After you graduate from massage therapy school, pass your licensing exam and successfully find your first massage therapy job, you might feel your strength and endurance are unlimited—and as if you can conquer the world and heal everyone’s pain.
When I graduated school and found my first job, I felt the same way, but my excitement to help others quickly came to a halt when I took on one too many sessions and injured my wrist. My body simply could not keep up with my ambition to help.
Understanding the importance of helping not just my clients, but also taking care of myself, was a lesson hard-learned.
Massage therapist self-care is essential for anyone who wants to create a long, healthy career in this field.
The Threat of Injury
I once heard that you accomplish three things when you take care of yourself: You feel great; extend the life of your practice; and give your clients a terrific role model. This counsel is not only extremely accurate, but as a therapist, it’s words to live by.
Injury is one of the largest threats to a massage therapist’s career, and if you are out of commission not only do you suffer, your clients suffer.
This profession is demanding in many ways; not only does it take a toll on you physically but it can take a toll on you mentally, so keeping yourself healthy should be at the top of your priority list.
In school, one of the key items you learned was the importance of practicing proper body mechanics for massage therapist self-care. Just because your teachers are no longer watching you doesn’t mean your body should suffer, so continue to massage like your favorite teacher is still grading you.
When your body is in the correct position, you will be more comfortable while you work, and you will help prevent future injury. Work-related injury is one of the top reasons bodyworkers leave this field. Without proper body mechanics, our bodies simply cannot handle the stress we put on ourselves.
There is a wealth of information for utilizing proper body mechanics, through articles on the internet, educational videos, books and classes. Invest in yourself and in your career. Commit to taking at least one continuing education class dedicated to body mechanics every year.
When you have the opportunity to work with another seasoned therapist, ask her to watch your posture and technique to see if there are any improvements that can be made. Be open and willing to try different methods, and discover which one of these practices serves you, your body and your clients better.
Exercise and Rest
Another key component of self-care is physical exercise. It’s important to be strong enough to meet the demands of your work, and massage by itself simply won’t cut it.
Because massage requires such repetitive movements, therapists are often subject to repetitive stress injury. In order to offset this, participating in exercise, whether weightlifting, cardio or any large movement exercise such as yoga or tai chi, can help to strengthen the muscles that are not fundamentally used while you massage, and can keep you from performing just those repetitive movements that you experience while massaging.
In addition to physical exercise, it’s important to rest your body. Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. Getting enough sleep allows you to feel more rested, and it can help protect your mental and physical health and overall quality of life.
When you sleep, your brain prepares itself for the next day by forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information; and you allow your body to heal and repair your heart and blood vessels. Sleep also helps to maintain a healthy balance of hormones your body needs to function.
Getting enough quality sleep also allows you to better function through your day, which is especially necessary when doing work that requires so much.
Get Regular Massage
Just as you tell your clients to rebook massage sessions, receiving regular massage is essential for your health as well.
As health care professionals, we often don’t take care of ourselves. We know the benefits of massage, but there are many therapists who don’t receive regular bodywork. It’s time that we start practicing what we preach.
Many of our retreats offer massage for team members, because the owners understand it is crucial for the therapists’ health and well-being. If you are working in a massage establishment, discuss with your manager or employer what the company’s policy is for receiving massage, and if it’s possible to implement a way to incorporate it in your workplace.
You can also find a therapist who is willing to trade out massage and work with that person to schedule regular sessions. This is something that worked extremely well for me. When I was working really heavily, a fellow massage therapist and I had a standing appointment every Sunday evening, and I saw a tremendous improvement not only in how I felt, but in what I could take on.
Even if you aren’t able to commit to a massage every week, start monthly. Think of it this way: There are 720 hours in a 30-day month. Committing just 1 of those hours to yourself, your career and your practice can make a world of difference.
Massage Therapist Self-Care
Most of our clients lead busy, hectic lives, but we constantly tell them they need to make time for themselves. We tell them the benefits of incorporating regular massage therapy into their lifestyle is necessary to continue to comfortably lead those hectic lives—and if we do our jobs right, those clients listen to us.
So, why not take your own advice? If our clients can somehow manage to do this, we should lead by example and do the same.
The easiest way is to make a routine of self-care, and commit to it. For some of us, this might need to be a gradual adjustment; after all, change can be difficult. Start simply, and decide on the terms of your commitment.
For example, if you want to start stretching your upper extremities and lower back because these are your areas of trouble, commit that you will dedicate at least 15 minutes, three times a week, to stretch these areas. Select a time that works best for you, in the morning before you start your day or in the evening right before you go to bed.
Write a commitment statement that details your self-care strategy, with an area for you to initial when the task is completed. Set reminders for yourself to execute this new habit, using an alarm or reminder alert on your phone.
In discussing this topic with other massage therapists, one trend I saw was they had a buddy to help keep them consistent. Find a fellow massage therapist or a friend, and commit to this habit together to keep each other motivated. If you can commit just 30 days to your new habit, it will become easier to sustain.
A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it can easily fit into your calendar, and once you accomplish that initial change, add and build to it.
Know Your Limits
It is imperative that you listen to your body and know what your limits are. Only you know what you can take on and when you need a break, so be honest with yourself.
I’ve seen massage therapists just out of school, excited to be doing what they love and claiming to take on six-plus hours of massage sessions daily with no need for a break. As awesome as that sounds, please know that you should be conditioning yourself for endurance.
With that said, I know many therapists who can do six hours with no break—but they take extremely good care of themselves while on and off the clock; they listen to what their body tells them; and when they start to feel pain, they know when to cut back, adjust their body mechanics, stretch or book a massage session.
A Lifetime Commitment
Self-care must be undertaken with continuous, conscious effort on your part, one that you need to develop as you grow and mature as a massage therapist. If you start to implement and keep these good habits now, your body will thank you later.
About the Author
Nichole Alarcon (née Velez), L.M.T., is training and development manager for Massage Heights. She has written several articles for massagemag.com, including “3 False Beliefs About Massage Sales Success,” “Master These 3 Steps to Please Even the Most Unhappy Customer,” “The Road to Leadership Success,” “Find the Right Job with a Topnotch Résumé,” “How to Terminate a Client-Therapist Relationship,” “Do You Communicate to Build Long Term Clients?” “Grassroots Marketing Can Bring Clients to Your Table” and “Interview Success is an Important Step on Your Journey.”