As a massage therapist, you work your body hard. That’s why it is so important to include exercise in your self-care routine.
“Exercise is a very important thing for a lot of people, but especially for therapists,” said Kaitlyn Steiner, the lead massage therapist at an Indiana-based location of Massage Heights, a family-owned therapeutic massage and facial services franchise company based in San Antonio, Texas, which has more than 140 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Imbalance Happens Easily
“Over the course of our workday, our hands, forearms, posterior chain (back, hamstrings, and glutes) knees and feet receive the most work and stress,” she said. “Because of this, other areas or muscles are not worked on a daily basis so things can become unbalanced easily.”
Take the shoulder, for example, she said. There are 17 muscles connected to the scapula, each creating tension in a different direction. Massage therapists constantly work with arms out in front of their bodies, which means the shoulders tend to rotate inwards.
The best way to countermeasure this imbalance in the shoulder is to massage the tight muscles and strengthen the opposing weaker ones — the rhomboids, trapezius and infraspinatus — with exercise, she said.
Steiner recommends exercises that aid in supporting proper posture. She particularly likes the hip hinge and deadlifts, which she thinks are great for strengthening the hamstrings and for learning how to bend over without straining the back.
Another favorite is the reverse fly and bent over rows, which help strengthen the rhomboids and the upper back to help balance the shoulder.
While not an exercise per se, Steiner also thinks picking things up around the house with your feet is a terrific way to strengthen the arches of the foot, which is particularly important for therapists who stand for long periods of time, straining their feet.
Steiner made sure to stick to her exercise regimen even during the pandemic shutdown, knowing that if she did so, it would make things easier on her body when she returned to work, which proved true. “After returning to work after two-month hiatus I was way less sore than I was expecting if had done no training at all,” she said.
Her shutdown exercise routine, which she used to keep her muscles conditioned, were performed at home with a set of mini resistance bands and a couple dumbbells. She began by doing bodyweight exercises to practice correct technique and prepare my joints for more movement, then progressed to isometric holds for endurance work in single muscles or full body like planks. Steiner recently added in cardio during the resistance training part of her routine to create more of a circuit.
“Keeping a nice balance of different types of training is important,” she said. Steiner also thinks moderation is key, because too much exercise could lead to overuse and strain on the joints.
Get Professional Help
That’s why it may be a good idea to work with a physical training professional, said Maria Waits, a lead massage therapist at a Massage Heights location in Ohio.
When she first started working as a massage therapist 17 years ago, Waits would soak her hands in ice water when she got home in order to keep the inflammation down and got regular adjustments from a chiropractor to help keep her shoulders in place.
But working with a personal trainer helped her to keep her body balanced. “As a therapist, it gets very easy to use only certain muscles and become very lopsided. A trainer helped me strengthen muscles that needed it and stretch muscles that were too tight,” Waits said. “A trainer is a good investment in your professional future.”
The trainers Waits has worked with over the years have helped her keep her exercise routines varied, and have created exercises routines that she could do during a workday to help keep her moving.
Exercises to Try Now
What are some exercises you can do to keep your body fit and extend the longevity of your career? Here are some simple suggestions:
- Walking — a great way to stretch and relax and get some exposure to the great outdoors, even if it’s just a quick stroll through your neighborhood.
- Yoga — improves balance, stretches and strengthens your muscles and increases flexibility.
- Fingertip push-ups — Stand 3 to 4 feet away from a wall with your back straight and your hands positioned on either side of your shoulders. Your fingers should be spread wide apart and be curved. Push yourself away from the wall until your arms are fully extended, but don’t lock your elbows. Then return to the wall and repeat.
- Shake, shake, shake — Limber and warm up your hands by holding them at chest level and giving them a good shake. About 10 seconds should do it.
- Ball squeeze — Get yourself some putty or a small foam rubber ball, cup one in your hand and gently squeeze and release, squeeze and release (or squish, if you’re using putty).
- Palm press — Hold your palms, pressed together, at chest level, then push one hand against the other, moving side to side.
- Resist — Use resistance bands to strengthen the body isometrically.
Get Massage Too
Like Waits, Steiner likes to do exercises and stretches during her workday to loosen tight or overworked muscles.
Among her favorites are the windmill, which she performs on both the opposing or same side to mobilize the quadratus lumborum and psoas; the hip hinge to relax the hamstrings; and a back stretch for which she arches her back with her hands held together overhead to relax the posterior chain.
She also makes a point of being self-aware of her body during sessions. She also makes sure to change her positioning from sitting on the stool to squatting while working on the legs to move the knee through the full range of motion at least once an hour.
And don’t forget to get regular massage yourself, advised Waits. Practice what you tell your clients, and your body and the longevity of your career will benefit.
About the Author:
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine.