Self-care is vital for massage therapists to maintain health and wellbeing.
Self-care is essential for a long professional life. Ask any massage therapist who has practiced for over a decade about their secrets to success and the term self-care is quickly shared.
At some point in our career we will meet clients who challenge our deep tissue pressure skills, push boundaries, push boundaries with demands and pull on our emotional strings. Receiving regular massage sessions can be a key component in our ability to keep a professional space with these challenging clients so that they don’t adversely affect us. This program will help us navigate the ups and downs of working with the public – which can push our physical and mental abilities to the limit.
Find the right massage partner
Some professionals find it important to pay another therapist for their services. There is wisdom behind this thought process. Some suggest, “We can’t expect people to pay for massage if we’re not willing to pay for treatments.” The key message of this statement is the one you want to get your business going. Modeling behavior is an effective way to change the energy and intentions of your practice.
However, for many people, it may be easier to find a trading partner they can trust. It is important to find a trading partner who shares common perspectives on healing. You will relax and work together more easily, knowing that you are on the same page with your outlook on bodywork practices.
How do you find an ideal therapist to swap massages with? Because massages are personal in nature, not every therapist can be ideally suited to your needs. Look for professionals who do similar work or share similar views on massage. Once the logistics are in place, enjoy the benefits of sharing sacred space with a trusted professional.
I chose my massage trading partner based on two factors. First, their quality of touch during the sessions is important as I sometimes appreciate the lymph style touch and sometimes the medium pressure touch. This therapist has the ability to perform massages at different depths and to integrate lymphatic drainage without prompting. Second, I need to be able to completely let go mentally during the sessions as this allows me to fully appreciate and assimilate the body work.
In addition to the personal and professional connection you develop with your masseur, the important benefits are the practical work. Regular massage treatments can relieve three common ailments that we as massage therapists often encounter: back pain, wrist pain, and shoulder pain.
Massage therapist self-care: back pain
Many massage therapists will encounter some type of back pain during their careers. This can be felt in the upper back (T1-T5 level), middle back (T6-T12 level), or in the lower back (L1-L5 level). The sensations in each of these areas can range from mild stiffness, moderate discomfort, painful regions, to abnormal sensations radiating into the neck.
We will examine the anatomy of each region and how massage can help people with these different back pains.
The upper back has the trapezius, rhomboid major and minor, the muscles of the upper erector spinae and the splenius capitus and cervicus. These muscles maintain the stability of the head and neck and guide the shoulder girdle. Relief of tension in this region with the help of the masseur through a better upper body posture, especially when maintaining the head posture while working.
The middle back area has a lot of overlapping muscle fibers. Trapezius, latissimus dorsi and serratus posterior superior and inferior. All of these muscles can interfere with the spine, scapula, and rib modality if they hold increased tension.
The thoracic spine is responsible for rotational and lateral flexion movements of the trunk. Relaxing tension in the proximal muscles helps a therapist move more easily as the body flexes and rotates while working.
In addition, releasing shoulder blade tension allows the arms more freedom of movement when performing long, connective massage movements. These become easier as tension is released in the chest.
The lower back, or lumbar region, has many muscles that stabilize the base of the chest and sacrum. The lower erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, psoas major and latissimus dorsi muscles form the lumbar muscles. Ensuring a solid lumbar spine coupled with the integrity of the sacroiliac joint (SI) will help the therapist use body weight with deeper pressure, thus helping to avoid injury.
Of particular note is that the quadriceps muscles on the front thigh are kept strong to avoid back pain. When the quadriceps group becomes weak, the lumbar spine has to work harder to maintain integrity in gait and posture. With the right body mechanics, which includes bending your knees while working, you can make effective use of leg strength and body weight.
Massage therapist self-care: wrist pain
Many massage therapists will point out pain, tingling, numbness, or other abnormal sensations in the hands, wrists, forearms, and the entire arm unit. Due to the nature of our activity, we must continue to stretch and release the tension held in the upper limb to avoid nerve compression or related injury.
The eight anterior flexor tendons can easily tire and tension from excessive movements of the fingers, thumbs, and wrists. If increased tension of the anterior antebrachium is observed, it usually means that a therapist is overusing these tools.
Not all cases of carpal tunnel syndrome really fit the definition of this condition. Abnormal sensations traveling distally on the front of the arms towards the thumb, index finger, and middle finger indicate the presence of true carpal tunnel syndrome. The same sensations that spread distally over the medial aspect of the front arms towards the ring and little fingers indicate ulnar nerve syndrome, also called Guyon’s canal syndrome.
Massage efforts to create space and release tension along the frontal plane of the upper limbs can relieve many carpal tunnel-like symptoms. A muscle called the pronator teres can often be the culprit in this condition. This deep forearm muscle can be reached down to the brachioradialis muscle, then from lateral to medial, from the radial tuberosity to the medial epicondyle of the humerus.
If there are abnormal sensations along the hind arm, the radial nerve is likely to be affected. The activation of the deltoid and extensor muscles of the antrachium can release tension that compresses the radial nerve. In addition, the tension along this nerve tract can be relieved by targeting the subscapularis muscle deep in the axillary region.
Regularly massaging your arms will help relieve abnormal sensations due to carpal tunnel-like symptoms. The manual dexterity and sensory feeling that are essential for training the fine deep tissues can be restored through regular body work.
Massage therapist self-care: shoulder pain
Many massage therapists report that their shoulders are either sore or have lost significant freedom of movement. The glenohumeral joint (also known as the shoulder) must be mobile to allow a wide range of motion in all planes. There is very little ligamentous tissue that holds the bones in place; Hence, the protection for the joint comes from the muscles surrounding and attaching to this area.
Nine muscles surround and mainly facilitate the shoulder joint. The supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis, taken together the muscles of the rotator cuff and the deltoid, surround the shoulder joint directly. Four other muscles that run through the bicipital furrow – pectoralis major, teres major, latissimus dorsi, and biceps brachii – also act on this joint region. All of these muscles protect this joint from injury.
Diseases such as frozen shoulder and pectoralis minor syndrome often arise due to incorrect joint function, which leads to shoulder injuries. When muscles begin to tire or maintain excessive tension, the body’s compensatory patterns can affect the entire upper body, as seen in upper body cross syndromes and spiral line dysfunction.
Tensing any of these muscles can begin to limit the function of the shoulder joint. A greater range of motion in the shoulder corresponds to the prevention of possible shoulder injuries and an easier massage movement.
Regular bodywork sessions to restore shoulder mobility can greatly extend a therapist’s career. Adding passive movement and stretching techniques will further improve treatments for the shoulder.
Get a massage for self-care
Creating the time to receive regular massage sessions becomes important to a massage therapist’s professional longevity. It may be necessary to juggle our schedule and shift priorities to gain time in our busy lives to commit to regular meetings.
Whether we choose to pay for sessions or find a trusted trading partner, the goal is to make sure you can comfortably continue your career – and provide the best possible service to your customers. Being pain free makes this a lot easier for a therapist. In some cases, it can determine the longevity of your career.
About the author:
Jimmy Gialelis, LMT, BCTMB, is the owner of Advanced Massage Arts & Education in Tempe, Arizona. He is a recognized training provider by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and teaches Massage for Common Back Pain and many other CE courses. He is a regular contributor to MASSAGE Magazine and his articles include “Autoimmune Disease: A Breakdown in Self-Tolerance” and “Massage Improves the Quality of Life for Patients with Cerebral Palsy” (both massagemag.com).