The documented benefits of massage are numerous, making massage therapy a great option to help manage a variety of issues. But having a self-care routine between massages, when life begins leaning on individuals with its full weight, is also vitally important for your massage clients who are looking to achieve better health.
People use massage therapy for a variety of reasons, many of which are related to how they spend their time off your massage table, at least in part. According to the American Heart Association, for example, sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950, which means some people are trying to manage repetitive use injuries, or neck and back pain from being at a computer most of their day. Other times, people are dealing with painful or frustrating symptoms of a diagnosed health condition. Some, too, just need space to take a deep breath and relax.
No matter why your clients come see you, being ready to talk to them about ways they can extend the benefits of your work together can both reinforce the benefits of massage, as well as help build trust between you and your clients.
“Self-care is important because it prolongs the outcome of a massage session and helps sustain clients until their next session,” says Amanda D’Agosto, RN, licensed massage therapist, founder/owner of A Valley of Vitality Wellness Studio. “This allows the massage therapist to continue the treatment to a point where session times can be reduced and massage maintenance frequencies can be extended.”
Make Self-Care Simple, And Build on the Work You Did Together
Stretching. Stretching is one of the best self-care strategies because almost anyone can do it in almost any location. Additionally, different stretches can target different problem areas, helping a client to individualize a routine to meet their own needs.
“We suggest clients who sit at a desk a lot get up and stretch about 10 minutes out of every hour and to look upward at the ceiling to stretch their scalene and neck muscles,” says D’Agosto.
Sally Moon, LMT and sports physical therapist, encourages massage therapists to include self-care stretches that work in either the home or office environment, especially since more people are taking advantage of hybrid working arrangements, which means many people are spending part of their workweek in both places.
According to Moon, doorway pushups are great for clients who spend too much time during the day leaning over a computer screen, and they have a multitude of variations that allow for you and your clients to decide what best suits their needs.
A very basic variation of this stretch:
- Have a client stand about arms-length away from a door with their hands on either side of the door jamb
- Lean forward, bending their arms as they move toward the door, holding position for a few seconds
- Then, push back away from the door, returning to starting position
Make a splash. In addition to stretching, Moon is a big proponent of water therapy, so if you have clients who are regularly in the pool or have access to water, think about any recommendations you can make around how they might add aquatic exercises into their self-care routines. “Cold and hot water plunges, water bike therapy, stretching in the pool, and swimming laps are some of the most important forms of water therapy,” Moon explains.
Some of the benefits of being in water mirror the benefits your clients may be seeing with massage therapy. According to Helen Hayes Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in New York, aquatic therapy can increase joint flexibility and muscle strength, decrease pain and improve balance. Additionally, water activities generate less impact on muscles and joints, decreasing the likelihood of injury.
DIY: The Role of Self-Massage in Your Clients’ Self-Care
Self-massage can be a great addition to any self-care routine you discuss with clients. Like stretching, part of what makes self-massage so beneficial is that it can be done by almost anyone, almost anywhere, with nothing much beyond their own hands and maybe some basic accessories like a tennis or golf ball, or foam rollers.
Especially for clients looking for quick ways to get some of the stress and pain relief offered by a longer massage session, focusing your attention on self-massage for the head, neck, and feet can prove helpful because these areas are some of the easiest to reach and don’t require deep pressure.
Elliot Ledley, a massage therapist in New York City, shared one of his go-to recommendations for self-massage in a Healthline story about easing pain and stress: “When self massaging your feet, there’s no better way than using a ball on the ground and rolling your foot over it,” he notes. “All you need to do is roll it around and put some pressure in areas that feel a little tender, but it shouldn’t hurt.”
For other, harder to reach parts of the body, like the back, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, there are numerous tools that may help. Some of the simplest, and most inexpensive, are foam rollers, tennis balls and trigger point massagers.
Helping Clients Put Self-Care Into Practice: Self-Massage and Stretch Routines
For D’Agosto, self-massage routines with foam rollers work well for her clients because they can help to stimulate blood flow in the muscles and prep them for stretching. Despite what some say, D’Agosto does not recommend stretching as a warm up for cold muscles, explaining that may result in injury. “We encourage our clients to use foam rollers to keep their muscles nice and supple in between massages,” D’Agosto says.
Additionally, foam rollers allow individuals to control the pressure by using their own body weight to find what feels right as they gently roll across. Different muscles and problem areas can be targeted with simple positions. Some of the most common areas foam rollers can help with are the upper and lower back, the ribs and side, and calves and hamstrings.
Moon encourages clients to consider yoga and breathing exercises as part of their self-care routine, giving them the following as a general place to start:
- Start in standing position, facing forward and raise your arms above your head, straight toward the sky.
- Breathe in.
- Then, slowly bring your arms down to your side as you start to lower yourself to the floor as you breathe out.
- Moving your hands toward your feet, touch your toes (or knees).
- Stay in this position and take three deep breaths.
- Slowly move your body forward into the plank position, holding for 30 seconds or more while breathing deeply in and out.
- Move your chest down and forward into the seal position, breathing into a stretch.
- Then, on your hands and knees, arch your back upward and breathe.
- Move into the downward dog position, breathe in and feel the stretch.
- Hold this position and breathe out.
- Walk hands back toward the body and hold your ankles or back of your knees, breathing in and out very slowly. Feel the stretch.
- Slowly rise back into the standing position and release your breath when you are at the full standing position.
- Repeat as many times as needed.
Offering clients self-care routines they can use between massage sessions to help extend the benefits of massage is a great opportunity to build lasting, loyal, professional relationships that will keep people coming back to your practice. And for those with specific questions about starting an exercise regimen, always feel comfortable referring back to the client’s primary care physician.
“We give clients an educational sheet of various stretches that would benefit them based on their occupation and activities,” D’Agosto says. “We also have posters in the studio on foam rolling and other various stretches they can do between massages.”
Remind your clients that the goal of any self-care regimen is to feel better. “Don’t overdo it,” reminds Moon. “You don’t need to run a marathon every day of your life. Allow your body to rest, perform deep breathing exercises, and work on optimal sleep patterns. Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you have overdone it.”