Sports Massage for Marathon Runners

Sports massage is a form of deep tissue massage, designed to help prevent injuries and improve performance. It is particularly useful for those undertaking intensive training for endurance events and running is no exception.

Running consists of repeated contractions of all muscle groups in the legs and even the trunk and arms to propel the body forward and maintain balance as we do so. Repeated contractions over long time periods result in muscle shortening and increased muscle tone or ‘tightness’ as it is often referred to. This is particularly true when increasing the intensity of your training and subjecting the muscles to forces which they are not accustomed to, as when training for a marathon.

Tight muscles can have numerous adverse effects on the way the body functions. Firstly, the increase in tension impairs the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the cells, as well as the removal of metabolites (by-products of energy production). This means that the muscles do not perform as well and recover and heal slower. Secondly, tight muscles contribute to biomechanical issues. A tight muscle in one area can alter our movement patterns to make up for the inflexibility at the associated joint, resulting in additional strain on other muscles and structures (such as tendons etc).

Finally, muscle tension inhibits its extensibility and shock absorbency, predisposing the tissue to strain and so injury.

Sports massage is a treatment form capable of correcting these problems. Sports massage: · Increases the blood flow to muscle groups, thus increasing nutrient and oxygen delivery for improved healing, recovery and performance.

• Increased circulation also reduces muscle soreness and fatigue.
• Increases muscle elasticity, reducing muscle tone and so improving joint function.
• Breaks down scar tissue and adhesions from old, current and developing injuries.
• Reduces stress by decreasing cortical levels and increasing serotonin levels.
• Deactivates symptomatic trigger points

Sports Massage for Runners

Whilst it may seem obvious that runners usually require sports massage work on their legs, there are certain areas which tend to require particular attention in order to prevent typical running injuries occurring.

Gluteus Medius

Gluteus Medius is one of the three Glutei muscles found in the buttock. It is located towards the top of this area, just below the pelvic bone. It is particularly important in runners as part of its function is to maintain hip abduction during single leg weight bearing. What this means to runners, is that when on one leg, the glute med stops the non-weight bearing hip from dropping down, below the level of the opposite hip. If this happens, it can contribute to a number of injuries including IT band syndrome and hip bursitis. Massage can help maintain the gluteus medius in good condition and enable it to perform its job effectively.

Iliotibial Band

The Iiliotibial band is a long band of fascia which runs from the outer hip, down the outer thigh and attaches just below the outer knee joint. It is synonymous with the injury IT Band Syndrome (often referred to as runner s knee) which causes pain on the outer knee joint due to repeated friction of the band over the lateral condyle of the femur.

Some people naturally have a tight IT band and in others, running can increase this tension due to other instabilities in the hip. Sports massage can be effective in reducing tension in the IT band, especially myofascial release techniques. A foam roller can be used to perform self-myofascial release as home.

Calf muscles

The calf muscles are a frequent source of pain for runners who come into my clinic. They are a relatively small muscle group which are responsible for lifting the entire bodyweight and propelling it forwards. No wonder they become tight! However, there are plenty of other factors which can contribute to tension developing in these muscles. Unsupported over-pronation at the foot, previous ankle injuries and the wearing of high heeled shoes are probably the most common causes. Sports massage can really help to increase the flexibility of this muscle group, although this should be used in conjunction with a home stretching programme and addressing the cause of the problem.

Hip flexors

The hip flexors are the muscles at the front of the hip which raise the leg. These commonly become tight, not due to stresses from running, but due to prolonged sitting. These muscles should be stretched daily and incorporated into a runner’s sports massage treatment to prevent other injuries developing. If tight, the hip flexors cause an anterior rotation of the pelvis, which in turn lengthens the glutes which can cause mis -firing or inhibition.

Gluteus Maximus is one of the main powerhouse muscles when running. A lack of glute max contraction places more strain on the hamstrings which can cause hamstring tightness or even injury and also a reduced tension on the thoracolumbar fascia of the lower back, resulting in sacroiliac or and lumbar instability and pain!

Importance of associated exercises

Whilst sports massage is very effective at reducing muscle tension, in order to achieve maximal benefits the runner should also be targeting these areas at home, between massage treatments. Stretching exercises for the tight muscle group should be demonstrated to the runner and they should be advised on frequency and duration of stretching.
It may not be just the tight muscle that requires attention. A thorough examination by the therapist will help to identify areas of muscle imbalance which may be contributing to the increased stress on the tight muscle group. Strengthening and stretching exercises for those areas should also be demonstrated.


The frequency of sports massage treatments is very much a personal decision which may be influenced by other factors such as free time and disposable income. Ideally, to get optimal results, sport massage should be applied at least weekly. Leaving too long between appointments means that the effects from the last treatment are reduced (especially so if training continues and other exercises are not adhered to!) and the therapist has to start again from the beginning as it were!

If regular sports massage from a qualified therapist is not an option, self massage can be used on many areas. Small pieces of equipment such as foam rollers and tennis balls make great massagers and can really help to maintain benefits in-between professional treatments.


In the run up to an event, most runners will have a training plan to stick to which includes a pre-event taper period, followed by 2-5 days complete rest to allow the body to recover and prepare for maximal exertion. It is in this rest period that a runner should be looking to have their final sports massage treatment. You don’t want to have a thorough massage the day before a race as your body needs time to recover from such intense pressure and any residual aching to diminish. 2-3 days before is ideal.

Many races now offer pre and post event massage which are a good idea but differ significantly to the type of sports massage you may be used to from your therapist. The aim of a pre-event massage is to warm the muscles and get the blood flowing, not to work deeply into the muscle tissues. Everything should be fairly superficial with no specific areas of deep pressure.


Again, many races now offer post-event massage and again this is a good idea. It should be brief and light, with the aim of improving circulation, lymph drainage and reducing any initial muscle tension. It is advisable to wait at least 48 hours after your event before having a full sports massage. This will give any residual soreness time to ease and any acute injuries time to settle.

If you have any questions regarding sports remedial massage therapy or pre and post event massage please contact me at


Mark Povey - Massage Therapist

By Mark on 18th Nov 2013   Share |

Posts are verified before being displayed - so will not appear immediately. Thank you.
[no html]

Please enter the characters displayed above  [ Different Image ]