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Ups and Downs for Massages for Runners

Ups and Downs for Massages for RunnersThere are many benefits and downsides of getting massages for runners or for any athlete. Amongst the upsides are that they can feel great for most people so the relaxation that comes with that can be a great mental benefit after a strenuous run or workout. Many surveys have been conducted of runners’ post run who get a massage compared to those who do not and those who did report reduced muscle tension and a great range of motion which leads to the mental benefit. The recovery times seem to be lower with massages, but it is hard to say if it is just a placebo effect or something real. Either way, it can be a great way to increase blood flow which theoretically should allow nutrients to get to muscles more efficiently and allow the body to get rid of waste easier as well, which would make the perceived effect make sense.

While the upsides of a massage have been discussed extensively in the literature and through various reports, there are some downsides that should not be overlooked. For one, the cost can be high if you are hiring a professional. This should always be a key consideration in whether or not to make the investment- the expected return on the cost. Also, as stated before if it is just a placebo effect then it really may not be worth it, especially if you can find something else that gives you a similar impact. In fact, Dr. Justin Crame of McMaster University says that there is not really much strong evidence to support the conclusion that massages help recovery or feeling better after a run. There are many claims floating about dating back to various “experts” and even ancient times, but nothing that has really been showing through rigorous scientific study. There are many studies out there but they are not of strong scientific design or they are very small in terms of people included so they cannot be generalized or really even used to describe any effect.

By applying pressure to tissues as you do in a massage, the tissue can soften so that clenched muscles can, in turn, relax according to a kinesiology professor from Auburn. She does not buy the notion that toxins, etc. can be removed from the body because of massage, but she does see the difference in muscle relaxation.

Ultimately the jury is still out on whether or not massages can help drive recovery or if they are just an amusing nice to have. More robust studies are really the only thing that can solve the debate, but true randomized controlled trials with large enough samples sizes can be expensive to run. Also, with massages, control groups are a bit hard since it is easy to tell who is and is not getting a massage. Despite these challenges, it is still possible to create strong scientific studies for us to gain a better understanding into whether many athletes are actually helping their bodies or just buying into a fad.

Picture Credit: KeithJJ

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