Like athletes whose sport is their livelihood, massage therapists rely on high-performing bodies.
We might not be sprinting around or ducking any punches, but to do our job efficiently, enjoyably and without injury, we still need to think of our bodies as athletic tools and care for them accordingly before, during and after giving massage.
Integrating a warm-up, a cool-down, the principles of progressive loading and resetting your mechanics throughout the day will give you great return on investment.
If you want to do a physical job such as massage for the long term, you need to focus back in on yourself and start making self-care a habit, not a treat.
Why Warm Up Before Giving Massage
Realistically, we may not need to warm up as thoroughly or for as long before giving massage as Serena Williams before a tennis match or Misty Copeland before a ballet performance, but the core principles are still the same.
There are quite a few benefits to warming up. We consider it an important preparation to our day because it allows massage therapists to:
- Get your tissues gliding
- Increase blood flow
- Make sure you are operating at your full range of motion
- Check your joint positioning for upcoming activities
This increases the efficiency of our body while we work and reduces risk of injury. Ultimately, warming up thoroughly will result in being able to go harder, for longer.
As massage therapists, we must take care of our hands and forearms. (Watch the video, “Self-Care Tips for the Massage Therapist” for instruction on a hand-and-arm self-massage technique and a postural practice.) We should also be checking that our shoulders and upper body are well-positioned. Hip and lower body mobility is also vital. You want to ensure your pelvis has the ability to maintain a balanced, strong position while we work.
There are lots of postural adjustment and stretching options that are useful to integrate into your warm up. It’s important to do your own research and construct a warm-up that works for you.
Re-set Between Clients
It’s easy to want to squeeze in clients back-to-back—we get it! We all have bills to pay. However, giving yourself time to re-set is vital for the longevity of your career.
Resetting your body between sessions will help you to maintain strong positioning and good posture. Good posture and strong positioning will in turn allow you to do your job better and more comfortably.
Schedule in enough breaks throughout the day to unwind, reset and refuel your body. You want to be a role model to your clients, not the massage therapist that needs a massage.
If you can, build a few extra minutes at the beginning and end of each appointment slot for your reset.
The core principles of resetting between clients are the same as your initial warm-up, so you should notice results using the same exercises.
If you’ve had a full schedule giving massage, you know how physically exhausted your body can be. Cooling down is just as important as your warm-up re-setting exercises. Don’t shoot out the door towards home before you’ve gotten your cool-down in!
The idea of cooling down is to reset your body back to a good position after a day under load. Your muscles will be less likely to tighten up and stagnate.
Cooling down reduces muscle soreness. It’s been shown that stretching after exercise is an effective way to increase flexibility, which reduces tension and resistance in muscle tissue
We might know all of these things — but we still need to practice what we preach.
Spend time winding down at the end of your treatments with a few well targeted static stretches, postural adjustment exercises and flush your forearms with self-massage.
This is the perfect opportunity to include some preventative exercises. Eccentric exercises are a research-proven way to soothe tendon inflammation and help to strengthen wrists and forearms so you can deliver the very best treatments without the risk of overuse injury.
Try including three sets of 15 repetitions in your cool-down routine and see if you notice results.
Overall, a smart cool-down routine will prep your body for the next day, so you’re ready to take on another full calendar of clients.
Progressive Loading and Rest Days
It is important to keep your workload tolerable. You will burn out if you go too hard, too fast without warming up your own body, and if you schedule in back-to-back appointments. Remember to match any increase in loading with an increase in rest and recovery.
If you are new to massage, or have had a break from work, build your endurance slowly by spacing out appointments intelligently, as well as taking rest days every week—two in a row if possible. Build the break time in your schedule, so that you’re not accidentally taking too many bookings.
Progressive loading will give your body time to adapt to stresses without the risk of overuse injuries.
Hydrate to Stay Fresh
As a therapist, your attitude, mood and energy levels have a direct impact on your clients—if you’re feeling tired, they will feel it.
Staying well-hydrated throughout the day will keep you feeling fresh and help you stay positive. There are proven benefits to staying hydrated, including reduced pain and better muscle function.
You need water to transport nutrients to your cells and waste products out of the body. This will keep your tissue healthy. Hydration ensures good joint health, as the cartilage lining these is made up of 65 to 80 percent water.
Staying hydrated also helps combat fatigue. If your cells are dehydrated, they cannot create energy to function. Hydration also improves cognitive function, keeping you focused and alert.
Alert, full of energy, mobile and healthy—making sure you drink water regularly is definitely worth the effort.
Self-Care is Vital
Self-care is vital in massage therapy. Being smart about taking care of yourself is not only vital for your own well-being, it’s vital for the well-being of your business.
An unhappy, worn-out therapist is unable to effectively treat clients. At The Muscle Mechanics, we work hard to practice self-care. Because of this, we’re able to comfortably perform upwards of 30 hours of deep tissue and sports massage, five days a week.
Practicing self-care makes for a happier workplace and a more lucrative business. Good self-care gives you longevity, meaning you can see more clients to the best of your ability.
Clients know when you are putting in your best effort—and when you’re not. Be sure that part of that effort is going toward yourself.
About the Author
Hanna Morley and Theo Wallis are Timely Ambassadors and Muscle Therapists based at The Muscle Mechanics, New Zealand. They share a passion for improving how humans feel and perform through restoring functional movement and rehabilitating soft tissues.
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