Have you ever run in a race and noticed the many vendors and tents at the finish line? Often times these vendors include nutrition, hydration, clothing, massage, and other swag. We are going to focus on the massage and pneumatic compression (the things that are there make us feel better after running long distances). Because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to get a massage after running 26.2 miles?
In more recent years there has been an increase in modalities, such as massage, but also in pneumatic compression (those compressing leg wraps) for post-race recovery. When I attend races I often see that the massage waiting line is longer then it took to run the race. Why this and what benefits are we getting out of this?
Often times we get the massage because we believe that massage will help us heal from our race at a faster rate. Post-race massage is meant to decrease swelling in your legs and improve the filtering of lactic acid which is created during prolonged exercise. Similarly to a wonderful massage there is pneumatic compression. These are wonderful air filled socks that alternate compression throughout your lower extremity, creating a pumping feeling. The goal of these devices is similar to massage (plus you get to lay quietly on your couch with a nice book or magazine). We often think “That is amazing and then I will feel like a million bucks after!” So then, why doesn’t everyone do this? Well the problem is that these machines often cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
This post is not really on how effective massage or pneumatic compression are on post-race recovery, but rather on the ineffectiveness. In a recent study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, authors found that there are no lasting effects of massage or pneumatic compression post-race. This study was performed only on Ultra Marathoners after running 161 km race and not just your everyday Marathon or ½ Marathon, so that does need to be taken into consideration. Researchers found that a post-race massage of 20 minutes or pneumatic compression for the same time do not have any lasting effects on recovery. The study even mentioned the use of other modalities such as NSAID’s (over the counter anti-inflammatories such as Advil or Aleve), cold water immersion, and compression garments. All of these techniques showed no change on the results, with no lasting effects on muscle recovery post ultra-marathon.
Why then do we do this? Well, to me a good massage is worth its weight in gold, and subjectively I do feel better. But I do have to admit when I reflect on this I don’t know that a massage ever made me feel as though I’ve recovered better the next day. I have also never tried pneumatic compression, in honesty.
What should you do? Based on this study, nothing but let your body rest and recover from the damage that has been done it. Your body has to absorb all the blood creatine kinase (CK) which is created from damaging muscles. This is a natural process of recovery but according to this study cannot be enhanced by massage or compression.
However, the mind is a powerful tool, and if the massage or compression feels good, it’s not going to do any harm to try it out!
For your optimal recovery please consult your Coach, Physical Therapist, Trainer or Doctor.