Health is a continuum from illness to wellness to thriving.
Our goal with proper hydration is not just lack of disease but making sure we are thriving so we can work with our clients to help them on their health journey.
Let me say this clearly: Hydration is not just a thing. It is the thing, the footing to nutrition, the foundation of health. Most people know that humans can survive for many more days without food than we can without drinking water. That speaks to the essentialism of hydration for healthy body function — all body functions.
Hydration is vital. Hydration aids the digestion of the foods we eat to nourish our bodies. Hydration contributes to the blood volume needed to transport those nutrients and oxygen to all parts of our bodies properly and return our cellular waste to be broken down and transported out.
Also, we need proper hydration to regulate our body temperature, which we need during the exertion of giving a massage, even if we don’t drip in sweat while we work.
Effects of Dehydration
Feelings of thirst, dry skin or dry lips are classic signals to drink water, but frequent use of gum and mints and the use of massage lubricants may mask dry lips, thirst and dry skin, respectively, for massage therapists. By the time we experience thirst, we already have lost a significant amount of our hydration.
When dehydration intensifies, we feel a vague discomfort and lose our appetite. Dehydration can even get to the point of nausea. You may experience these symptoms but not realize they are related to hydration. At this point, physical work feels more demanding, and we can experience difficulty concentrating.
If we’re not adequately hydrated, our muscles won’t function properly. It may not get to the point of cramping, but we may feel fatigued. In the simplest terms, water is the solution by which we move all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients through our bodies. We need our muscles to have the vitamins, minerals and energy to contract and relax to do our work effectively and to repair themselves so we can continue to do this important work.
Hydration also is vital to the fascia system, which is responsible for connecting, holding and supporting all of our body structures. Properly hydrated fascia is also crucial for natural movement. When fascia is well-hydrated, it looks under magnification like a wet spider web. It drips interstitial fluid. It is one of the tissues where we lose hydration fastest.
When our fascia is not hydrated, surfaces that should move smoothly next to each other are stickier. Most people feel a lack of hydration in the fascia as stiffness or a need to stretch and move. As a massage therapist, you probably know what this feels like tactically in your client’s tissues but may not recognize how it “feels” inside your own body.
We talk a lot in the nutrition world about how most people are walking around with a sub-clinical level of dehydration. It’s not to the point of a medical emergency, but it’s certainly not thriving. Think about how these symptoms of discomfort, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and stiffness might affect you physically and emotionally and how they may contribute to burnout or job dissatisfaction.
When dehydration gets even worse, we feel dizzy and may be unable to regulate our body temperature. There are signs we’ve reached illness, and we need medical intervention.
How to Drink Water
Even though we are in the wellness industry, some of us have room to improve when it comes to hydration. The truth is a well-hydrated adult should have to urinate every hour or two. “I don’t have time for that.” (That’s what you just said in your mind when you read that first sentence, right?) We may be seeing back-to-back clients all day or go from home to home. We may avoid drinking water so we don’t have to use the bathroom.
General hydration recommendations are seven to nine cups of water a day for women. For men, it’s generally 11 to 13 cups. But the real determining factor for proper hydration also takes into account your calorie needs and your metabolic rate. If you visibly sweat while you work for several hours a day due to ambient temperature or the physical strain of your chosen modalities, then you need to consider your hydration plan more like that of an athlete, with added electrolytes.
For people who want to take a closer look at all of these factors, I would recommend having a conversation with a registered dietitian or a licensed nutritionist. They can help determine the right plan for proper hydration.
How do you stay hydrated while working as a massage therapist? Strategic placement of a water bottle or a cup of water is an excellent first step. It might be you know you need to drink a glass of water between each client, or maybe you need to track and measure. (When it comes to drinking water while working, we’re going to want to have a sanitizing process for that water bottle or glass between each client.)
Something as simple as a straw can help you enjoy drinking water more. And if plain water doesn’t taste great, it’s OK to add a little bit of 100% fruit juice or a slice of lemon or lime. We also get hydration from food — so you can eat more fresh fruits and vegetables to improve your water consumption.
About the Author
Jody Dittrich, BCTMB, practices in Waconia, Minnesota, and teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota, on whose behalf she wrote this article. She also works in the university’s Human Performance Center and its De Rusha Clinic.