“I have noticed that more and more races are not having massage therapists at the finish. Why is this? I always like that massage after a race!” – Billy W., East Hampton, NY
Great question, Billy. I get this question at each marathon expo and I think it is time that everyone knows the answer.
Yes, marathon medical directors and race organizers who understand running physiology have limited massage in finish areas. Of course it feels good to be touched, but medical science has taught us that it is not the best thing for runners at this time.
Here is why:
When you run a race, your body uses its energy stores and makes lactic acid as a by-product. If you have a massage within the first two hours of finishing a race, you move that acid around, causing more cellular damage and more soreness and inflammation the next day. After two hours, the body naturally buffers this acid (returning it to a neutral pH); then it is advisable to get a massage to move by-products out of your muscles. Obviously, race organizers don’t want participants hanging out for two hours waiting for a massage. You would be better served to make an appointment with a local massage therapist after returning home or to your hotel.
So what can you do to lessen post-event muscle soreness? Try these tips for less soreness the next day:
•Ice and ice bath when you return home.
•Cool showers for a day or two. Warm water or heat will cause more inflammation.
•Stay away from ICY HOT and BIOFREEZE and the like. They work by a chemical that again makes inflammation “hotter.”
•Try to get a massage anywhere from two to six hours after finishing. That is the best time to get the buffered by-products out.
•After you are eating and urinating normally, taking a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) may be of assistance.
If you do all this, you will feel way better the next day than if you got a massage right after you finish.
Enjoy the ride.
Lewis G. Maharam, MD, FACSM
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