The soreness that you’re feeling is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is commonly thought to be caused by the body’s inflammatory response to micro-tears in muscle fibers resulting from activities like running, which produces repeated weight-bearing eccentric muscle contractions. Once these micro-tears have healed, the newly produced muscle fibers are stronger and more adaptable to the kinds of stress that led to micro-tearing in the first place, but it can be a painful process.
In the first few days after the race, it’s important to support your depleted, healing body with plenty of rest, hydration, and nutritious food. Beyond that, to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with DOMS, studies have shown that massage therapy is often effective. However, take care to avoid any deep pressure massage for at least seven days or until DOMS resolves, as it can further damage delicate healing tissue. Work with a massage therapist who has experience in sports massage, and don’t be shy about communicating your preferences to the therapist before and during the massage session. If the work feels too deep, speak up!
To combat the stiffness that often accompanies DOMS, a warm-water bath or short soak in a hot tub followed by some gentle movement or light stretching can help in the early days following the race. A continued active recovery utilizing yoga or low-impact aerobic exercise such as walking, elliptical, swimming, or cycling can also increase blood flow to muscle tissue and reduce post-marathon discomfort until you are ready to start running again.
Listen to your body, and congratulations on the race!
Please note: If your pain is very sharp and localized or increases over time despite proper after-care, consult your doctor.
Michele Naumann Carlstrom, LMT, is a massage therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center. She is a NYS board-certified therapist who has been practicing medical-based massage since 2007. Michele is certified in Advanced Sports Massage and has worked with several professional athletes. She enjoys exploring the vast potential of massage therapy, particularly when used alongside physical therapy, as a powerful facilitator of healing, mobility, and athletic efficiency.