Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Give your body an MOT! (written for UK Athletics 09/08).

Legs feeling heavy and tired? Muscles so tight, they feel like bricks? In pain from strains, tears or knots? Then you should think about treating yourself to a sports massage or physiotherapy session, writes Run Britain editor, NICOLA BAMFORD.

As a long-distance runner, I personally feel that my body needs a massage at least twice a month. Normally, I’ll have a massage every week, regardless of whether I’m racing or not, and they’ll always be two days before a race, or when I have a rest or ‘easy’ day the following day.
I’m very fortunate in that I have regular access to a qualified sports masseur, who not only charges me a decent rate for these weekly hour-long sessions, but also even does home visits.

As an athlete on high-mileage and in a heavy gym schedule, I feel the volume of my training load requires regular ‘flush outs’ from massage, to ensure I stay injury-free and as fresh as possible.
Barely a week goes by when I don’t moan about tight quads or calves, so I see massage (and by this, I mean deep-tissue manipulation – it’s not for the faint-hearted!) as a vital component to my training and development.

I have ice-baths after hard sessions in the winter and occasionally wear compression socks after races or tough workouts, but nothing beats a weekly pummel!

At the end of each season, too, I’ll endure a few MOT ‘strip-downs’; where a sports masseur will literally strip the muscles back to their pre-season state – ouch! - The mere memory of this ordeal brings tears back to my eyes!

But the benefits to massage are numerous; improved recovery between sessions, relaxation, pain-relief, decrease of swelling and increase of movement.

For you massage and physio virgins out there, my advice to you is - be prepared! –always take a pair of shorts to wear of the massage table and RELAX! – The more tense you are on the bed, the more pain you’ll put yourself through. Remember – it’ll do you the World of good in the end – no pain, no gain as they say!

And don’t just take my advice either – 2:28 marathon queen and Beijing hope; Liz Yelling explains; “A weekly massage is essential in keeping me injury free, by working out tight areas that may potentially cause an injury if left alone. Being injury free is essential in consistent training week after week, helping you to be the best you can be.”

2:13 marathoner and Beijing hope; Dan Robinson agrees; saying; "If you can arrange for a massage once in a while or more regularly if you're able, you'll certainly benefit and feel rejuvenated. It is also a great way of keeping clear of injury. I have a weekly massage and see a chiropractor regularly too. Touch wood, but I haven't had anything more than a niggle for 3 years."

Sports massage and soft tissue injury specialist, Michael McIntosh confirms the need for athletes to incorporate massage treatment into their training regimes; “Top athletes have maintenance massage virtually every day due to the high demands training places on the body. With lower training loads though, the demands on the body are not as high therefore massage should not be needed as often.

The frequency that a regular runner should have a massage depends very much on training load, financial cost, availability, and their own recognition as to when their muscles are tight, sore and fatigued.”

Citing the different types of massage as pre-event, during-event, post-event, maintenance and remedial, Hollingsworth also offers his advice; “When selecting a practitioner, make sure they are qualified; bodies such as The Sports Massage Association can provide information on practitioners registered with them. If at all possible, select a practitioner who has an understanding of running and has experienced taking part in the events the client is participating in.”

2:25 marathoner and Beijing-bound Mara Yamauchi divulges; ”I have massage every day when I am training hard because it really helps me to recover and avoid injuries, but any amount of massage, however small, is usually beneficial. Professional masseurs/physios are generally very good but a friend/fellow runner/family member can often be just as good with a little practice and guidance from you, the patient. So don’t overlook people around you who could be very good at massage and save you travel time and money.”

European 800m bronze-medalist, Becky Lyne has become accustomed to treatment whilst enduring an injury-plagued career so far; “I get massage twice a week and find it's great for recovery as well as eliminating niggles and identifying potential problems.”

Sometimes athletes may require physiotherapy to sort out an injury. Team GB physio; Alison Rose has been working with international athletes for 14 years; covering two Olympic Games and a plethora of World and European Championships, treating highly-successful athletes such as Dame Kelly Holmes and Lyne along the way.

The former British international marathon runner explained, “The main thing is to use someone who knows sport; preferably running and someone who’s got a good track record. Ideally, you should go on personal recommendation and you need someone with a good range of experience and knowledge of functional rehabilitation.”

“If you’re injured, you need to get the right advice – if they’re a good physio, they should pinpoint the cause and help you to self-manage the problem, rather than coming back twenty-five times.”

“MOT’s are important – I have people coming from all over the UK. If physios know the athlete and their body, can instantly tell what’s wrong.”

Rose emphasised her top tip, saying; “Be wary of physios wanting you to sign up for lots of sessions – it shouldn’t take more than three sessions for you to see an improvement.”

Vaughan Cooper; a registered osteopath, with over 20-years’ experience including working with Olympic squads also gave his expert advice on the topic; “All therapies and therapists work slightly differently and you need to research the particular practitioner to see what the majority of their treatment involves. Osteopaths tend to treat all areas of the body and I personally concentrate on muscles, tendons, ligaments, soft tissue as well as some manipulation of joints if needed. I treat acute injuries as well as ongoing chronic problems that require ‘maintenance’. Osteopaths can also work to help rehabilitation after injury or surgery or be able to advise if referral to a specialist is needed.”

Cooper cites the key to being able to sustain a steady training schedule with the lowest risk of injury as knowing to “STOP training at the first sign of pain and rest for at least 10 days, as almost no injury can resolve quicker than this and then to begin training again very slowly; taking at least 3-weeks to build up to your pre-injured state. If the problem shows any singe of returning you should consult a qualified therapist.”

He additionally advises; “when looking for a therapist, the best advice is to ask around within your own sport for advice on who is experienced at treating sports people. Ask your friends and also ask the therapist if they have an interest in sports injuries and what experience they have in this field. Most will be happy to discuss this with you, but do not expect a diagnosis over the phone! They will need to take a case history and examine you before they can do this. These people have your best interests at heart and it is worth taking their advice and acting on it - don't pay for it and then ignore it!!” – Wise words indeed!

· For further information on the above-mentioned practionners, please contact:

- Alison Rose at www.alirose.net or call 01132-750606

- Vaughan Cooper at www.vaughancooperosteopath.com or call 01159-461699

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