique can accomplish all the aims of sports massage," says McGillycuddy. Specific or unusual problems and extreme circumstances may mean you need to look beyond general sports massage. See the Extreme Measures tips (below) for further guidance.

So how's it going to feel?

Be warned: it's not all a soft touch.

Techniques vary from the gentle 'effleurage', which is a long, relaxing gliding movement towards your heart to aid venous return, to 'petrissage', a somewhat less relaxing kneading of muscles to boost circulation and mobilise tissue.

Then there are compression techniques to promote relaxation in tight muscles or reduce sensitivity of painful 'trigger points', and friction techniques to work on scar tissue or adhered tissue that doesn't move freely because of overuse or injury.

"Scar tissue will be treated with more vigorous techniques, and adhered tissue with more gentle effleurage," says Lacey. As a rule of fingers and thumbs, don't  count on drifting off for a siesta if your problems run deeper than a tough training session.

How often should I go?

Depends on your 'why' - and your wallet.

"If you have a specific problem,  weekly treatments are beneficial while the condition is addressed," says Lacey.

Beyond that, Western believes personal preference comes into play. "Some runners find regular maintenance sessions every three or four weeks while they're training intensively work well. But the best advice is to seek treatment before a niggle becomes an injury."

How do I find a good massage therapist?

Qualifications and recommendation.

You can find a qualified therapist via the Sports Massage Association ( or the Institute of Sport and Remedial Massage ( Finding one that meets your specific needs is harder.

"Ask for recommendations from other runners," suggests Lacey. As personal preferences vary, though, the only true way to find the right person is through working with them.

Finding then sticking with the right therapist will reap rewards: "Having regular treatments with the same therapist means you both get to know what techniques work best for you," adds McSharry. Oh, and being presented with an 'extras menu' means you're definitely in the wrong place.   

Extreme Measures

Specific circumstances can demand specific remedies. Use this quick-fire guide to find the treatment you need.

Myofascial release

Good for: Stubborn niggles you can't get rid of
Fascia is a tissue that encases the muscle and basically holds everything together. It was long assumed to be a 'passive' tissue, but research has shown fascia can contract independently of the muscle it surrounds, and its condition can have a big impact on your movement and stability. Myofascial release, which can include deep massage as well as long stretches, targets fascia problems.


Good for: A full body overhaul
It sounds like an ill-fated end to some over-indulgence or other, but Rolfing is a method of deep tissue manipulation and movement education. It doesn't isolate specific areas and treatment generally lasts 10 sessions, aiming to balance your body so it can deal more efficiently with the downward force of gravity. Expect hands-on body work and movement training to improve posture, minimise aches and pains, and extend flexibility (

Graston technique

Good for: After injury or surgery
Recently finding favour among US elite athletes, this technique uses steel instruments to identify and treat scar tissue, restoring movement and function in muscles and connective tissue. It's usually followed by stretching and icing (

Deep tissue massage

Good for: Recovery from a long race
A very deep form of massage ideal for overworked muscles, stiff or immobile joints and chronically tight areas, such as the lower back and shoulders. It incorporates many of the familiar movements of traditional massage, but the strokes tend to be slower, and the pressure stronger and longer. Don't forget your 'no pain, no gain' mantra.

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Posted: 26/03/2012 at 02:18

I am training for a 50 miler and have started using sports massage - both to treat specific problems and all over legs.

One warning though. It is not relaxing. It hurts!

Posted: 21/05/2012 at 12:21

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