Back to Basics

Self-care tips worth repeating.

 February 1, 2021

the word basics spelled out

The start of a new year is a perfect time to recommit to self-care practices that can help you stay healthy. Sometimes, that means adding newfound routines that will help you better manage your health and wellbeing. Other times, reinvigorating your self-care regimen means going back to the basics you learned at the start of your career. Following are five foundational self-care tips that will help you kickstart the new year and help ensure you’re keeping your own health and well-being at the top of your priority list.

1. Getting Table Height Right

Table height is one of the first things massage therapists need to think about before starting a massage session, as properly setting the height of your table will go a long way in ensuring good body mechanics.

Experts suggest that a good starting point is to set your table at half of your own height and adjust accordingly—a little higher if you have longer legs, a little lower if you have a longer torso.

Ed Mohr, who was an ergonomics engineering manager with General Motors for 33 years before becoming a massage therapist, explains a higher table reduces stress on the lower back and allows for a more natural wrist angle.

Of course, different techniques and different clients are going to affect where massage therapists need to set their table, so be conscious of the work you’re doing and adjust when necessary. The guiding principle should be that using your body weight when possible instead of your hands to create pressure is optimal.

The following is a simple way to measure a good starting table height. Again, there are factors, like clients who want or need deep tissue work, that may require an adjustment. Be conscious of the work you’re doing when adjusting table height for each client.

  1. Stand up straight with your fists loosely clenched at your sides.
  2. Measure the distance between your knuckles and the floor.
  3. The resulting distance is where you should set the height of your table.

2. Watch Your Feet: Why Stance is Important

Just as problems can start in a person’s feet, like lower back pain, for example, good things can start with your feet, too. When your feet are aligned, other body parts follow, Mohr says. Massage therapists should begin with their feet about shoulder-width apart and their toes pointed forward, but consider using an asymmetric stance—where one foot is forward and the other is back—if you to need to create more pressure.

You also want to face the direction of your stroke, making sure that your toes, hips, shoulders and head are aligned and your back foot remains on the floor. It’s best to use the arm that matches both the direction of the stroke and the forward foot, leaning on the client to create pressure instead of pushing with your muscles. For example, if the massage stroke is going left, use your left arm with your left foot in forward position.

How to assume a proper stance that puts less stress on the massage therapist’s body:

  1. Consider using an asymmetric stance, with one foot forward and the other back.
  2. Face the direction of the stroke, and match both the arm and the forward foot to the direction the stroke is going.
  3. Lean into the client to generate pressure from your core instead of pushing with your muscle.

3. Massage Strokes: Uphill Is Easier

The idea that going uphill is easier sounds counterintuitive in most situations, but not when you’re talking about massage strokes. Using an uphill stroke provides massage therapists a mechanical advantage, meaning less effort is required to maintain pressure on a client. Once you’re over the hill, Mohr explains, you’re going to have to push harder.

Bolsters are a great way for massage therapists to create hills during a session.

Now is the time to be aware of your own joints, as well, making sure they are stacked and your hands and wrists are relaxed, especially when using your forearm during massage. Be careful that you don’t overextend or overreach when working on a client.

For longer stokes, take a step forward to continue the stroke instead of reaching with your upper arm.

4. Creating Force That Doesn’t Hurt You

Most massage therapists are familiar with the advice that using their thumb to create pressure during a massage session is not a good idea and can lead to a variety of injuries over time, some that may be career-ending.

Your forearm is a better option than relying on the delicate joints and muscles in your hands, especially when considering the number of massages you might be doing in one day. When you couple the use of creating pressure via your core—leaning into the client—with using larger muscle groups like your forearm, you’re able to create the pressure some clients need or want while also putting less strain on your own body.

Save the work you do with your hands for a client’s head, hands, feet and face.

5. Breathing Into Your Work

You might tell your clients to take a deep breath before you start your massage session or remind them throughout their time with you to take a breath to further promote relaxation. But breathing isn’t just for your clients.

Paying attention to your own breath during a massage session can help you stay in tune with your body and quickly correct lapses in your body mechanics.

Being aware of your breath can also help you relax and stay focused so you can provide the best massage therapy to your clients.