It couldn't be much more evident that running is one of the most popular forms of exercise in the United States. From the countless people who run a few times a week, to the millions of people cross marathon finish lines each year - they all could benefit from massage! Unfortunately, many of the most enthusiastic and health-conscience of these athletes may not know exactly how beneficial massage could be to their performance, preventative health, and recurring discomfort or pain. When thinking about the muscles used during the sport, the glutes, quads, hams, calves, and abdominals may immediately come to mind. There is much more to understand about the muscles that quickly move you from point a to point b, and how these muscles relate to the problems that can occur from running.
Stress fractures account for 16% of the injuries that runners endure, and they most commonly occur in the tibia, tarsal navicular, metatarsals, femur, and pelvis (Kahanov, Eberman, Games, & Wasik, 2015). Common symptoms of stress fractures include pain that gradually gets worse over time, swelling and bruising, pain during exercise, and tenderness to touch. Even if a stress fracture has not been diagnosed, a massage therapist will avoid areas that are bruised or swollen. Any area that is tender to touch and causing pain should be communicated to the massage therapist so that it can be avoided. Unfortunately, massage is not going to help a stress fracture that needs more time to heal. Please remember that some areas of pain may not be muscle related.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial (IT) band isn’t a muscle, but it is a very important stabilizer of the knee. There is a difference between having tight IT bands and having Iliotibial Band Syndrome. Iliotibial Band Syndrome is caused by inflammation of the iliotibial band near the knee, and one risk factor is preexisting iliotibial band tightness (Beals & Flanigan, 2013). Runners can stretch and roll their IT bands to their heart’s content! Note that a massage therapist may be able further to help you with different types of IT band stretches that you are not used to doing. Having the therapist use manual therapy while you relax and breath may further improve the elasticity, plus it can be much more comfortable when a professional is doing the work for you!
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or Runner’s Knee
Don’t let the name fool you! Not all runners develop Runner’s Knee, and a person doesn’t have to be a runner to get it. Tightness of the gastrocnemius, soleus, hamstrings, iliotibial band, and quadriceps may cause or be caused by Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Waryasz & McDermott, 2008). If you know you have tightness is any area of your legs, let your therapist know so that he or she can prepare to spend extra time on the tight muscles. Additionally, many therapist palpitate muscles of the client's before the massage begins, to see which ones need the most work. Ask your therapist to palpitate for tight muscles just before your next session so that they have a better idea of which muscles to spend more time on.
Patellar Tendinitis or Jumper's Knee
Patellar Tendinitis, commonly known as Jumper’s Knee, is an overuse disorder. Interventions include stretching of the quadriceps and hamstrings if there are length impairments and using transverse friction massage to reduce adhesions and aid in realigning the collagen fibers (Reinking, 2016). Ask your therapist to palpitate for length impairments and tightness of the quads and hams just before your next session; this will help you to get the most out of your massage. The therapist may decide to massage and stretch you while you are on the table. Your therapist should also be able to give you some advice on how and when to stretch your quads and hams, as well as any other areas that need lengthening.
Who hasn’t had Shin Splints? If a person increased the time they spend running too drastically, or began running up hills regularly when they were used to only running on level ground, they probably elicited the pain of Shin Splints. Even though the causal mechanisms are not fully understood, the possible main muscles involved in Shin Splints, or Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), are the soleus and the flexor digitorum longus (Franklyn, 2015). Both muscles are used when a person pushes their toes into the ground while making their heal rise. This may be why it seems easier to get shin splints when you begin walking or running up hills. Having a massage therapist massage and stretch your lower legs will not only feel great but also keep those muscles loose.
Rest is crucial for sprains, and your doctor should give you clear instructions on how to take care of yourself after an Ankle Sprain. If you can have massage during the recovery process, your therapist may also be able to help. One good question to ask them is if they can perform Manual Lymphatic Drainage. Massage therapists can use Manual Lymphatic Drainage to decrease stiffness (McGovern & Martin, 2016). You may have to see a therapist that you usually don’t book your appointments with, and it may be helpful to ask your therapist if there is anyone that they recommend if he or she doesn’t give the technique. People should become massage therapists because they want to help others, and if they do not have the training or skills, they should be happy to point you in the direction of a person who can.
It may be better to have the Achilles tendon stretched and massaged each session before Achilles Tendonitis develops. It can cause pain, and it may require rest, an ankle brace, and icing. Additionally, it can have one or a multitude of causes but generally is associated with overuse, misuse, and aging. Stretching and Deep Friction Massage can be helpful because these methods can restore tissue elasticity (Li & Hua, 2016). If the area is painful when walking or trying to gently stretch the tendon yourself, you may have to wait until it has healed enough for your therapist to work on it. Let your therapist know how long you have had the problem, as well as how your pain and activity levels have been recently. If there is inflammation, massage can cause the pain to increase.
Plantar Fasciitis is generally caused by too much force being applied to the plantar fascia. Your therapist can’t help you from developing the issue, but he or she can help if you do suffer from the condition. One of the easiest ways to treat Plantar Fasciitis is by clients using the plantar fascia-specific stretch each morning before getting out of bed, and by ice massage (Lim, How, & Tan, 2016). Your therapist can stretch the plantar fascia for you during the session and show you how to complete the stretch yourself for home care. The massage therapist can also give you tips on how long and the best times for you to do ice massage at home.
To wrap everything up, see a Licensed Massage Therapist as often as possible! You will feel amazing every time you leave your massage sessions. You may perform better and for longer if your muscles are less tight from the massage. Your therapist may be able to help you to prevent developing Iliotibial Band Syndrome, Runner’s Knee, and Achilles Tendonitis. If you do develop Patellar Tendonitis, Shin Splints, Ankle Sprains, or Plantar Fasciitis, your therapist may be able to help your pain levels decrease and to speed up the recovery process. If you need help finding a Licensed Massage Therapist in your area you can click here to review professionals that work near you. It’s important to use Licensed Massage Therapists by the state you are receiving the massage in! Why pay for a massage that is being performed by someone who may have not earned the education, passed the required examinations, become licensed, become insured, or passed a background check by the state?
Kahanov L, Eberman LE, Games KE, Wasik M. Diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of stress fractures in the lower extremity in runners. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;6:87-95. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S39512.