Should I get a massage before or after a race?
The two most common questions we get from runners are
"Is it better to get a massage before or after a race?"
The short answer is both and it depends.
There are many factors to consider and the longer answer will depend mostly on how far away is your next event and what your big picture goal is.
There is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding when the optimal time to get a massage is and what the benefits are.
The truth is, we don't really know.
That's because we don't have great data. We think massage is great for things like delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and increased performance or recovery. But due to design flaws and the need for additional research on the physiological and psychological effects of massage on athletes, even science isn't 100% positive on that.
What we do know is that massage is a great way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and is beneficial for your overall health and wellbeing.
A major consideration in choosing massage before or after a race is what is your desired outcome?
Are you looking to rehab an existing injury?, prevent new injuries, aid in muscle recovery or D all of the above?
Let's look at some of the benefits of massage pre and post event.
Massage BEFORE your race
The first thing you should consider is how far away is your event? This will dictate what type of massage and bodywork is best.
The benefits of massage with deep stretching help to free restrictions and move a joint through it's full range of motion which may help prevent future injury.
But, most manual therapy workers (massage, PT etc), myself included, will agree that getting a deep tissue massage (deep, direct, focused pressure that affects the deeper layers of tissue and fascia) or starting a new stretching or therapy routine too close to your event is a no-no.
Deep stretching could destabilize your joints in the short term and also cause you to temporarily lose power in larger muscle groups such as the quads and hamstring that can result in injuries like muscle pulls, strains and tendonitis if performed too close to an event.
So does that mean you shouldn't get a massage before a race?
Your body will benefit from a lighter, rejuvenating massage 24-36 hours before your race. A massage with longer flowing strokes that feels like it connects your head to your toes allows your body to enter a more relaxed state and helps to decrease any pre-race anxiety.
If you are experiencing pain in a certain area just before a race, site specific work can be helpful.
This type of deep massage can be done 48-72 hours before a race, without affecting your race performance.
Massage AFTER your race
Immediately after (24 to 48 hours) a race is also the ideal time to get a lighter, more relaxing massage.
Running puts your body under stress and strain, more so when you're running long distances at your peak performance level. You're creating inflammation in your muscles that needs time to resolve.
Despite what you may have heard, massage does not flush lactic acid from the muscle your body will do this naturally after a few days.
Also, deep massage immediately after a race can cause the muscle to seize up causing more soreness, increased inflammation or further irritate a muscle strain.
Besides, would YOU want someone elbow deep in your piriformis if it's already on fire?
Right about now you're probably wondering, if I'm supposed to get relaxing massages immediately before and after, what if I need deep work or worse, what if I develop an injury AT my event?
Can you get deeper work after a race or corrective work to address an existing problem such as a hamstring pull, tightness in the hips or even plantar fasciitis that is making running uncomfortable just after an event?
The answer is yes.
There are specific techniques that can help decrease pain without going deep into the tissue.
If you're already receiving regular body work, you can get deeper work 3-4 days after a race. If you're new to body work, best to wait 5-7 days.
This largely depends on your mileage and what your ultimate goal is.
These factors will determine whether you should get a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly massage.
The key to injury prevention and recovery is making massage a regular part of your routine.
It's nearly impossible to correct a chronic issue in a single session so it's important to create a treatment plan that will address both current needs and your big picture vision of the runner you want to be.