Massage Therapy and Your Recovery Treatment Plan

The physical healing applications of massage and bodywork are well known. Less known are the ways in which massage therapy can facilitate emotional healing.

Mental health treatment and healing take time, and often the process incorporates many modalities, not all of which are directly in the field of psychotherapy. During National Recovery Month, recognized in September, we take the opportunity to shine a light on less mainstream treatment options for recovery from trauma, addiction, and other mental health issues.

Massage therapy and other forms of bodywork are becoming more widely known for their ability to address concerns like anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia. But their use related to conditions that might call for extended treatment or rehabilitation has not been widely publicized. Further research supports incorporating bodywork into a mental health healing plan with a comprehensive psychotherapy program.

Before beginning any type of bodywork to address psychological concerns, it is best to meet with a mental health professional who will be overseeing the recovery process. Depending on the issue and the person’s history, bodywork may not be the most appropriate complementary therapy, or it may be advisable to wait until the individual is further into the recovery process to explore massage.

Massage Therapy and Addiction Recovery

Research shows bodywork helps reduce physical and emotional discomfort during the addiction recovery process in many ways. Some rehabilitation facilities and residential treatment centers employ massage therapists to aid clients on-site. Further, people who are trying to quit smoking can use self-massage to help reduce nicotine cravings. Co-occurring issues in the smoking cessation process, especially anxiety and mood issues, are also eased by touch therapy and massage.

Withdrawal can be an extremely painful experience, especially for people who have developed an opioid addiction after being prescribed the drugs for physical injury or pain. Massage can speed the detoxification process, lessen the risk of secondary health problems, and reduce the need for tranquilizers or other drugs to calm a client.

Bodywork also reduces the likelihood of relapse. The Mayo Clinic offers a program for pain management and reduction which takes a “biopsychosocial” approach to weaning opioid users off the medication and replacing it with holistic therapy options, including massage. The results have been very positive, significantly lessening clients’ needs for pain medication afterward.

Individuals currently using alcohol or other drugs, and those whose systems still contain them, are not advised to receive massage. In such instances it is likely the liver is already processing the substances and can become overwhelmed by toxins as bodywork begins to take effect.

Using Bodywork After Abuse or Trauma

A common effect of experiencing any type of physical trauma, including childhood abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault, among others, is an aversion to touch. Studies support the use of many different types of bodywork and holistic treatments for people who are comfortable or can work up to it. Even no-contact modalities like reiki, aromatherapy, and some types of hydrotherapy can be beneficial additions to a comprehensive mental health healing plan after abuse or trauma.

Though bodywork does have a direct positive correlation with improved mood and emotional stability, researchers say the more immediate effect of massage is a deeper connection with the self. After trauma, someone might begin dissociating or develop thought patterns of self-loathing and rejection of the self. Massage and bodywork can help bring awareness back to the body and one’s connection with it in constructive, nonjudgmental ways.

By addressing the physiological impacts after trauma, professional bodywork can help remove some of the emotional barriers to healing, such as pain and discomfort related to touch or another person’s proximity. In this way the therapy makes it possible for more psychological and emotional healing to take place and for clients to restore self-acceptance.

Eating Disorder Recovery and Massage

Common eating issues like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating can pose a number of health risks and may even be life-threatening. Treatment facilities and programs focus on helping someone ease back into a lifestyle that supports a healthy relationship between food and one’s body.

These changes may be minor at first but can still be extremely taxing on people whose systems are adjusting to eating in a different way. In some cases, eating issues lead to cardiovascular weakness or circulatory problems, and bodywork is not advisable if either condition is present. However, for anyone not experiencing these serious side effects, massage can be helpful in the early stages of recovery by improving digestion while the body heals.

A key part of moving past bulimia, bingeing, or anorexia is developing more positive body image and self-regard. Though much of this work is psychological, bodywork can be one factor that helps encourage better self-esteem. Studies show people are more able to accept themselves after receiving massage and experiencing the positive effects of increased serotonin and dopamine. In other words, when the body feels good, it’s easier to feel good about the body. With effective psychotherapy, bodywork can provide unexpected relief during the recovery process and offer hope for people in recovery and their families.


