There have been many changes in the field of massage therapy since I began as a body worker 20 years ago. Massage is no longer the domain of the rich and famous or elite athletes. Today, nearly a quarter of all adult Americans have received a massage at one time in their lives. As we learn the consequences of what physical and emotional stress can do to our bodies, most recognize massage therapy as a (relatively) inexpensive way to address a variety of health-related issues including pain relief, injury rehabilitation and prevention, insomnia and an over-all sense of well-being.
One thing that has not really changed, however, is the fact that massage therapy is not yet covered by most medical insurances, leaving most people in a bind. While recognizing the benefits of massage therapy, many feel that it can be cost prohibitive. This leads to questions of how often one should receive massage — what is the ideal time between sessions that allows for both a healthy body and healthy bank account?
The question of frequency of treatment is a tricky one. There are many variables (in addition to one’s pocketbook) to consider. Most of us recognize that in order to extend the lifetime of our car and minimize the charges incurred by tow-trucks after a breakdown, that our vehicle needs regularly scheduled maintenance. The same can be said for our bodies. Ongoing scheduled maintenance can have a huge impact on one’s life experience. Most people claim that if money was not an object they would eagerly schedule a massage every week. But since money is an issue for most of us, many people find themselves in a position of trying to find that perfect balance between desire and budget.
While there is no simple maintenance schedule, there are some important variables to consider. Of course, if you’re currently experiencing an injury or pain, more frequent sessions may be necessary for a short period of time — four to six weeks — gradually extending the time between sessions. How long one has had pain is also going to dictate how frequently you should consider receiving a massage. A massage schedule is going to look very different for someone suffering from an old gymnastics injury than someone who recently started a new fitness routine, but again, the goal is to extend time between sessions while maintaining a pain-free lifestyle.
For pain-free maintenance or injury prevention there are several things to consider such as the daily demands on your body, current level of fitness, injury history and so on. Many injuries experienced by those new to fitness could have been prevented by having a complete range-of-motion exam to identify and address muscle imbalances prior to their first workout. For most people monthly or bi-monthly massage sessions help to maintain their already active and pain-free lifestyle.
Another critical factor to consider is self-care. Proper hydration, nutrition, corrective exercises and stress reduction have all been found to be key factors in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And there is no shortage of tools that mimic certain massage strokes that make self-care at home an option. One of my favorites, “The Stick,” creates the deep stripping strokes of larger muscle groups (www.thestick.com). Sold in most running stores it is a marvelous portable tool can be easily used on almost any sore muscle group to reduce pain and improve flexibility and mobility. Runners use it on calves, hamstrings, quads, and shins. I use it on my forearms, upper traps and low back with great success.
For those fans of trigger point release therapy, the “Knobble” can’t be beat (www.backnobber-store.com). Simply locate that sore spot between your shoulder blades and use this thumb shaped tool for instant and ongoing relief. Many of my clients are fans of the Theracane (www.theracane.net). This cane-shaped tool can be the perfect tool for relieving painful spots in almost any muscle in the body.
Of course, as millions of us already know, there is no substitute for an experienced massage therapist. He/she can recommend specific exercises, stretches, liniments and other ideas geared toward your specific needs. This combination of consistent maintenance massage and a daily self-care regiment can help in leading an active and pain-free life. So, the next time you’re making the appointment for that oil change, ask yourself when the last time you had your body in for its tune up.