Massage Aftercare - Looking After Yourself Between Massages
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all have a massage twice a week? The world would be a better place. Sadly, most of us don’t have the time or the money to indulge in quite such a regular massage routine, but we can make the most of massage treatments by taking care of ourselves in between massages. Adding just a couple of techniques to your day can make a big difference.
First rule – drink the water!
There’s a reason why your therapist offers you a refreshing glass of cool water after a treatment; it’s to help hydrate your body and keep your muscles relaxed. Water is great for your skin and your muscles, plus staying hydrated can even help to prevent headaches. While a ton of water won't automatically get rid of potential soreness, dehydration can certainly cause (or increase) it.
Keep up the stretching
It’s a very common problem, but there’s a very simple solution…if you are one of the many people who feel achy and tight after a day at work, stretch!
If you make a habit of including stretching in your daily routine, it will really help you with any muscle aches and soreness, and will make the effects of your massage last longer. In between sessions, having a good stretch helps support the work that’s been done to relax your muscles on the treatment table. It doesn’t matter when you fit your stretches in, as long as you make a habit of it.
Stretches should never hurt, so don’t overdo it. And, a stretch is effective once you feel it; for some people, we’re talking about moving 2 inches, for others, it’s tying their feet around their neck. As long as you feel a mild stretch, but no pain yet, the efficiency is the same. Easing into stretches gently, and holding them for at least a minute will give you better results than shorter, deeper stretches. And if your massage therapist didn’t give you any ideas what and how to stretch, ask her! (more on that later)
Epsom salt baths are great for keeping any muscle aches and stiff joints at bay – they contain magnesium which is also good for relieving stress. To prevent soreness after a massage, add Epsom salts to your bath as directed and relax.
There are quite a few techniques you can do at home. With each of these, remember to never do anything painful or uncomfortable, stay away from delicate areas like the spine and never use a technique that could be dangerous for you. If you're unsure of how to use a technique or if it's right for you, don't hesitate to ask your massage therapist for guidance.
Start with broad strokes to “warm up” the area that’s tender. (You can speed that process up by just working on those spots in the shower). Then continue with smaller, slower and more focused strokes and deeper pushes to release the muscle.
Tennis balls make great massage balls, they are awesome for those stubborn trigger points (more on that in a later post) and for muscles on the back, which are pretty hard to reach by yourself.
Here is a 7-minute long video that demonstrates the use of massage balls for muscle release.
In general: Your body is your best instructor. You’ll know which spots need it the most, and as long as you pay attention you’ll know once your muscles had enough. And please, please, please: Forget about this “no pain, no gain” idea!!!
Feeling hot and cold
In between massages you might start feeling that tell-tale build-up of tension – nip it in the bud with heat therapy. Applying heat can help to sooth aching muscles and relieve any tightness and tension. Heat can also improve and stimulate blood flow to the area. Try a heat pad, or heat up a damp towel in the microwave using 30 second intervals to check the temperature.
If you injure yourself in between massage sessions, try using cold therapy to numb the pain. Cold therapy is good for strains, sprains and other minor injuries (if you’re unsure, or are in serious pain, see your healthcare provider).
For severe pain and/or swelling, take a cold pack (or you can use a frozen bottle of water, or even frozen vegetables in a bag) and wrap it in a towel to avoid cold burns. If you’re using a frozen bottle as a cold pack, a thick sock works well as a barrier. If you’ve been overdoing it and you have sore feet, try rolling the frozen bottle under your foot. You can alternate between hot and cold therapy but always leave a period in between for your body to adjust. (5-10 minutes each with a 15-minute break works for most people)
One last and very important tip: Make your massage sessions are a part of your regular self-care routine. It’s way easier to prevent serious pain than getting rid of it once it’s overwhelming. If you’re unsure about how often you need a massage, the best person to ask is your therapist. She will know if you need extra sessions or just maintenance care, and will make sure your massage is tailored to your needs.