Post-Marathon Massage Effectiveness, A Study Is Only as Good as It’s Premise

by Sherrin Bernstein on August 5, 2015

The Running Doc (Lewis G Maharam M.D. FACSM) makes an assertion that Post-Marathon Massage Therapy is worthwhile only after two hours post event. I offer that a study such as this, is only as good as it’s premise.  It is true that two studies have shown that Massage Therapy immediately post-event shows little to no measurable results with regards to effecting positive changes to leg strength, swelling, and pain following a half-marathon (see the source links below), and perhaps it’s also true that the benefits of massage have been perhaps mostly anecdotal and yet, massage appears to make participants of sports events feel better. “…a qualitative review of participant’s comments indicated that 7 of the participants took the time to comment on the differences between the massaged and non-massaged leg. These comments included statements such as, ‘More relaxed in massaged leg’, ‘Less stiff in massaged leg’, ‘Massage leg felt better while weight lifting’, ‘Feels different between legs when walking downstairs – massage feels better’, ‘Massage leg feels less pain’, ‘Massage leg feels looser when running’. These statements are indicative of the subjective impressions of improvements that massage can make.” Yet I disagree with Hemmings’ (2001) conclusion that “research seems to suggest that massage may have positive effects (only) on perceptions of recovery.”

I venture to say that perhaps the focus of the studies were on benefits that aren’t what make people feel better. Perhaps it’s the melting of adhesions and scar tissue from the trauma of the workout or maybe it’s that touch directs the brain to relax the leg pointed out by the physical contact that makes one feel looser, stronger, better, and less pain and that is what helps us feel better. Whatever your reasons for wanting massage, published studies shouldn’t stop you from receiving what makes you feel good, just do it two hours post your event or your trainings if that’s what you want to do.

In actuality massage therapy can be a manually invasive set of modalities and therefore can be exhaustive to the muscles and the body, possibly giving your body even more to recover from, which, post event, has enough to do trying to heal itself. So I tend to agree with the Running Doc that post event massage should occur at least two hours after finishing so the body’s systems have time to the remove the by-products of exercise. He says that: “After two hours these by-products of exercise have been naturally removed and buffered to a neutral pH.” Makes sense to me. So schedule your post event massage therapy sessions after you have some water, have taken a nap and a little nosh and by the time you get to your appointment, you should be good to go. Just be sure to follow the recommended 30m between the time you eat and the time you get your massage!

Sources:
Evaluating the Influence of Massage on Leg Strength, Swelling, and Pain Following a Half-Marathon
J Sports Sci Med. 2004 Nov; 3(YISI 1): 37–43.
Published online 2004 Nov 1.
PMCID: PMC3990931
Lance G. Dawson,1, Kimberley A. Dawson,2, and Peter M. Tiidus,1
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990931/

Running Doc: Why runners shouldn’t get a massage right after a marathon
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Monday, May 11, 2015, 2:13 PM
Lewis G Maharam M.D. FACSM
http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/running-doc-shouldn-post-marathon-massage-article-1.2218048

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