People are always surprised when I tell them that for the most part, I am never in pain despite my work as a massage therapist. That wasn't always the case. For the first couple of years of my massage career, I was constantly rubbing my sore hands, forearms, neck, and low back. I realized pretty quickly that if I was going to have any longevity as a massage therapist something needed to change. I started reassessing the way I used my body not only while working on clients but also in my day to day activities.
In addition to mastering proper ergonomics while performing massage, I also employ these four simple practices to help ensure that I remain pain-free and not counting down the days until my next massage.
My clients probably get sick of me saying this, but nothing is better for sore, tight, overworked muscles than a nice hot soak. I'm probably in the tub 1-3 nights a week in the warmer months and 2-4 nights a week during the colder months. Don't have a tub? No problem. The next best thing is a very hot shower. I even go one step further and stretch at the end of every shower I take. Most of the time it's just a simple forward bend for 30 seconds to a minute. It's quick, it stretches everything from the base of your skull to your heels, and if you get into the habit, you don't even have to think about it. Just remember to hydrate during or after especially if you're someone who tends to spend an hour or more in the tub which leads me to my next point.
Hydration is one of those things that most people know but still struggle to accomplish. Staying hydrated prevents injuries and unwanted tension by allowing toxins to leave the muscles and making sure the fascia and other connective tissue stays lubricated and moving freely. When you're dehydrated, your muscles can't flush out waste and end up adhering to the surrounding tissue by way of adhesions. These adhesions, in turn, reduce your muscle's ability to move independently from one another and limit their range of motion resulting in pain and tension.
Everyone is different, and there's no magic number when it comes to how many ounces of water one should drink. Your diet, activity level, weight, as well as environmental factors will determine how much you should be drinking. I usually tell my clients that if you can't remember the last time you went to the bathroom, you're probably not drinking enough water.
This one is not quite as obvious but fairly easy to master once you become aware of how you're using your body on a daily basis. Are you someone who carries a bag on the same shoulder all the day? Do you have a desk job and keep your right hand on a computer mouse for hours on end? Maybe you're a painter who uses the same hand to hold your brush or roller. As difficult as it may seem, it's essential to learn how to use your body symmetrically. I realize it's hard to do everything with your non-dominant hand, but every little bit counts.
Holding patterns are what we call the poor habit of sitting(or standing) in the same position with little to no change for extended periods of time. Our muscles and connective tissue need movement to remain flexible. When a muscle remains shortened or lengthened for long periods of time, it starts to assume that position. When you do eventually move, tightness and pain usually follow. This is why we're generally a little stiff and slow to move in the morning. Those who have jobs that require them to sit at a desk or drive for long periods of time run the highest risk of suffering the consequences of holding patterns. That doesn't mean the rest of us are off the hook though. Sitting in front of your computer or staring at your smartphone are common holding patterns that many of us fall victim to while "relaxing." Something as simple as getting up to get a drink or go to the bathroom every 30 minutes can be enough ensure you're not succumbing to the vicious cycle of a holding pattern.
I don't expect these four practices to replace massage or miraculously eliminate everyone's aches and pains especially if you've suffered traumatic injuries or incurable disease. However, I do know that rarely a week goes by that someone doesn't thank me for turning them on to at least one of these healthy habits so that their next massage is less needed and more wanted. And like many of my clients already know, nothing feels better than a massage you don't need.
By: David Bender, Lincensed Massage Therapist