So why is self-care for massage therapists particularly important?
Massage therapists can have long-lasting and rewarding careers, but are susceptible to serious physical injuries, short or long term pain and emotional stress if common sense self-care practices are not consistently followed. The role requires long hours on the feet and intense pressure on the upper body, so proper body mechanics, among other preventative measures, is essential. Additionally, spa therapists regularly encounter their clients physical and emotional triggers, and without setting boundaries it is easy to let these affect your own balance and well-being.
The good news is that if you follow the same wellness tips that you regularly give to your clients, and practice best body dynamic protocols, you will have a very fulfilling life as a massage therapist and well-rounded person.
“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.” Steve Maraboli, motivational speaker & author of Unapologetically You.
Self-care for massage therapists begins and ends with you! You likely know all of the recommended best practices, yet in in a hectic world involving heavy work demands, family responsibilities and perhaps a busy social life you may not always practice what you preach. Let’s review some of the most essential protocols and then introduce a few you may not have considered.
Maintain healthy eating habits
The role of a massage therapist relies on a high performing body and this begins with a nutritious diet. Be conscious that your meals are well-balanced and you don’t too often sink into that craving for food that you understand does not serve your long term health goals.
Even though it is common knowledge that water is critical to health, it is even more important for self-care for massage therapists. Drinking water throughout the shift will minimize fatigue, and give you a fresher outlook which your guests will instinctively feel. Hydration also improves cognitive functions, thus keeping you more focused on client needs.
If you’re bored with plain water, spruce it up by adding fruits, vegetables or herbs. These are so delicious and so much better than caving into a sugary drink as a quick pick-me up.
Take time out for yourself
This cliche is particularly critical in the spa industry as the job demands both physical endurance and mental clarity. Take one to two days away per week from your work premise. If this is not feasible take a few hours for some time away from the job.
‘Me Time’ is a particularly crucial element for self-care for massage therapists.
Try new massage modalites
It is quite common in the spa sector to schedule massage time with a co-worker, but unless at a large resort or day spa there will be a lot of repetition. Instead, it is so motivating to try something different and you just might learn a few new tricks. For example, if you specialise in western bodywork styles, give an Eastern modality a whirl as they are more focused on the mind-body connection, plus rhythm and flow. Learn more about the differences here.
A final benefit is that it will dissolve stress, restore your spirit and refresh your motivation by giving you a new appreciation for the healthy touch that you bring to so many.
There are many forms of meditation that may resonate with you, but almost all teach effective breathing techniques and mindfulness which will keep you grounded throughout your daily routine. You can easily meditate in the comfort of your own home or in a group setting.
It is a scientifically proven way to improve over-all health and establish peace of mind.
Yoga can also generate similar benefits with the advantage of strengthening your muscles, especially your core, while at the same time becoming much more flexible.
Whatever your preference, regularly doing it will certainly ensure you greet each day with renewed vigor and enthusiasm for the day’s positive outcomes for both sender and receiver.
“The most important piece of equipment a massage therapist has is their own body.” Sandra K. Anderson, American Massage Therapy Association
Any reputable spa or massage school will teach the essentials of bodywork techniques to avoid injuries or pain. However, it is not unusual to lose concentration and let once good habits convert into unhealthy ones. This is another reason mindfulness and focus are crucial at all times.
If you have overdone the amount of hours your body is prepared to take or not adhered to your self-care routine, you will likely experience early warning signs — including unusual fatigue, minor aches and pains, or a breakdown of proper body mechanics while giving massage. It is key to address such an issue immediately. This may require minor scheduling adjustments to give yourself the care it needs to recover, bodywork treatments or changes to your body mechanics to identify the cause. Ignore these signals for too long and you may find yourself sidelined for a much longer recuperation period. Keep in mind that these indicators are simply a sign from our body to stop and consider whether we are adhering to all of the self-care for massage therapists tools in our arsenal.
Apply Proper Body Mechanics
This aspect of your massage duties is fundamental for a long and prosperous career. If your body is not properly aligned, this can lead to aches, pains, tension, stress, and even an increased likelihood of illness and injury. After adjusting the height of the table, the optimal way to begin is to ensure your feet are pointing towards the client and planted firmly. Knees must be slightly bent, and hips, shoulders and head are in alignment. Hip and lower body mobility is also vital. Your pelvis should maintain a balanced, strong position while working.
When applying the bodywork strokes use the power in your forearms and elbow rather than just from your hands and fingers. This will help you steer clear of soft injuries such as RSI’s (repetitive stress injuries) and CTD’s (cumulative trauma disorders). Of course, there will be times you need to you use them, but these extremities will be thankful later if they are spared the hard work the majority of the time.
Another tip to prevent injury to the saddle joint of the thumb is to stack it in line with the forearm.
While carrying out the massage do not bend too much or for prolonged periods as this places excessive strain on your back, shoulders and arms. For example rather than positioning yourself at your client’s head for long back strokes, try moving to the side.
Throughout the process pay attention to whether your breathing is steady and gentle, or erratic. If the latter, it is likely your body is being strained too much. Also if your upper body tires before your legs, it is likely that you are not using efficient body mechanics.
So the real secret is to work smarter, not harder.
Warm Up and Cool Down
Self-care for massage therapists starts and ends with mobility exercises to prevent strain, pain and potential injury. A moderate warming up will get tissues gliding and blood flowing, as well as provide a full range of motion. However, a warm up routine that works for one person, may not for you, so research the ideal stretching, postural adjustments and other techniques that will prepare you personally for a busy day.
If you have ever neglected an end-of-day cool down for consecutive days, you will have experienced how tight and sore your muscles begin to feel. This is because metabolic waste products like lactic acid are not flushed from the muscles as they would if you had taken a few minutes to cool down. It is tempting to dash off immediately after work, but ask any athlete about the value of a cool down and they will tell you it is equally as vital as the warm up.
Stretch and Self Massage
In addition to relaxing and refueling between appointments, it is important to stretch your hands, wrists, neck and shoulders. You can also apply self-massage techniques to loosen up tight muscles. This can include your lower back, shoulder, forearms and even the hand which actually contains 30 different muscles.. Even if these body parts don’t ache at the moment, a little pampering will get you physically ready for the next session.
Many experts recommend soft foam rollers and massage balls for a workout that really lengthens and soothes the entire body. It is an easy and relaxing way to quickly relax a tired body.
Let things go!
It is so easy to take on the emotional problems that your clients may voice during a session, but you have to learn the art of letting go. If not, your mind will be a jumble of conflicts at the end of the day and this does not serve you or your customers well. Genuine sympathy can be conveyed, but should not be carried on from session to session. All of the above tips will help you to shake loose of any lingering reactions that you do not wish to carry forward.
If you want to do a physical job like massage therapy for the long term, you need to focus back in on yourself and start making self-care a habit, not a treat.
You became a massage therapist because you wanted to help people feel their best, but you can only do this when you yourself feel healthy. After all, you can only advise your clients about wellness from a place of personal experience. So stick with the prescribed self-care for massage therapists tips we have outlined for you, and glow with success and happiness.
If you are interested in starting a career in massage therapy or adding to your skill set, then please review our expansive list of professional courses with internationally recognized certification by the Bali International Spa Academy (BISA), CIBTAC, VTCT and ITEC. And no matter what stage of your career you are at remember to make self-care a part of your daily action plan.
Founder and Director
Bali International Spa Academy