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Post-Massage Stretching Techniques To Enhance Your Treatment

Just as with physical activity, stretching is often recommended after massage. Learn how taking time to stretch can help preserve the effects of massage.

If you regularly engage in physical activity or exercise of any duration or intensity, you’ve probably been advised to stretch before and after. Incorporating stretching into a regular warm-up routine prior to exercising helps reduce the risk of tearing, straining, or otherwise injuring muscles and joints. It also helps muscles cool down after physical activity, which can guard against stiffness and soreness later.

Stretching after exercise, in a way, helps preserve the effects of exercise by preventing muscles from seizing up and losing their strength and elasticity. Similarly, stretching helps preserve the effects of massage–including relaxation and flexibility. Though athletes and others who lead highly active lives may stand to benefit most from stretching after bodywork, anyone can enhance the effects of a treatment by stretching. Consult with your massage therapist first to see whether they recommend specific stretches after considering your personal health profile.

Why Stretch after Your Massage?

Deep massage and exercise can affect the muscles in similar ways. Massage increases blood flow and circulation and can create friction in the tissues like vigorous movement does. During massage tissues and muscles are pulled away from one another, which creates the “loose” feeling you might have after a treatment. You might also feel taller, because massage helps counteract the daily compression and gravitational pull we experience.

Stretching after a treatment can keep joints mobile, maintain the looseness in muscles and tissues, and improve flexibility. It will also increase your tolerance for stretching–the more you do any stretch, the easier it becomes over time. Wise massage therapists also stretch before and after giving a massage to optimize body mechanics during the treatment and reduce their own risk of injury, strain, and soreness.

Simple Post-Massage Stretching at Home

Your routine will vary depending on your body’s limitations, your massage therapist’s guidelines, and your own goals. Keep movements slow, maintain a steady breathing pattern, and do not hesitate to modify any stretch for greater comfort. Most stretches are designed to be performed alone, though you can also call upon a friend or partner to assist if you would like help balancing, deepening the stretch, or creating resistance to build strength.

  • Standing arm pull + bend: Stand with good spine alignment (hips over ankles with relaxed knees, tailbone relaxed, shoulders over hips, and ears over shoulders). Stretch your arms overhead and alternate reaching the fingertips of each hand up even higher. Keeping your arms stretched above your head, lean side to side. You should feel the stretch in your ribs and oblique muscles. To deepen this stretch, grasp and pull your right wrist as you bend to the left, and pull on your left arm as you bend to the right.
  • Forward fold: Slowly bend at the waist, keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed. Rather than exerting pressure to touch your toes or the floor, simply let your upper body dangle in place and let gravity work to decompress your spine. You can sway slowly from side to side to help release tension. Your chin should drop to your chest so your neck isn’t working to hold your head. When you return to standing, do so very slowly and keep your knees bent. Lead this movement with your hips, so that your shoulders and head are the last thing to raise and stack on top of your spine.
  • Knee hold: While lying on your back, bring one knee to your chest and hold it in place with clasped hands. Switch knees after 30-60 seconds. This alone is a significant stretch for many people; to deepen it you might press your knee into your palms to create resistance. For other variations, take your knee out to the side, away from your body (hip opener), or cross it over your other leg (twist).
  • Cat – cow: On all fours, make sure your back is parallel to the floor as if you’re forming a table. As you inhale, sink your back toward the floor, stretching your tailbone and forehead up toward the sky. Exhale and curve your spine, folding your nose toward your knees. Keep your palms and knees on the floor the entire time, and repeat using your breath as a guide.

Check out the included YouTube videos for more pointers on stretching. If you would like to continue searching for or creating a different custom stretching routine, focus on low-impact movements that are not limited by clothing, space, or time. Tailor your routine to your needs and preferences, taking into account any recommendations from your massage therapist, current pain or injury you’re experiencing, and where you will be doing your stretching.

Precautions for Stretching Exercises

Never push yourself to a greater level of movement than is comfortable. Your range of motion will increase naturally over time, and you won’t do your body any favors by rushing that process. If something causes pain, it’s best to stop attempting that particular stretch and ask your massage therapist for further pointers.

