Self-Care is Essential for all Massage Therapists

Massage Therapy as a profession can be brutal on the joints of your fingers, thumbs and elbow. These joints usually suffer the most abuse. Excessive joint compression can be a factor but most often the cause of problems is simple: chronically over-used and over-tight arm muscles that pull on where their tendons attach at these joints, causing inflammation (tendinitis) and functional misalignment resulting in pain and dysfunction. When your arms and hands don’t work, you don’t work. When I worked as a sports massage therapist, my lack of a daily maintenance routine stunted my career and limited my effectiveness.

By the time the pain in my own arms and joints became obvious, the latent, building tension already had been there for months. Silly me for thinking I was somehow immune… Ahh Youth! Just because your muscles don’t obviously hurt yet doesn’t mean they aren’t already tight and restricted with ‘under-the-radar’ tension and limited ROM.

That’s the professional downside of being a hands-on therapist and also the irony…your own muscles get tight while you provide relief to your client’s tight muscles. 

So if you use your arms and hands every day, you ideally need maintenance every day to get back full ROM. And just like daily brushing your teeth is virtually mandatory for oral health, it’s best to have a daily maintenance routine to regain ROM in your arm muscles, simply and easily. But how to deliver effective technique without fatiguing yourself or without taking the time and expense of going to another MT for relief? 

Here’s how I suggest to D.I.Y. Arm Massage without special tools:

You need two things to successfully maintain arm muscle ROM: the right technique and a tool to apply the technique easily and efficiently without fatiguing the free hand and arm that’s doing the applying. 

The technique I suggest has many names, it depends on what therapeutic discipline you may have trained in. This technique is widely regarded as the absolute best to relieve the muscle fiber adhesions that limit ROM. Here’s a few names you probably have heard of: Myofascial Release, Trigger Point Therapy, Active Release, Pin (or Tack) and Stretch and several others. No matter the name, they all have this in common: finding the sore (trigger) spot, hold pressure on the sore spot, and slowly and fully stretch the muscle that has the sore spot while maintaining pressure. All the while maintaining a level of pressure that feels like “useful pain” or “hurts good".

You already know that most tight muscles are only revealed through touch, and that’s why an every day maintenance routine is vital for the active therapist. 

Now that we’ve established the technique, time to describe the tool. You’ll be able to save wear and tear on your applying hand and digits if you can amplify your efforts with a tool. 

You can use a ‘found’ object as your tool…. It can be anything that has heft, weight and mass, has slightly pointed aspect and well as a rounded feature and can fit into your hand easily. I find that using a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or golf ball just doesn’t have the heft and mass to easily put pressure on those trigger points. So I prefer to use a small 2 lb. dumbell, a rounded rock, a large food can … anything that can offer pressure through it’s weight and mass instead of you having to exert enough muscle pressure onto the spot with your upper body.

Place your forearm on the edge of a table and allow your hand to drape over the edge so you can stretch the muscles in your arm by moving your hand at the wrist. Roll slowly and gently over your forearm muscles, looking for those pesky trigger points then apply the Myofascial Active Release type technique described above. 

Find sore spots anywhere from your thumb to your upper arms and apply the same technique of “find a sore spot, put pressure on it and move the muscle that has the soreness."  A few maintenance minutes a day will mean all the difference in the quality and length of your career.

Terry Cross, Holistic Health Practitioner and founder of The Armaid Company