Why is self-care such a buzzword these days, especially in the world of massage therapy? The physical and mental demands of the profession, combined with the desire to provide optimal care for clients, can often leave massage therapists feeling drained. For both the seasoned therapist and the enthusiastic student stepping into the world of massage, understanding practical applications of self-care is essential.
What is a self-care routine? A self-care routine is a series of deliberate actions taken regularly to maintain and enhance one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It’s not just about treating yourself after a long day; it’s about setting up habits that promote resilience, reduce the risk of burnout or injury, and support overall health, both as a practitioner and an individual.
In this article, we’ll present five effective and easy-to-implement self-care routines tailored for massage and bodywork practitioners. From daily rituals like stretches and exercises, to weekly practices, you’ll discover actionable steps to ensure that you stay at the top of your game, feel rejuvenated, and continue to offer the best to your clients, all while nurturing your own well-being. For a more in-depth exploration of self-care strategies, don’t miss our comprehensive guide on self-care tips for massage therapists.
1. Daily Stretching Routine
Every craft has its tools, and as a massage therapist, your most valuable tool is your body (and mind). Imagine this: You’re using your hands, arms, shoulders, and back throughout the a day, applying varied pressure (sometimes intense pressure), and maneuvering into positions that demand flexibility. Over time, without proper care, this continuous exertion can lead to fatigue, stiffness, micro-traumas, trigger points, and even potential injuries.
So, how does one protect this invaluable asset? Enter the daily stretching routine. Stretching is the cornerstone of a self-care regimen that promotes flexibility, alleviates muscle tension, and aids in maintaining optimal posture. By taking a few minutes each morning to stretch and then sprinkling in short stretching breaks between clients, you’re not only boosting your physical wellness but also sending a powerful message to your mind: “I value and care for myself.”
Integrating a daily stretching routine doesn’t require expensive equipment or hours of commitment. Simple stretches targeting the wrist, neck, shoulders, and lower back can make a world of difference. These stretches are also useful for practitioner and students studying for MBLEx exam, who are spending extended periods of time in a static position studying their notes or taking practice tests.
The following is a basic routine self care for massage therapists hands as well as stretches for other common problem areas for therapists:
- Wrist Flexor Stretch: Extend arm in front with palm up. Use the opposite hand to gently pull fingers back to stretch the wrist flexors. Alternatively, you could use the prayer stretch or reverse prayer pose (yoga stretch) which involves pressing the palms together at chest level, fingers pointing upwards, and gradually lowering the hands towards the waistline while keeping the heels of the hands together, effectively stretching the wrist flexors.
- Wrist Extensor Stretch: Extend arm forward with palm down. Gently pull the hand and fingers towards the forearm, stretching the wrist extensors on the posterior side of the forearm.
- Cervical Stretch: Sit upright. Tilt the head to one side and use your hand on the same side to gently pull the head further, targeting the anterior, middle, and posterior scalene muscles. Then repeat the process targeting the upper trapezius by tilting the head diagonally forward, as if trying to touch the armpit with the chin. You can target the levator scapula muscle by rotating the head 45 degrees and lowering the chin toward the chest. Place the hand under the thigh to keep the shoulder anchored down.
- Rhomboid Stretch: Extend arms out front and interlace fingers. Round the upper back and push arms forward, feeling a stretch between the shoulder blades, targeting the rhomboids.
- Pectoral Stretch: Stand in a doorway, place the forearm vertically on the door frame with the elbow at shoulder height. Step through the doorway until a stretch is felt in the chest, focusing on the pectoralis major and minor.
- Hamstring Stretch: Sit with one leg extended and the other bent inward. Lean forward from the hips, aiming to stretch the back of the extended leg. Focuses on the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.
- Hip Flexor Stretch: In a lunge position, with the back leg extended straight, tuck the pelvis and push forward slightly, feeling a stretch in the front of the hip. Targets the iliopsoas and rectus femoris.
Incorporating these stretches can help in addressing muscle imbalances, reducing the risk of overuse injuries, and ensuring better posture and functional mobility for massage therapists.
2. Functional Exercise Routine
For massage therapists, maintaining physical strength and endurance aren’t just bonuses; they’re necessities. Just as an athlete trains for peak performance, massage therapists must prepare their bodies to meet the physical demands of their profession.
A consistent exercise routine will help with building functional strength, increasing cardiovascular endurance, and enhancing flexibility. This isn’t about achieving a certain aesthetic, but rather cultivating a body that’s resilient to the repetitive stresses of massage therapy.
Let’s break down the key components of an effective exercise regimen as well as some suggested frequencies:
- Strength Training (2-3 times a week): Focusing on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, push-ups and pull-ups can help massage therapists develop a strong core and enhance overall body strength. The stronger the muscles, the less effort is required during massages, which will reduce fatigue.
