As massage therapists, we are dedicated to and focused on relieving pain and discomfort in our clients. But if we ourselves are in pain or are distressed, our work with clients will almost certainly be less effective and, eventually, we may not be able to work at all.
So, to paraphrase that old parable, “Massage Therapist, Heal Thyself.” Taking care of yourself, first and foremost, is the best way of ensuring that you will be able to continue giving the best care to your clients.
8 Ways to Heal Yourself
If you’ve been practicing for a while, you likely have a number of self-care methods that you already use routinely. But if you haven’t been doing massage very long and could use some tips, or even if you are simply looking for something different to try to ease those areas of discomfort, below are some practices you might find useful.
1. Contrast Baths
One of the first self-care tips I got in massage school was to soak your elbows, wrists, and hands in alternating tubs of lukewarm and cold water.
Five or six hours of massage in a day can really fatigue the muscles and tendons in your arms, but soaking your forearms and hands for about 30 seconds in warm, then cold water, alternately, for up to fifteen minutes can help reduce the inflammation and minor swelling that can come with overuse.
As the Alberta, Canada, Health Services website says, “The theory is that changing the temperature back and forth between cold and warm creates a kind of pump. Heat causes blood vessels to get bigger and cold causes them to get smaller” (1). The blood vessel expansion that comes with the application of the warm water improves circulation, and the incoming blood flow that results brings nutrients that will help heal the injured tissues (2). Be sure to start and end with the cold-water soak to best reduce inflammation.
2. Overnight Wrist Brace
Wrist tendonitis, a repetitive stress injury, is inflammation of the tendons of the wrist, as the name implies. While wrist tendonitis shares many of the features of carpal tunnel syndrome, they are not the same thing.
(Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed while passing through the wrist—not inflammation of tendons in the wrist .)
Wearing a wrist brace overnight helps keep the wrist in a good anatomical position, thus reducing pain overnight and keeping the inflammation from worsening (4). If the inflammation is mild enough, restoring the wrist to a comfortable anatomical position overnight may be sufficient to ward off further damage.
But a wrist brace won’t cure chronic wrist inflammation, so it’s important to consult a healthcare provider in such cases.
3. CBD Creams and Oils
The endocannabinoid system, which is made up of neurotransmitters, helps keep the body in homeostasis, or balance. When anything in the body is operating outside its normal range—including any inflammation—the endocannabinoid systems uses special receptors in the body to resolve the issues that have put it out of balance (5).
CBD massage products provide the powerful effects of CBD and take advantage of the endocannabinoid system to relieve muscle and joint pains from inflammation. The CBD directly activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
4. Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom salts, named for the place in England where they occur in natural springs, breaks down into magnesium and sulfate (7). The magnesium and sulfate are theoretically absorbed through your skin, with the magnesium purported to repair damaged muscles and reduce inflammation (7).
Soaking for at least 12 minutes in warm bathwater with two cups of Epsom salt dissolved in it can help relieve muscle soreness.
The efficacy of Epsom salts has not yet been scientifically proven, but even if the salts don’t work as purported, the warm bath itself can loosen stiff joints and relax muscles (6).
According to massage therapy expert Joe Muscolino, “No aspect of self-care is more important than regular stretching.” (8)
Regular stretching can prevent soft tissues from becoming taut.
One massage therapy program recommends three easy stretches to relieve neck and shoulder tension (9), but Dr. Muscolino offers a battery of stretches to address tight muscles throughout the body, including both upper and lower extremities and the spine (8).
While doing massage is in itself a physical activity, “no modality of massage therapy puts all major muscle groups through their paces” (10). In addition to building your strength and stamina and helping to avoid injury (11), regular exercise can also make you happier, releasing the chemicals in the brain that improve mood; reduce your stress level; and improve perception, enhance memory, and help maintain mental throughout your life (12).
In addition to the typical daily stresses we all experience, massage therapists who work with clients having acute health challenges, such as cancer patients, are particular vulnerable to stress. Meditation can play a critical role in reducing all levels of stress in that it enables one to become more self-aware and supports long-term well-being (12).
Recent research has found that meditation is not a tool for cognitive restructuring but actually changes the structure of the brain itself (13). Even brief amounts of meditation can help in processing “affective stimuli so that emotions are no longer overwhelming” (13).
Any self-respecting massage therapist knows the benefits of getting regular massages. But doing so isn’t always possible. When that’s the case, there are a myriad of self-massage tools and practices to help maintain our bodies in good working order.
An article in the Massage Therapy Journal recommends various exercises with a small ball “to playfully counteract some of the repetitive movements associated with performing massage therapy” (14). Other tools, such as the AcuForce Massage Star, can also help you bridge the gap until you can get a massage.
Nutrition and hydration are also important in maintaining your body in peak performance condition, so don’t forget to eat right and drink plenty of water. Your clients are depending on you.