These stretches are best used with massage therapy. While any stretch is likely to prove beneficial for you in some way, pair these with bodywork treatment to get the best of all worlds and start feeling better all around.


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5 Tips for Reducing Burnout in Massage Therapy

Caregiver burnout can result from job stress and can impact both physical and mental health and potentially your massage practice. These tips can help!

Burnout, an issue generally stemming from job-related stress, especially affects massage therapists and people in other health care professions. It is not something to ignore or let pass, as it can be accompanied by serious mental health issues like depression, isolation, and trauma. There’s no need to make drastic changes, but by shifting your focus at times and listening to your emotional and mental state, you can achieve more life balance and reduce the daily burnout you feel.

Aim for More Balance

Work-life balance means different things to different people–some might balance out their business by spending more time with a partner and children, while others might introduce a new hobby or learn a new skill to feel more balanced. One 2003 study, for example, demonstrated positive improvement in caregivers who began making music recreationally.

If you’ve been working nonstop, even a short vacation could create more harmony between your career and your personal life. When a vacation simply isn’t feasible, reconsider the hours you’re putting in at work. Evaluate whether they’re serving you well as a practitioner but also as a human who needs time to rest and recharge. If more and more evenings or weekends have become occupied with work, it might be time to reprioritize.

Boost Your Self-Care

Studies show health care workers are notorious for neglecting self-care. If your practice feels particularly rushed or hectic, you might benefit from allocating more time for your own care and well-being. Treating yourself to a spa day might not always be realistic, but simple activities like staying hydrated, stretching, taking short walks, or journaling, however briefly, can effectively help ease burnout.

Mindfulness activities have particularly positive effects on burnout and are a sustainable way of preventing burnout and incorporating a self-care routine. Meditation, mindful movement, and walking meditation do not require any props or extra preparation. What’s more, they can be done anywhere. If you’re new to meditation, try downloading a free app to facilitate the process.

Try New Things

An immense field, bodywork offers numerous professional opportunities that only require a few continuing education hours or workshops. If your practice starts to feel less fulfilling, consider looking into an adjunct endeavor.

After years of practicing Swedish massage, for example, you might be interested in incorporating a therapeutic rock treatment. Or perhaps circumstances in your personal life are drawing you toward mindfulness-based approaches or energy work, such as Jin Shin Do and reiki. If your office setting allows for it, you might consider purchasing a spa tub and offering some types of hydrotherapy.

Acquiring new skills can breathe new life into your massage therapy practice, attract and help you retain clients, and introduce you to different bodywork modalities. Your new approach might allow you to be more creative and attentive to your own needs, and you can feel good about having taken the time for discovery and self-improvement.

Switch Up Your Marketing Strategy

By marketing differently you can reach new audiences, learn new skills, and boost your practice in a way that fits you better. Advertise your services in a local gym, for instance, and brush up on what you know about sports massage to attract a new type of clientele. Alternatively, connect with your local hospice organization to offer your services. Even if your involvement is strictly voluntary, you might make connections that result in more clients.

You might also consider branching out in marketing through new types of social media. While unlikely to become your go-to strategy, image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest create a unique branding opportunity. Invest a bit of time into researching these avenues, following bodywork and health accounts, and posting some images of your office space, for starters.

Seek Your Own Therapy

Massage therapists are always advised to receive massage regularly, both to experience others’ techniques and for the same benefits their clients receive: lowered stress and anxiety, reduced muscle tension and fatigue, and increased serotonin and dopamine levels (to help counteract depression). Of all people, massage therapists know the many ways bodywork can improve multiple aspects of life, and they are uniquely positioned to receive various types of bodywork because of professional connections.

If you’re experiencing burnout in your business, emotional state, physical well-being, or mental health, you can begin addressing these areas by receiving massage treatment. In many cases, caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue should also be regarded as a serious issue worth addressing with a mental health professional.

Avoid the temptation to immediately dismiss burnout as a phase you will naturally work through. Though this may be the case, feelings associated with burnout may also be deeply seated in grief, trauma, or depression. Either way, consulting with a psychotherapist can help you identify the roots of those emotions and a path for moving forward.