- Cardiovascular Training (3-5 times a week): Incorporating activities such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming can help improve cardiovascular endurance. This boosts energy levels, allowing for longer sessions without getting winded.
- Balance and Coordination (2-3 times a week): Pilates and yoga are fantastic for improving balance, coordination, and flexibility. Regular practice can also aid in maintaining proper posture during treatments and preventing injuries.
- Functional Movements (2-3 times a week): Given the unique physical demands of massage therapy, including exercises that mimic daily activities – like lunging, twisting, and pressing – can be beneficial. This ensures the body is prepared for the practical movements it encounters during therapy sessions.
Committing to a consistent exercise routine is an act of self-love and professional responsibility. Over time, you’ll notice not only improved physical capability but also enhanced mental clarity and more enjoyment from work. Remember, by taking care of yourself, you’re in a better position to care for others.
3. Epsom Salt Bath for Recovery
Every massage therapist understands the importance of recovery. The daily physical demands of the profession can often leave one feeling drained, both mentally and physically. An effective recovery strategy can make all the difference in rejuvenating tired muscles and calming a stressed mind, preparing you for another day of transforming lives with healing touch.
Enter the Epsom salt bath. Not just a luxury, these baths have long been heralded for their therapeutic properties. Comprised of magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt can be easily absorbed through the skin.
According to a study by Waring (2004), bathing in Epsom salts leads to measurable increases in plasma magnesium and sulfate levels without any adverse effects. Magnesium, a mineral often depleted with stress and rigorous physical activity, plays a critical role in muscle function. Replenishing this essential mineral can lead to reduced muscle cramps, improved nerve functions, and enhanced relaxation.
The process is simple, yet the rewards are immense. Here’s how to make the most of your Epsom salt bath:
- Warm Water: Ensure your bathwater is comfortably warm. Warm water helps open the pores, facilitating efficient absorption of magnesium.
- Amount of Salt: Add about 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salt to your bathtub, ensuring it dissolves completely.
- Essential Oil Addition: Add 5-7 drops of lavender essential oil to your bath. Lavender is known for its relaxation properties, offering an additional layer of calm to your soak.
- Duration: Soak for at least 20 minutes. This allows your body ample time to absorb the magnesium and for you to benefit from the relaxation.
- Frequency: For optimum results, indulge in this soothing routine once a week. Not only does it help with physical recovery, but it also offers a mental break, letting you unwind and refresh.
4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In the demanding profession of massage therapy, understanding and mastering relaxation techniques is as beneficial for the therapist as it is for the client. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) stands out as an exceptional tool for alleviating physical tension and mental stress.
Originated by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the early 1900’s, this method focuses on tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, promoting awareness of bodily sensations and fostering deep relaxation.
PMR works on the fundamental principle of contrast. By deliberately tensing your muscles first and then suddenly releasing the tension, you become acutely aware of the difference between the two states. This heightened awareness can lead to a deeper state of relaxation and calm.
As a massage therapist, practicing PMR will not only help to relieve the physical strain of the day’s work, but also equips you with another tool in your toolbox for helping clients.
Here’s a brief guide on how to practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
- Comfortable Position: Begin by finding a quiet place where you can sit or lie down comfortably without disturbances.
- Focus on Breathing: Take a few deep breaths, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. This sets the stage for relaxation.
- Tense and Relax: Start at your feet and move upwards. Tense each muscle group (like your calves) tightly for about 5 seconds and then release the tension abruptly. Notice the contrast in sensation.
- Progress Upwards: Continue the process with each muscle group, progressing from your legs to your abdomen, hands, arms, shoulders, face, and head.
- Conclude with Deep Breathing: Once you’ve relaxed every muscle group, focus once more on deep breathing for a few minutes.
A recent study by Toussaint et al. (2021) investigated the efficacy of various relaxation techniques, including Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Their findings confirmed that Progressive Muscle Relaxation significantly enhanced both psychological and physiological relaxation states, making it particularly valuable for professionals like massage therapists.
5. Deep Breathing Exercises
Out of all self-care strategies in this list, deep breathing exercises are one of the easiest and most effective. Often understated in its simplicity, this powerful tool can transform moments of stress into waves of serenity by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.
The beauty of deep (diaphragmatic) breathing exercises lies in their universality. Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, a few minutes of focused breathing can recenter your mind and rejuvenate your body. By engaging in deep inhalations and exhalations, you actively promote oxygen exchange, which in turn can revitalize your muscles, calm your nervous system, and sharpen your focus.
