Sports MassageThe Promise: Stroking movements flush out waste products and dilate blood vessels so oxygen and nutrients flow more quickly to speed recovery, says Leslie Goldblatt Denunzio, a runner and massage therapist in Brooklyn. Because massage stretches muscles, releases tension, and breaks down scar tissue, it can also improve flexibility and prevent injuries.
The Science: Studies show that massage lessens soreness, swelling, and anxiety. But despite strong anecdotal evidence from athletes like Jurek (who says his weekly massage keeps him from getting sidelined), there's limited research on it as an injury-prevention tool.
Who Should Try It: Sports massage is especially beneficial for those covering 35 miles or more a week. The more miles you log, the more stress your body endures, and massage can stop the damage from building up, says Denunzio. Having a massage within 24 hours after an intense workout can soothe muscles and enhance recovery.
ImageryThe Promise: By visualizing a positive scene, you calm your mind—and your body. "When your mind is relaxed, your muscles hold less tension, which means you're less likely to feel pain," says Jeffrey Greeson, Ph.D., psychologist with Duke Integrative Medicine Clinic at Duke University Medical Center. "Imagery can also help healing since stress increases levels of cortisol, which can slow injury repair."
The Science: Research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences indicates that when injured athletes pictured themselves as healthy or imagined themselves dealing with pain, they enhanced their recovery rate. Another study offers evidence that positive thinking can speed blister healing.
Who Should Try It: Some studies have had participants picture broken bones being glued together, torn muscle fibers reattaching, or cells regenerating. Visualization can also help you deal with temporary discomfort—like the final miles of a race. Imagine the pain leaving your body when you exhale or picture yourself smiling at the finish line.
Herbal RemediesThe Promise: Proponents of herbal therapies say that the phytochemicals in plant-based supplements enhance the body's ability to heal itself—rather than just masking symptoms—and can treat muscle and joint pain and swelling.
The Science: Herbal supplements don't undergo the rigorous testing of traditional medicines, and they aren't subject to the approval process of the Food and Drug Administration. But a 2007 review of studies concluded that the supplements devil's claw and white willow bark could help reduce back pain. And the remedies Jurek uses—arnica and bromelain—have been shown to reduce swelling. Garlic, ginger, and red pepper are also known to decrease inflammation.
Who Should Try It: Herbs with anti-inflammatory powers can treat plantar fasciitis, back and knee pain, sprains, and muscle stiffness, Piant says. Spicing up your meals is the best and safest way to start. Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements.
Chiropractic TreatmentThe Promise: This therapy corrects alignment issues to keep the body operating efficiently. Traditionally, treatment concentrated on the spine, but a new breed of sports chiropractors analyze biomechanics and make adjustments to imbalanced areas throughout the body.
The Science: In 1997, the American Medical Association issued a statement that chiropractic care has been shown to have "a good degree of efficacy in ameliorating back pain, headache, and similar musculoskeletal complaints." It may even enhance athletic performance. One study compared a group of athletes receiving adjustments with another that did not. After 12 weeks, the group undergoing treatment was 30 percent faster than the control group.
Who Should Try It: Chronically injured runners may have the most to gain from chiropractic treatment, says Dr. O'Connor, who credits his chiropractor with curing his calf-muscle pain. "Spinal misalignments and muscular imbalances can cause tightness and weakness," he says. "That can prevent you from fully recovering from an injury and make it easy to relapse."