A Good Rub
by Lance Carter-Rodolph
Massage therapy plays an essential role in maintaining health for athletes. Runners should
receive massage regularly as part of a balanced training program that also includes proper
training, stretching and nutrition. Integrating massage into your training routine will improve
your body's natural ability to recover, help with injury prevention and improve athletic
performance. Plus, it just feels good!
John Duquette, a sub-10 hour Ironman triathlete is a firm believer in the importance of
massage. "Massage is an integral part of my training plan. During the season when I am
racing hard, often several times a month, I depend on massage to help my body recover
As a runner you continually stress your muscles often causing micro-tears within the muscle
fibers as well as a build-up of waste products. Your muscles need oxygen to function properly
and efficiently, nutrients such as amino acids to repair damaged muscle fibers and lymphatic
fluid to carry waste products away from the muscles. Oxygen, nutrients, and lymphatic fluid are
transported through your body via the blood stream. Massage markedly increases your body's
recovery rate by increasing blood flow within your circulatory system so oxygen arrives faster,
amino acids are delivered more quickly and the waste products get moved rapidly away from the
Runners' muscles are contracted in a relatively shortened range of motion for long periods of
time. These "tight" muscles cause extra strain to be placed on tendons and may result
in common injuries like Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis, Illiotibial (IT) Band Syndrome,
and Shin Splints. Adhesions that are formed within the fascia (connective tissue) surrounding
muscle fibers can also cause tightness. Massage breaks up adhesions as well as broadens and
lengthens muscle fibers. Freeing up fascia in and around muscles and creating length within
muscles helps prevent injury because it reduces the strain placed upon tendons.
Staying healthy and preventing injury lead to improved athletic performance. Increasing range
of motion in the hip, knee, and ankle joints by releasing and lengthening leg muscles through
massage can increase stride length, which will, in turn, increase running speed and thus
improve performance. Whether you run for stress relief, pure enjoyment or in competition,
massage can be extremely beneficial and will improve athletic performance.
Another benefit of receiving massage is relaxation. By simply putting the body in a highly
relaxed state, the body begins to repair itself. Self-massage requires you to be active and
thus you miss out on this added benefit of relaxation. Nevertheless, self-massage can be very
effective, especially at the onset of an injury. Massage tools make self-massage much easier.
The following is a list of effective self-massage techniques. You could easily combine all of
these techniques together and create a post-run routine. Do each exercise for a couple of
- Plantar Fascia
Located on the bottom of the foot, tight fascia can lead to a very sharp pain felt at the base
of the heel known as Plantar Fasciitis. Use a frozen water bottle to perform an ice massage for
this area. Alternatively, use a golf ball to help break up scar tissue that has formed within
the fascia. With both of these techniques, place the frozen water bottle or golf ball on the
floor and roll the bottom side of your foot back and forth over the massage tool.
- Calves, IT Band, Quadriceps, and Hamstring
"The Stick" is very helpful in massaging
these areas. I have a recurring Achilles Tendonitis injury that creeps up on me when I
incorporate speed work into my training. I have found that a few minutes of using The Stick on
my calves before and after my training runs keeps the problem from getting serious.
- Gluteal Muscle
The IT Band, which is a common injury among runners, is actually the tendonous insertion of the
gluteus maximus and the tensor fascia latae (TFL) muscles. Unlike other tendons, the IT Band is
extremely long as it extends from your hip to knee. When the muscles are strained and shortened
they place extra tension along the IT Band. Releasing these muscles reduces the tension along
the IT Band. Another gluteal muscle that can cause runners excruciating pain is the piriformis
muscle. When this muscle becomes overly contracted it can compress the sciatic nerve and cause
pain to shoot down through the butt and leg.
Use a tennis ball to massage and release your gluteal muscles. Sit on the floor and place a
tennis ball under your gluteus maximus. Use your arms to control your body weight and the
amount of pressure you find to be most beneficial. Move your hips around over the tennis
Recently I recommended this technique to Kerry Ruth, Team in Training participant, who said,
"In dealing with herniated disks in the low back region, much of my pain protrudes into my
glutes and eventually into my legs. In the absence of massage, I have found that placing a
tennis ball under my glutes relieves the intensity of the pain."
About the author: Lance Carter-Rodolph lives in the Pacific Northwest where he is opening
a running store, Everyday Athlete, in Kirkland, Washington. Lance is also a massage therapist
and coach for Team in Training. He has completed 4 Ironman distance triathlons (PR 10:18) and
several marathons (PR 3:09).