The benefits of sports massage are applicable to injuries and dysfunction in all sporting fields and in treating the inevitable tension and tightness that result from prolonged work postures. But what specific benefits can it afford certain athletic populations? In this post we’ll investigate the pay-off sports massage therapy can have for runners (elite and recreational alike).
Before we can talk about how sports massage can be effective in treating runners I think it’s essential to briefly explain the kinds of dysfunction, imbalances and subsequent injuries that can result from them.
ILIOTIBIAL BAND SYNDROME
Commonly referred to as ‘Runner’s Knee’ this is lateral knee pain that is usually felt just above the insertion of the dreaded IT band on the lateral femoral condyle (inserts on the lateral condyle of the tibia). Between 0 and 30 degrees knee flexion the ITB flicks over this bony prominence (i.e. during running). The tighter the band the more pressure, friction and the more likely a resultant inflammatory nightmare will follow your 10k. It’s also worth pointing out that the tighter your ITB gets the more active your TFL or tensor fascia lata muscle gets. This is a hip internal rotator and (among other things) can cause inhibition of the gluteus maximus, reduced pelvic stability and increase the ‘dynamic Q angle’ during stance phase which can set you up for a host of other knee problems.
Where does sports massage come in? After the acute inflammatory process has settled down significant sports massage therapy can start. Myofascial release techniques can reduce tension in the ITB and subsequently reduce tone in the TFL enabling the glutes to regain their rightful place. Trigger points (focal spots of hyperirritable skeletal muscle) can cause referred pain when palpated and usually develop from chronic muscle tension left untreated. Due to its indirect fascial attachments with the glutes medius and vastus lateralis muscles, trigger points can manifest in in these areas. Specific trigger point techniques from a sports massage therapist can release these areas of accumulated tension, restoring normal function to the tissues and eliminating referred pain.
GASTRO-SOLEUS COMPLEX TIGHTNESS
Travelling further down the kinetic chain we come to another culprit that can be responsible for pain felt at the knee and again commonly tight in runners. Shortness and/or tightness from high mileage or footwear with excessive heel cushioning can result in some compensatory biomechanical changes that can adversely affect your running. When a tight calf limits dorsiflexion (point your foot upwards) the ankle tends to compensate by over-pronating (inside arch collapsing inwards). This stretches and overtime weakens the medial ligaments of the ankle and puts adverse pressure on the knee joint.
Moving ever so slightly further down to the bottom on the calcaneus (heel bone) brings us to yet another injury that can be caused by over-pronation, plantar fasciitis. If you’re experiencing pain on the underside of your heel or on the plantar surface of your foot (especially in the morning) that tends to ease as you walk around more you may well have plantar fasciitis. Overuse, suddenly increasing your training mileage and, as per above, tight calve muscles are again another predisposing factor to developing this condition. Sports massage can help to reduce tightness in the plantar fascia itself using a variety of different techniques either to the fascia as a whole or focusing on specific nodules of tightness. Specific soft tissue mobilisations (SSTM) can also be used to restore flexibility to the fascia and prepare it for the loads/demands of running.
So in conclusion whether you have a pre-existing injury or not, sports massage therapy can help prevent you from developing these conditions, improve your performance by eliminating the passive drags of reduced flexibility and tissue elasticity and is a great adjunct to physiotherapy interventions.