Long hours, tiring days…. ah, the physically demanding but rewarding job of the massage therapist! Tasked with the relaxation and treatment of individuals from all walks of life, you know how important it is to be proactive about caring for the body and mind, and it’s something that your clients can tell you are passionate about. When you’re are so focused on taking care of other people, however, taking care of yourself can sometimes fall to the back burner, leaving you distracted, tired, sore, and even injured. Let’s talk about some techniques of self-care for massage therapists, so you can be proactive about the health and wellness of your own body and mind to stay ahead of the curve.
Stretches and therapeutic exercises, just like the ones you give your clients, are great additions to your self-care regimen. You’ve probably seen plenty of these exercises before, and you’ll find some effective examples below as a reminder.
Self-Care For Massage Therapists: Wrists and Fingers
Your fingers and wrists do a lot of work in the run of a day. Here are some exercises to relieve tension in these career-vital areas.
Finger Stretch #1: Clasp your hands together with the fingers of each hand alternating over each other so your fingertips touch the backs of your hands. Keeping your fingers pressing together, straighten your arms and press your hands away from you. Hold for 30 seconds. An exercise common among typists, this is also wonderful as self-care for massage therapists.
Finger Stretch #2: Keeping your fingers crossed together as before, now scoop your thumbs back towards you, turning your palms over and pressing them up. You should be getting a nice stretch here. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat if desired. These two finger stretches can be performed as a fluid movement as well, and are a great combination to do in between clients when you are short on time.
Wrist Stretch #1: Flex your right wrist so it is at a right angle and gently push down on the back of the right hand with the left hand. Keeping gentle pressure with the left hand, extend your right arm out in front of you. You’ll likely feel this stretch in the extensors carpi radialis brevis and longus as well as extensor digitorum. For a more intense stretch, curl the fingers of your right hands into your palm as if you were making a fist. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch arms.
Wrist Stretch #2: This stretch focuses on the finger flexors that cross the wrist. It looks very similar to the previous stretch except that your wrist is in extension, your forearm supinated, and your palm will be facing away from you. You’ll likely feel this in brachioradialis, palmaris longus, and the flexors carpi radialis and ulnaris. Try bending your elbow slightly for a more intense stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch arms.
Self-Massage: You already know how beneficial massage therapy is, so why not use some self-massage techniques on yourself? Here’s a short article from the AMTA’s Massage Therapy Journal that details a few effective exercises for playful wrist and forearm self-massage. This article suggests some variations such as muscle stripping, traction, and skin rolling to try on those tender limbs.
Self-Care For Massage Therapists: Shoulders and Back
Even if you are extremely mindful of your body mechanics and form as you work, chances are you’ll have the occasional bout of upper or lower back pain. Making preventative and therapeutic exercises a part of your self-care regimen is the first step to keeping back pain and injury at bay.
Shoulder Passes: This dynamic exercise will increase the range of motion throughout the shoulder joint. You’ll likely feel most of the stretch in pectoralis major and minor, which may be tight from your work position. Grasp a broomstick in front of your body with a wide grip, forearms pronated. Keeping your arms as straight as possible pass the broomstick up and over your head in an arc and bring it down behind you to rest on your lower back. Then pass it back up and over to come back to the starting position. Be sure to spend a few extra seconds in any area that seems tight or sticky. Complete 10 passes over and back. As your range of motion increases, you can inch your hands closer together on the broomstick.
Back Self-Massage: Of course you’ve heard of foam rollers and lacrosse balls, and you’ve probably recommended them to your clients! Using the foam roller for quadratus lumborum release or thoracic extension on the floor can feel absolutely fantastic at the end of a long day, and lacrosse balls are perfect for hitting those trigger points in your trapezius and rhomboids.
It’s important to take time out of your day on a regular basis to check in with yourself and your emotions. Have you set any new goals for yourself? Are you spending quality time with friends and family as often as you’d like to? Are you participating in the hobbies you have that bring you joy? These are all things that we tend to forget about when we get stressed out or we are at a busy time in our careers. Emotional and social health are so important to doing your job effectively and efficiently. You can make a point of slowing down and asking yourself these questions as part of your self-care regimen. Staying well-rested, hydrated, nourished, and maintaining physical fitness will also help you stay on the positive side. Play and laugh as much as you can and you’ll be blessed with a fresh mindset and outlook.
Many people find that a yoga or meditation practice helps them deal with any stress that may arise by moving mindfully and being aware of their breathing. If meditation isn’t a practice you find yourself engaging in already, you may find it’s a very positive addition to your regimen if you’re up to trying it. The AMTA has a simple article outlining some basic meditation techniques here to get you started.
Last but not least: have you gotten a massage lately? Don’t forget that you can reap the benefits that massage has to offer too.
You may find that adding some of the self-care for massage therapists techniques from this article into your own regimen will increase your stamina at work and improve your work/life balance. By taking good care of yourself, you’ll be able to take better care of your clients, and that’s what massage therapy is all about.