Health care providers are particularly susceptible to caregiver burnout because of the extraordinary amount of time and attention they put into meeting others’ needs and a tendency to neglect their own. But burnout is not a death sentence for your career or livelihood. Once you pay attention to the exhaustion you are feeling, you can address it and begin moving past it.

What To Do if You’re Nervous About Receiving Massage

Are you nervous about seeking out massage? These tips may help you get used to the idea if you want to try massage but aren’t sure how you feel about it.

If you’re new to receiving massage therapy or other types of bodywork, it may feel uncomfortable to reach out for what seems like an intimate service. Perhaps you cringe remembering “massage train” icebreakers or team building events you’ve participated in.

What you’re feeling is perfectly normal. There are many reasons someone might be hesitant about receiving massage. Your fears or concerns need not be barriers to treatment, however. If you’re considering massage or if it has been recommended to you, identifying the feelings holding you back is the first step to finding a practitioner who is right for you.

Start Gathering Information about Bodywork

Some people question the legitimacy of massage for healing purposes, since for many years massage therapy and other forms of bodywork were considered taboo, especially in the western world. Some unfortunate misconceptions still linger about massage therapy’s place in contemporary medicine, though research and extensive studies have helped dissolve that reputation and massage is now widely understood to reduce pain and improve health. The more you read about bodywork practices, the more you can understand why so many people, including medical professionals, endorse massage.

If massage has been recommended to you to treat a specific health issue, do some research to learn more about the condition and how bodywork can help. Massage is contraindicated (or discouraged) for very few, if any, health issues. In some form or another, bodywork can either work around or address any complication you might be experiencing. Heart disease, for example, makes some types of bodywork more dangerous than others, but low-impact treatments such as reiki could be ideal for someone with a heart condition.

Consider also talking to colleagues and friends who have experienced massage to hear about the treatment they received and how they went about finding a practitioner. Learning more about how massage is used today, and the many different bodywork options, can open your mind to its hundreds of applications for physical and mental well-being.

Practice Massage on Yourself

Physical touch, even when it’s consensual, restorative, and professional, can be difficult to accept. The best way to start moving past an aversion to the aspect of physical contact in massage is to explore massage tactics on your own body. Begin by being more deliberate with the time you already spend on yourself–applying lotion after a shower, stretching in the morning, or even washing your hands. Work up to giving yourself a massage, perhaps starting with a foot rub and gradually adding legs, arms, and your neck or scalp.

Use slow motions and gentle pressure, avoiding joints and tender areas such as the backs of knees or insides of elbows. Take a few extra moments to notice how your movements feel under the surface of your skin. Can you notice when a part of you isn’t completely relaxed? Do you feel differences in your muscles after massaging them? Are you aware of tension, soreness, or pain?

Using massage on yourself can help you identify which sensations are enjoyable and which might evoke more negative reactions. Allow yourself to continue performing self-massage in a way you find relaxing and comfortable, noticing your reactions to each sensation without judgment.

When you’re more comfortable with self-massage, try receiving a gentle massage from a partner, family member, or friend. It’s often convenient to exchange foot massages with someone, and while shoulder and neck areas may be more delicate, it’s relatively difficult to do any level of harm by performing a foot massage.

Ease Into It

Take your time familiarizing yourself with the concept and practical application of massage. It’s OK to still feel apprehensive about professional massage even after mental and physical preparation. Don’t force yourself–the resulting tension could compromise both healing effects and your overall enjoyment, ruining the treatment as a whole. But if you are determined to experience bodywork after learning about its numerous benefits, or if a medical professional is urging you to seek massage for a health issue, there are many ways of experiencing bodywork.

Low-impact forms of bodywork may be more appropriate, depending on your concerns. Chair massage, reflexology, acupressure, some types of Thai massage, and others are performed while the client is clothed. Dozens of bodywork modalities, such as reiki and craniosacral therapy, focus on energy work and involve little to no physical contact. All can be used to address both physical and psychological or emotional concerns.

