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It can happen to any massage therapist, whether you’ve been practicing for years or you’re fresh off passing the MBLEx and just starting your career: Your self-care routine slowly starts to slide. Despite the best of intentions, self-care takes a back seat. With the rapid pace of a booked-solid day, who has time for stretching or strength training? After all, those activities mean time away from helping another client or tackling your to-do list. Plus, you feel strong, so there’s no need for recovery time, right?

Unfortunately, far too many massage therapists aren’t making self-care a priority. According to a 2017 American Massage Therapy Association survey, 62% of massage therapists reported they don’t warm up before a session.* Neglecting self-care can lead to risks of repetitive strain injuries, fatigue and burnout. And if left unchecked, this repeated stress can lead to career-ending injuries.

When your calling is taking care of others, it can be hard to put yourself first. But a strong self-care routine is exactly what it takes to keep your career going strong for years to come. The good news is it’s never too late to give your self-care routine a seriously awesome reboot.

Here are four essential steps to create a self-care routine to keep you going strong:

1. Get Back to the Basics with Good Body Mechanics

Self-care is any action you take to support and maintain your primary tool — your body. It starts on the job with proper body mechanics, the foundation of a good self-care routine. Check in with your body throughout each massage you perform to make sure you’re maintaining good posture and proper stance.

2. Make Self-Care Proactive, Not Reactive

It’s not uncommon for massage therapists to bounce back and forth between feeling healthy and experiencing the early warning signs of injury. The key is to monitor your body and be proactive instead of reactive with your self-care. Here are two strategies to help you detect the early signs of injury:

• Practice full-body awareness during five massage therapy sessions and journal what you notice. Ask yourself the following questions: Are my posture and alignment correct? Do I return to neutral stance as often as I should? Am I using techniques that cause discomfort? Have I modified my body mechanics in response to pain? How do I feel after performing the massage? Were there any early signs of injury present?

• Ask a colleague to observe you during a massage and ask for feedback on opportunities to improve your body mechanics. Here is a sample of observations to get you started: Is the table height appropriate? Are my feet positioned to create a stable base to push off? Are my joints stacked appropriately? Am I using a stable, self-supported stance? Am I using the stoop-and-squat bending positions when a vertical posture isn’t possible?

3. Set Your Self-Care Intention

A habit is a tendency or behavior that you settle into. A routine is a practiced set of actions regularly repeated for a specific reason. But beyond the dictionary definitions, the real difference between the two is intention. The foundation for creating an effective self-care plan — one you can stick with — is to have a real, meaningful goal or purpose behind it.

Here’s how to take a mindful approach to building a strong self-care routine:

• Find your meaningful reason to take care of yourself. Answer the following: “I’m committed to self-care because___.” This first step answers the “Why.”

Write down in your own words why self-care is important to you and your career. For some people, it’s so they can continue practicing massage therapy for years to come. For others, it’s to help them be their best selves at work and at home for their clients and their families. It may be a combination of things. Write what’s true for you.

• Establish your commitment. Write your self-care commitment statement. This is a statement that outlines what you’re intending to do to practice good self-care. Here’s an example: I commit to take responsibility for my well-being. I will honor that commitment by:

-Adhering to safe standards and practices through proper warm-up before work

-Using safe body mechanics while working

-Engaging in a variety of self-care practices each day

-Managing risk of injury by working with body awareness and working with a partner to ensure I avoid the onset of injury

• Make the time and space to establish a new self-care routine. Write down when and where you will practice self-care each day. Is it before work? Is it as soon as you get to work? Is there a dedicated space you can use? Set up a daily reminder on your phone or in your calendar to remain committed.

Jenn P., a lead massage therapist at a Massage Envy franchised location, knows the value of writing down her own self-care routine. “I like knowing what’s going on inside my body and how I can help control it and be healthy every day,” she said.

“I stretch at least once a day for 30 minutes because I have two injuries. I have thoracic outlet syndrome, and I was in a bad car accident and have slipping rib syndrome on my right side,” she continued.  “Every day I use my planner and set up a timer on my phone to do my stretches and exercise.”

• Regularly reflect on your body and how it feels. Practice body awareness by doing a daily mental check-in with your body. Do your arms, legs, back or hands feel tired? Where, specifically? Don’t risk injury by ignoring early warning signs. Understand the early warning signs of injury and pay attention to what your body is communicating.

• Take action. Translate your self-care commitment statement into daily action. First, create a list of daily exercises — warm-up, cool-down and strength training. Download this free Total Body Care exercise guide for a list of warm-up, cool-down and strength-building exercises for the whole body. Second, find the support of a peer or friend to help you keep your daily commitment. Establishing a new routine is challenging. A friend or peer will help you keep your commitment.

4. Don’t Forget Your Head (And Heart)

Although most self-care focuses on the body, a meaningful practice is about nurturing your whole self (body, mind, heart and soul). Take time to do what you love outside of work. Little things like reading a book, walking the dog and spending time with family can be restorative for the mind (and heart). Leverage your personal and professional support systems during stressful times.

Sometimes life can get stressful enough that it’s necessary to seek professional support. At Massage Envy franchised locations, all employees and their immediate family members have access to an emotional wellness and work/life balance program to help them manage everyday issues. When your stress becomes more than you can manage on your own, don’t be afraid to seek professional support.

At the core, self-care is about making choices that support your goals to be healthy, mentally strong and injury free. Think about the way you focus on your clients, changing lives with every massage, and give the same focus to your own well-being.

Get your free self-care commitment poster here>>>

*2017 American Massage Therapy Association survey

About Massage Envy Franchising, LLC:

Massage Envy Franchising LLC, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a national franchisor and, through its franchise locations, is the leading provider of therapeutic massage and skincare services, and proprietary assisted stretching service, Total Body Stretch. The Massage Envy franchisees are, collectively, the largest employer of massage therapists and estheticians, with more than 35,000 dedicated wellness professionals that provide best-in-class service to over 1.65 million members. Founded in 2002, Massage Envy Franchising (MEF) LLC has more than 1,180 franchise locations in 49 states that have together delivered more than 100 million massages and facials. Each individual franchised location, not MEF or any of its affiliates, is the sole employer for all positions posted by a franchised location, and each individual franchised location is not acting as an agent, for MEF or any of its affiliates. Hiring criteria, benefits and compensation offered at each independently owned and operated franchised location will vary and not all locations offer all of the above benefits. Please check with the specific franchised location where you apply regarding the benefits they offer. © 2019 Massage Envy Franchising, LLC. All rights reserved.