As the saying goes, if you play hard, you pay hard. After a weekend of adventuring, laughs, bike rides, hikes, BBQs and paddle boarding, we’ve all shuffled into work on a fresh Monday, feeling less than fresh ourselves.

We’re yawning, with sore hands, a tight back and aching feet; we clutch our lifeline (bless you, coffee) as we pour over our daily schedule.

Eight clients? Oh my! Are we going to make it?

A fleeting smile might grace your face as you remember the recent weekend fun; however, you’re sure paying for it now, aren’t you?

Reality sets in.

A full client load is waiting for you, a dentist’s neck needs deep massage, a kindergarten teacher’s low back needs TLC after days of standing and stooping over little ones, after-lunch back-to-back appointments of soon-to-be mamas will be expectantly waiting for their prenatal treatments.

A sigh escapes your lips … all of the wonderful adventures packed into a too-short Saturday and Sunday have caught up with you. You reflect on bike riding with your kids, which made your back tight and sore. You generously helped a friend put together her new patio furniture, and now your wrists are tight from too many twists and turns of the wrenches and screwdrivers.

Maybe it was a weekend of antiquing and museum-hopping. Did you walk 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 steps a day marveling at master works, perhaps forgetting your more supportive athletic shoes and thinking you could get away with those cute but impractical flip flops?

Whatever the reason, sometimes our bodies are letting us know that we too need the type of care that we provide to clients and patients daily.

It’s quite difficult to take care of others, give them our best and be mentally clear and present when we forget to take care of ourselves.

The physical demands of our jobs and our recreation and personal lives can accumulate. Wear and tear that is not addressed can leave us feeling depleted, physically sore or even turn into longer-term problems.

As a clinician who has worked as a manual physical therapist for more than 15 years, I have been there too. I might be just as guilty as anyone of playing hard and not doing enough stretching, hydrating or resting.

However, I usually try to make self-care a priority. Here are a few of my favorite practices for taking better care of myself, so you can put your freshest hands forward.

  1. Wake up a bit earlier than usual. Set your alarm 10 or even 15 minutes before your normal wake-up time. As you lie in bed without the pressure of rushing into starting your day, perform a thorough body scan.

Take a few seconds to focus sequentially on each area of your body, starting with your feet, moving up to the legs, hips, back, torso, chest, arms, neck and head. Are there areas you overused during work or play that are talking to you? Once you have identified areas that are feeling a little tired or tight, breathe into these areas with a six-second inhale/exhale pattern, using a slight pause between the in and out.

I will do at least six to 10 breaths with a focus on releasing tension in the area that is sore or tight, before even getting out of bed. The pattern is, “Inhale, two, three, four, five, six … pause, exhale, two, three, four, five, six … ” Repeat six to 10 times.

(Once my family and I had a very fun afternoon at a trampoline park outside of Pittsburgh, and this practice was my saving grace the next day when I woke up feeling like I had been shaken in a cocktail shaker by a giant.)

  1. Next I will add a few targeted stretches to my morning routine to improve blood flow and tissue glide to the sore or tight area. Simple active joint movements through a gentle, full range of motion can assist in lubricating the joints, gliding the connective tissues and working out any kinks that have accumulated from adventures.

I typically recommend at least eight to 12 repetitions of clockwise and counterclockwise with full range of motion at any tight joint. (I typically will use this technique after big exercise sessions. I enjoy Ironman and Ironman 70.3 distance triathlon racing, so my training efforts are typically quite long.)

It’s not uncommon for me to wake up with just a few body parts like my ankles and feet feeling very stiff in the morning. This little exercise can go a long way in reintroducing blood flow into stiff areas, and I love using this before my feet even hit the floor.

  1. Locking in these little adjustments is my next step. I am a big advocate of using kinesiology tape to create more permanent relief of sore areas, particularly if I am sore and have a busy day of taking care of others in front of me.

I like to use ROCKTAPE’s tape to surround the area that is feeling stiff or painful. Particular taping strategies for individual areas can be found online.

Tape can help your brain draw awareness to the area that is sore, and it can help reduce your body’s painful response to overworked areas. Tape can stay put for at least a couple of days, so it is something you can wear and leave on during work, play and even showering.

  1. Another self-care strategy I like to employ and encourage you to try is using instrumented massage techniques to relax the area. Body parts that feel tight and sore often feel this way due to a tightening of muscle or fascia.

Using massage instruments can be an effective and efficient treatment to reduce tissue tightness. When the goal is tissue relaxation, I recommend using a tool with moderate-yet-comfortable pressure to stimulate the mechanoreceptors called Ruffini endings.

Ruffini endings like deep, slow stimulus and respond by reducing tissue tension. I typically work for 30 or more seconds on each area, and if I have time I address the tissues up and down the fascial chain for an additional 30 or more seconds. This is a treatment that works great on sore quads, hamstrings or hips, and I use it often after long hikes, runs or tiring workdays on my feet.

  1. Finally, my last step in ongoing self-care, whether my body is feeling its best or not, is focusing my mind each day with a reflection on gratitude. Taking time during the day to focus on feeling thankful for my unique perspective in the world and my specialized approach to manual therapy in my profession creates moments of gratitude that enhance my mood and clear my mind.

Focusing on gratitude via self-reflection reminds me why I love my profession, why I appreciate my clients, patients and co-workers, and why I chose this field as my career path. Taking time out of my schedule to reflect, even if it is five minutes at lunch or five minutes before I bike home for the day, helps me keep my mind and spirit focused on helping others and lifts me up.

I am thankful for my training, my problem-solving abilities, my hands-on skills, and my ability to help others who are in pain. I am thankful for my clients, their stories, their laughter and their visits to my office seeking my care.

At the end of the day, my mind and spirit drive my mental and physical health. Taking time out of the day to focus on areas to be grateful for is something I encourage you all to do.

About the Author:

Milica McDowell, DPT, is a doctor of physical therapy in private practice in Bozeman, Montana. She is a manual therapist with over 15 years of experience who enjoys playing hard on the weekends with her husband, daughter, friends and Goldendoodle, so sometimes she shows up to work on Monday pretty depleted. McDowell is an instructor for ROCKTAPE (rocktape.com), maker of kinesiology tape, IASTM tools and more. You can follow along with her escapades on Instagram on her work-focused account, @PTLadyBoss.

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