A good bodywork professional, regardless of the specialty they practice, will be open to hearing your concerns and will respect the boundaries you state. Having a positive first experience with massage depends heavily on the communication you have with your practitioner. When you make an appointment with a therapist, don’t be afraid to mention your preferences or even the reason(s) you have been hesitant to seek massage. Your treatment will likely be better for it.

How to Keep Good Habits as a Massage Practitioner

Developing good habits may not be something you often take time to consider, but maintaining a routine can help you achieve greater success–and well-being

There are numerous elements to your life and career as a massage therapist, and surprisingly few of them have to do with giving a bodywork treatment. You’re likely juggling all the elements of running a business—paying bills, organizing client files, ordering supplies, and keeping a clean office—not to mention marketing your practice to receive more client referrals. You’re likely also trying to take care of yourself and maintain some work-life balance so you continue to enjoy the work you do.

Developing good habits in your practice can help you stay accountable not only to your clients, but also to yourself. There’s no need to make dramatic changes, since habits are no more than repeated behaviors. Start by doing an activity just once and continue for a few days. Before you know it, your consistency will turn into habit. What works for others may not work for you, so take care to tailor your approach to your own lifestyle and abilities.

Learn About Yourself

Are you a person who thrives on getting up with the sun? Waking at the last possible minute and drinking no less than three cups of coffee? Maybe things have been so erratic you’re not even sure whether you’re a night owl or early bird.

Some people find it helpful to use a personality test or lifestyle philosophy to learn more about how to live their best lives. Examples include the Myers-Briggs personality types, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, astrology, the Human Design system, and more. If it’s valuable to begin developing habits based on what you find to be your type or classification within one of these systems, numerous internet resources can help you determine where you fit in the philosophy and provide tips for living your best life accordingly.

If you’d rather forge your own path, try simply paying attention to what makes you feel good. If your mind is sharper in the mid-afternoon, save your billing, paperwork, or personal study until later in the day when you have finished your appointments. Avoid scheduling clients just after noon if, like many people, you tend to “crash” after lunch. Instead, try recharging before you greet your next client with a 20-minute nap.

Tuning in to what your body and mind crave in terms of rest, exertion, stimulation, and relaxation will help you prioritize self-care, an essential part of any routine.

Set Your Intentions

Writing can be a powerful tool for enforcing what we know and holding ourselves accountable. Research supports the practice of self-reflection through journaling every day, and some of the personality philosophies listed above recommend it as a daily activity. But unless you would like to make a habit of it, there’s no need to commit to long entries every day.

Start with a few very simple lists: things you would like to incorporate into a morning routine, habits you’d like in an evening routine, and a few practices you’d like to accomplish throughout the day. Some examples might include:

  • File intake forms for each client right after their appointment.
  • Update office inventory list at the end of every day.
  • 15-minute power nap after lunch
  • Walk outside for 30 minutes before work.
  • Do one thing each day to market my practice/reach more clients.

You might also include some notes about what you notice is working for you as you pay more attention to your existing habits or the things you want to change. Even if you just do this once, it can be extremely valuable to revisit your findings later and measure progress.

Tailor Your Practice to Your Habits

Creating good habits might be all about experimentation at first, unless you have previously done the work to learn what habits best serve you and your practice. When something doesn’t work, modify it. For instance, if you find it’s impossible to nap for 15 minutes after lunch, try a seated meditation for five minutes instead.

To the best of your ability, build your schedule and practice around your habits as much as you build your habits around your practice. The monetary bottom line of your business may take precedence on paper, but meeting your own needs ultimately determines how you are serving your clients, working efficiently, and maintaining your own health and wellness.

Stay Flexible

One day is rarely like the next when you run your own practice, and often you may need to compromise some consistency to be productive, keep appointments, or stay available to clients. Try not to feel like you failed if you experience a day—or week—of broken habits. When you know what works for you and what habits help you be successful, it will be easier to revert to good habits.

The body thrives on consistency. As any massage therapist knows, every system within the body has its own routine—the jobs it carries out when it’s functioning properly. Your digestion, sleep cycle, and circulation are more likely to work predictably and efficiently when supported by good habits.


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