Here’s how to effectively practice deep breathing exercises:
- Find a Quiet Spot: While not mandatory, a calm environment can enhance the quality of your breathing exercise.
- Adopt a Relaxed Posture: Sit, stand or lie comfortably with your back straight. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach (optional).
- Inhale Slowly: Breathe in deeply through your nose, allowing your diaphragm (not your chest) to rise, counting to five as you inhale. With practice, you can slow this to a count of 20 or more.
- Hold Your Breath: Gently pause for a count of three. Try to keep your muscles relaxed.
- Exhale Slowly: Release the air through your mouth, counting to five as you exhale, feeling the hand on your stomach move inward. Pause for three seconds before starting your next inhale.
- Repeat: Continue this pattern for about 5-10 minutes.
It’s beneficial to integrate deep breathing exercises into your daily routine. Starting your day with a 5-minute session can set a positive tone, while concluding with another in the evening can help dissipate the stresses of the day. In addition, brief 1-2 minute intervals of deep breathing interspersed throughout the day, especially between client sessions, can prove invaluable in maintaining a relaxed and focused demeanor. Deep breathing exercises are also useful for relieving anxiety before other stressful events like taking an exam or going in for a job interview.
A study by Conrad et al. (2007) demonstrated that deep breathing exercises can significantly decrease the symptoms of anxiety and is beneficial in promoting overall well-being. Such findings underline the value of these exercises, especially for professionals in the wellness industry who often bear the physical and emotional strains of their clients.
Ma et al. (2017) explored the positive impacts of deep breathing exercises, revealing significant reductions in stress hormone levels, thereby suggesting that these exercises are indeed potent tools in stress modulation and overall mental wellness.
Final Thoughts on Self-Care Routines
Performing at your best for your clients starts with taking of yourself. As massage therapists, the physical and emotional demands of the profession can be taxing. It’s essential to incorporate effective self-care routines to maintain optimal health and performance.
By prioritizing practices like stretching, regular exercise, and progressive relaxation techniques, therapists can ensure a long and rewarding career as a massage therapist. Mastering techniques such as PMR and deep breathing exercises will also give you additional tools so that you can educate your clients on these skills. Remember, your well-being directly influences the quality of care you provide to your clients. Prioritize yourself to be the best for them.
FAQs About Self-Care for Massage Therapists
How does routine exercise help in improving a massage therapist’s job performance?
A regular exercise routine strengthens the core, improves stamina, and enhances hand and forearm muscle strength and endurance. This not only aids in reducing fatigue during sessions but also helps in preventing repetitive strain injuries (RSIs).
Are there any specific exercises that focus on the hands and forearms for therapists?
Yes, exercises such as wrist flexor and extensor stretches, resistance band exercises for grip strength, and finger tendon glides specifically target the hands and forearms, helping therapists maintain strength and flexibility in these critical areas.
You can also try the rice bucket exercise. Fill a big bowl about 2/3 full with dried rice and then submerge 1 hand at a time to perform movements in various directions (open-close, flex-extend, abduct-adduct, alphabet, rotating wrist, etc.). This will strengthen the smaller intrinsic muscles of the hands. Some musicians, rock climbers and martial artists do this for hand strength. It is also a popular rehabilitation exercise for developing fine motor skills.
How does progressive muscle relaxation differ from regular relaxation techniques?
Progressive muscle relaxation involves intentionally tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups in a sequence. Unlike regular relaxation techniques, which might be more passive, it offers a structured approach to achieve deep muscular relaxation and mental calmness.
How can massage therapists integrate these self-care routines into their busy schedules?
By allocating specific times each day or week for each routine, such as stretching for 10 minutes before work, deep breathing exercises during breaks, or scheduling a weekly Epsom salt bath. Tools like calendar reminders or mobile apps can also assist in staying consistent.
Are there any tools or gadgets that can assist massage therapists in their self-care practices?
Absolutely! Massage therapists can benefit from tools such as foam rollers for muscle relaxation, a Theracane for pinpointed deep-tissue relief, and hand therapy balls or resistance bands to improve grip strength and maintain hand and wrist health.
Waring, R. H. (2004). Report on Absorption of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) across the skin. University of Birmingham.
Toussaint L, Nguyen QA, Roettger C, Dixon K, Offenbächer M, Kohls N, Hirsch J, Sirois F. Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021 Jul 2;2021:5924040. doi: 10.1155/2021/5924040. PMID: 34306146; PMCID: PMC8272667.
Conrad, A., Müller, A., Doberenz, S., Kim, S., Meuret, A. E., Wollburg, E., & Roth, W. T. (2007). Psychophysiological effects of breathing instructions for stress management. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 32(2), 89-98.
Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., … & Li, Y. F. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874.