A massage therapist can develop career-threatening injuries similar to those of a professional musician or competitive athlete — because all of these professions engage in repetitive motion.

Here’s a five-step plan for how hot and cold topical therapy, applied at the first signs of trouble, can help you resolve a soft tissue injury and get back to working, pain-free.

Step 1: Realize That Soft Tissue Injuries Can Become Chronic

Normally, repetitive-motion injuries are soft tissue in nature, and if left untreated will become chronic. They may lead to tendonitis, bursitis or osteoarthritis. With all the upper-body repetitive motions performed by massage therapists, soft tissue injuries often occur in the hands, arms and fingers, and can be quite debilitating and painful.

Step 2: Spot the Signs of Trouble

Initially, a soft tissue injury to the arms, hands or fingers will have accompanying inflammation and redness, which is the body’s natural response to injury. An inflamed tendon or pinched nerve, whether in the elbow, wrist or hands, will alert you to an injury. Your grip and ability to apply deep pressure will become compromised and you may find yourself resorting to hand-held tools, as even opening a door becomes a chore.

Step 3: Commit to Soft Tissue Injury Recovery

Turning the focus of a treatment strategy to themselves and away from the client takes self-commitment and self-awareness on the part of the massage therapist. Unlike a professional athlete who is usually prepared for work-related injuries and already has a standard rehabilitation program in place, a massage therapist with a soft tissue injury can be caught off-guard and unprepared to begin a recovery program.

Step 4: Apply Cold Therapy

Applying a cryotherapy topical analgesic to the injured area is a simple and convenient way to help with initial acute inflammation and swelling. A cooling topical analgesic, which offers controlled cooling without freezing or irritation, becomes a therapist’s best friend for cold therapy self-care during the acute stage of a soft tissue injury. A therapist will not only keep the injured area from continuing to swell by administering a cryotherapy gel, but pain relief from the associated swelling will also be provided.

Step 5: Use Heat Therapy

As superficial heat, a warm-therapy topical analgesic is a simple and convenient modality to use for self-treatment after cold therapy, once initial swelling has decreased and pain has subsided. It will promote circulation and blood flow throughout the injured area, and will assist with tissue extensibility and improve range of motion. Warming the injured area will also promote healing because of the increase in oxygen and nutrients.

Pain relief is also provided by a warm-therapy analgesic — a good thing, because discomfort from a lingering injury can become distracting for the therapist. When formulated correctly, capsaicin in a topical analgesic is a heating element that will suppress nerve endings and give temporary pain relief from nagging soft tissue injuries.

Early Intervention

Recognizing and identifying a soft tissue injury early is important to help prevent time lost from work, and to keep the injury from becoming chronic.

Do not believe early pain signals are part of your job, as they are really an indication something is amiss. The moment you feel pain is the time to take care of yourself, so you may continue to take care of others.

About the Author:

Jeff Baskett has been the program-marketing manager for Sombra Professional Therapy Products for more than 15 years. He is an avid multisport athlete and understands the value of complementary and alternative medicine for all his therapeutic needs.