Endurance Running Recovery: Examining the Options

Jun 16, 2017

Lauren Keel

by Lauren Keel
PTA, AT, CES | South Chandler Location

You just competed in a long-distance run and pushed your body harder than ever. One thing to be aware of is DOMS, otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness, which tends to set in after a day or two.
Upon onset, muscle soreness will be very severe and leg motion can be restricted. Training for a 5K, 10K, 15K, half-marathon, or full marathon takes great discipline and preparation. The team at Foothills Sports Medicine is always happy to help with physical therapy for pain in your legs post-race. Here are some of my favorite options to decrease the effects of DOMS and speed up recovery.
So much of what goes into a marathon is preparation pre-race, without much thought into what comes post-race. Immediately after running my first half marathon I was extremely sore, but I didn’t know how tough the next few days would be to get through. I went back to work the next day extremely sore and with a black toenail! To get some relief, I decided to cool off in a pool.
I did a little test next time I went out and used my compression socks, and to my delight I felt better, which left me wondering if they helped speed up recovery. I also decided to take a closer look at traditional methods of recovery such as icing, foam rolling, stretching, nutrition, NSAIDS, and the newest craze—compression socks.
It feels like icing has been around since the dawn of time. The benefits of icing are that it decreases metabolic rate, spasms, and blood flow; it won’t prevent swelling, but it will stop new swelling from forming. The traditional way is to use an ice pack during an immersion; I did this after my half marathon.
Tips for using an ice pack: always elevate the area in question, and don’t use ice packs longer than 20 minutes. Personally, I like the 20 minutes on and 40 minutes off rule. Don’t sleep with your ice pack either because you run the risk of getting frostbite.
Foam rolls, tennis balls, lacrosse balls, and Thera Canes, which are frequently used in physical therapy for pain, are all highly effective methods of self-myofascial release (SMR). I always say it depends on the area and how mean you want to be to yourself.
A Thera Cane can work well for necks and low back areas. If all of these are too painful, then using a roller can help control how much force you want to use. The benefits to SMR are that it can increase your motion, extensibility of the tissue involved, and increase neuromuscular efficiency (Clark 219).
Gentle stretching is a great follow up to using a foam roll. Guidelines for SMR and stretching are foam-rolling 10 times on the muscle or holding it for 30 seconds on the tender spot. Stretching should be held for 30 seconds in a few sets.
I see a lot of people running in compression socks so I decided to do a little research to see how effective they are for recovery. An article out of North Carolina studied compression socks versus regular socks worn by women running a 5K to see their responses. What they found was there was no difference in their performance times. They also went on to suggest that the compression socks might contribute to lowering blood lactate levels during recovery.
Another article studied recovery following a marathon and whether compression socks had an impact. They ended up finding that wearing below-the-knee compression socks for up to two days post-marathon did aid in functional recovery (Armstrong 528). Compression socks continue to be an interesting topic that still needs further research, but it seems there are some benefits to compression socks during the recovery period.
How do nutrition and the use of NSAIDS aka non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, affect recovery? Having some inflammation after a race is important to healing, and by taking an anti-inflammatory to reduce inflammation, you are actually impeding the healing process.
As for nutrition, I found an article discussing the top foods you should try after a race to maximize recovery. They were chocolate milk, pretzel, fruit, bagel, and a pint of beer—my favorite.
A lot of time is spent in preparation and training, but thinking ahead to the recovery part is also important. Good recovery options are icing, SMR, gentle stretching, nutrition, hydration, and fitted compression socks. Hopefully, I helped the runners out there so that they can get through the recovery phase quickly and on to the next one!
Training for long-distance runs can be taxing to the body. Schedule an appointment at one of our Foothills Sports Medicine locations for great training leading up to the race, and the option of physical therapy for pain after the race.
Armstrong, Stuart A, Till, Eloise S, Maloney, Stephen R, Harris, Gregory A. Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29(2): 528-533, 2015.
Clark, Michael A, Lucett, Scott C, Sutton, Brian G. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training.  Burlington, MA. Jones and Bartlett Learning.  2014.
Treseler, Christine, Bixby, Walter R, Nepocatych, Svetlana. The Effect of Compressions Stockings on Physiological and Psychological Responses After 5-KM Performance In recreationally Active Females. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 30(7): 1985-1991, 2015.

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