It was about my 10th week of running in college when I developed my first running injury! Apparently, when one goes from running about 20 miles a week to running 80 miles a week in 5 weeks, they will develop IT band syndrome! Who knew?! I was freaked out!!!! It felt like I couldn’t bend my knee and the side of my leg was on fire. I went to see a couple of docs recommended by our athletic trainer, and it seemed their only solution was some strength exercises, a shot of cortisone and/or surgery. I did the strength, stretching, pool running and swimming with no success for 4 weeks. Coincidentally, those 4 weeks are when I developed my hatred for swimming and pool running!
FINALLY, my assistant coach at the time, Scotty Strand, mentioned a massage therapist he’d been visiting consistently for a while and maybe I should go for a visit. Why it took 3 and a half weeks to divulge that information, I’m not sure! Scott also mentioned he wanted to go with me once I made the appointment. I wasn’t really sure the reason behind his eagerness to come with, but it didn’t take long to figure it out. Ole Ron asked me to lay on my side and handed me a towel. I said, “What’s the towel for?”! Both Scott and Ron smiled as Ron proceeded to dig into my right IT band! THE most painful 30 minutes of my life followed, and as promised, I figured out the towel was to clinch between my teeth!! Oh yeah, and Scott came along to sit in the corner and laugh at me!
That was a Monday. On Tuesday, I woke up to go try to do my morning run, which had ended at about 1 mile on the previous attempts. Other than a bit of soreness, my IT band didn’t flare up, my knee didn’t lock up, and I was able too complete my 4 mile morning run! Not only that, I competed in our conference cross country meet the following Saturday, with no pain! Well, no IT band pain anyway!
My point to that story, it was the first time I realized the benefit of massage therapy for athletes, and attending massage therapy school after college only further reinforced that fact! While in massage therapy school not only did I get the added benefit of weekly massages for education sake, I also had to seek out volunteers to work on to complete the necessary “body work” hours in order to graduate. My volunteers of course were runners, which gave me a “hands on” (pun intended) view of how massage improved performance, prevented injury, and aided in recovery.
Now, if you’re like me, you can’t afford a weekly massage appointment. To remedy this issue, over the past few years, quite a few tools have hit the market to allow any individual to basically give themselves a massage. The two I like the most are The Stick and the foam roller. To give each a poor description. The Stick is pretty much a modified rolling pin made of strong plastic with ergonomic handles and segmented spindles over the shaft to independently roll over muscle. The foam roller is a large cylinder made of foam, and that’s it. They both sound pretty simple, and we’re all saying to ourselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?”! The basic premise for each is to roll over muscles to massage.
My favorite is the Stick! We carry two at our stores, the Sprinter Stick and the Marathon Stick. I recommend the Sprinter Stick to those who like deep tissue massage and the Marathon Stick to those who prefer a more sensitive massage. I prefer The Stick because I can use it to target smaller muscle groups and can manipulate it better to increase or decrease pressure. It works especially well on calves, Achilles tendons, and you can lay it on the ground to roll your feet over to loosen up plantar fascia tendons. You can also use it on neck and shoulder muscles, an often forgotten and tight area on runners who tend to tense up and lift their shoulders while running.
Honestly, I’ve just started using the foam roller! Mainly, because I’m lazy and don’t necessarily enjoy having to get into different “poses” to stretch or massage! That being said, it is by far the best tool to help work on IT bands, hamstrings, quads, glutes and TFL’s (look that one up). Click HERE to see a really good demonstration on how it works. The idea is to use your body weight to apply pressure and to roll back and forth to massage any particular muscle group.
OK, so when do you use them? Before, after, during, it doesn’t really matter! The basic affects of massage are to loosen up muscle fibers and stimulate blood flow, both of which help warm up muscles before a workout, prevent tightness during a workout, and flush lactic acid after a workout. I am definitely not saying to forget about going to see a professional from time to time, but in the meantime, The Stick and foam roller are very useful in enhancing performance and recovering from hard, long workouts or injury!