To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Resistance Training: Self-Care Strategy for Massage Therapists,” by Jeffrey Forman, Ph.D., in the May 2011 issue. Article summary: Massage therapy is a physically demanding profession that can cause a lot of wear and tear on the body of the therapist unprepared for its rigors. To prevent injuries and increase the odds for a long and successful career, it is essential for massage therapists to develop and implement a self-care strategy. Resistance-exercise training is one aspect of this plan.

by Michael Cohen

Oh the woes of an overworked massage therapist’s body. We’ve all felt it—the achy hands, tired feet, sore low back. The good news is, there are some easy techniques available to release tension and improve joint, muscle and connective tissue function—but before we get to these, let’s review the essential conditioning points for your body by exploring the following four questions:

1. Are you exercising regularly to create adequate muscle tone? Thirty minutes on an elliptical machine four times a week will do it, but cross-training muscle groups and getting outside is even better so bike, hike, do yoga and swim weekly.

2. Are you stretching every hour you work to maintain tissue and joint flexibility and strength? Continuous stretching has an immediate beneficial effect on tissue flexibility and perfusion, plus it markedly decreases repetitive strain risk.

3. Are you hydrating hourly to maximize cell function?

4. Are you eating at least four to five servings of organic fruits and vegetables each day?

Once you’ve got these areas covered, you can get to specific tissue-release techniques for areas of high contraction: the hands, forearms, feet, low back and shoulders.

Two self-care tools every massage therapist should know about and utilize are the Theracane® and Acuball®.

Most therapists have seen the Theracane, a cane-shaped device that allows you to apply trigger-point therapy to your own tight spots in hard-to-reach areas like the rhomboids.

Simply hold the Theracane with your hands, angle the knob-like heads and apply pressure to your level of comfort. I particularly like using this for my posterior and medial traps, as I do a lot of deep muscle-release work with my hands and really feel it in my upper back and shoulders at the end of a long day.

I developed the Acuball, a heatable self-massage tool, to aid my own aching body and help clients to self-heal. (Microwave it for 60 seconds and it will create 70 minutes or more of deep, soothing heat.) The Acuball has specially designed nibs that mimic fingers and create an acupressure-release effect

Find the area that’s tight, place the Acuball behind you and lie back, letting the weight of your body do the work. I recommend spending three minutes on each tight area, letting yourself relax and breathe deeply into the wonderful sensation of tight muscles and fascia opening.

Combining proper exercise, stretching and nutrition with self-massage using hand-held tools is an easy way to improve your health, your practice and your life.

Michael A. Cohen, D.C., is a 20-year practicing chiropractic acupuncturist in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and an ongoing guest lecturer at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College on mind-body healing research. He developed the Acuball self-healing tool ( for muscle and joint pain relief. The ball is used by health practitioners, hospitals and professional athletes.