How to Integrate Self-Care into Your Routine as a Massage Therapist

melissa-finleyAs an independent massage therapist, you spend your time helping others heal and using your gifts and skills to soothe pain and stress.

However, massage therapists need to care of themselves, too! Self-care is an important part of a massage therapist’s routine and we could all use some improvement in that area at some point or another.

To get some more information on how to make self-care a part of your lifestyle, we sat down with Melissa Finley, creator of the uber-popular Anatomy in Motion app. Melissa has a passion for self-care and a great deal of knowledge to share. Enjoy!

Massamio: How did you get started as a massage therapist?

Melissa: A few years ago my mother survived an Aortic Dissection. She underwent emergency open-heart surgery and woke up asking for a lot of Popsicles. In the hospital, I saw how the nurses used bodywork – stretches, tapotement, effleurage to get my mom’s body systems supported. When she came home, she was in terrible pain. Her back, having been stretched due to how they manipulate the ribcage during open-heart surgery, was one of the places she found most painful. I crawled into bed behind her and just began to rub. She felt relief. We felt connected. And eventually, her pain was gone.

I had been receiving massage therapy since I was a teenager and had believed in the work for ages. Yet it was this time with my mom, the time I used my hands to give her support and comfort, that led to my decision to become a massage therapist.

Massamio: What drives your passion for self-care as a massage therapist?

Melissa: I’m a big fan of protecting what you love to do. As a massage therapist, our jobs are very physical and involved, so one of the ways we can protect our career longevity is to make self-care a priority. I also think it’s smart and powerful for practitioners to walk the walk. Our clients come to us as a part of their own self-care, so when we make time to do the same for ourselves, we are setting an example by committing to it’s importance!

Massamio: Why do you think so many massage therapists neglect self-care?

Melissa: I can only offer a general idea, not every massage therapist will fit under this umbrella. I think Massage Therapists are a caring and compassionate crowd when it comes to giving time to others. I think a lot of the focus of our work and businesses are about being client centered, not self-centered. So we find it easier or are drawn to squeeze in an extra session for a client or go over a few more minutes than agreed upon time. Don’t get me wrong; this sense of nurturing is one of the aspects I love about our community! Yet focusing only on our clients leaves little space to take care of us.

Massamio: What are some ways you integrate self-care into your massage practice?

Melissa: I use the concept of self-care for both my clients and myself daily! Every client I see gets a bit of “homework” tailored to his or her needs. It can range from posture tips, stretches or an explanation of alignment to help with their activity patterns. My husband and I created a myology app called Anatomy In Motion when I saw the need for a mobile tool to inform, educate and share exactly what is going on with the musculature in the body! So I’ll sit down and show clients how these tips connect to their muscle goals.

For myself, I have a bit of a routine to reset my body in between each session. I have a series of stretches and “shake outs” I use to remind my body that it can move in more ways then traditional massage body mechanics. I get a massage at least every two weeks, ice my forearms when needed and have set myself firm guidelines of how many clients I will see each day. I hope to be massaging for a long time, and I know that taking care of myself now can be a great help in not getting burnt out.

Massamio: What positive results do you anticipate for massage therapists who make a commitment to caring for their bodies?

Melissa: You feel better! You feel better in the short run and you feel better in the long run. As we love to point out to clients we work with, it’s a great reminder for ourselves. When we feel better we have an opportunity to be more connected and fulfilled in our daily lives. When you feel better in your body, the rest can follow. So the positive results can be small or life changing.

Massamio: Not to be too negative, but do you know of any “horror stories” from massage therapists who have neglected self-care and suffered from shortened careers or other challenges?

Melissa: I don’t have anything super exciting. I have had a few massage therapist instructors turn to teaching because they thought they had a 15+ year career ahead of them, but they burned out by year 5 due to not setting realistic guidelines and improper self care. They used the disappointment from their early career injuries to constantly emphasis proper body mechanics and self-investment.

Massamio: How can massage therapists develop a habit of self-care so that it becomes part of their lifestyle?

Melissa: Find what YOU need! For me, I feel better going through some neck range of motion exercises in between clients. Having slightly bent knees all day, I find hamstring stretches before bed helps manage any kind of delayed soreness. I start my working day with pec minor stretching and finish with them as well!

The simplest advice I would give to a fellow massage therapist is once you find what works for you, partner it up with something you already do! After changing your sheets, stretch you neck. Every time you go to the bathroom, pause and do a doorway stretch. During a session, after you have your client change positions, take a moment to reground yourself and check in with your body mechanics before starting again. At the end of the day, ice one forearm before you brush your teeth and then ice the other when you finish. Instead of thinking of self-care as just another thing on your list, partner it up with habits you already have.

Massamio: What resources do you recommend for massage therapists who are interested in self-care?

Melissa: I use Anatomy In Motion as a reminder of how my muscles work as well as to take notes of anything that twinges, aches and pains I might be experiencing. Like many MT’s I work through lots of small issues, so I think it’s good to keep a record of those things. It’s a way to keep track of what is a bit of a “one off” pain versus a pattern. As far as body mechanics, find a fellow massage therapist! In school, teachers observed us. Every once in a while, why not ask a fellow practitioner to watch you work? Ask them to point out any ways you might be able to improve on your body mechanics. They might see something that you are not feeling as you massage every day. My other favorite tools are a tennis ball and some ice cubes.

Massamio: How does proper self-care help massage therapists serve their clients better?

Melissa: I think I covered some of this! I think that a massage therapist that is committing to self-care is setting a healthy example for the clients we are asking to do the same. As with almost anything in life, if you feel good then you have more energy and confidence to do your work. Any client will benefit from a massage therapist who believes in their work and feels great doing it. As a community, we are asking our clients to pay more attention to their body, to listen and to learn from it. If we are doing the same for ourselves, we might be able to connect with them even more.

About Melissa:

Melissa Finley is the co-creator of Anatomy In Motion and the owner of Mending Hands Massage Therapy. She is a graduate of the Swedish Institute – College of Health Sciences in New York City and has recently moved from Brooklyn, New York to Sarasota, Florida.  Melissa is a former ad sales marketing coordinator for Martha Stewart. She thinks napping is important and loves that her job is all about helping people feel better.


Comments from original Massamio post:

Thanks for the downloads and your insight. Appreciate all the knowledge you share. Elbow and Forearm pain is a chronic issue. I work it, lose it and then comes back again. I actually probably need someone to watch me to tell me what I am doing to cause this pain. Thanks — Posted @ Wednesday, May 15, 2013 7:55 PM by Kathy Bates

I work my hand flexors and extenders with the opposite elbow every evening. It feels wonderful afterwards. Sometimes i do just one arm and can really feel the difference between the two the following day. xx — Posted @ Thursday, May 16, 2013 10:07 AM by jackie

Thank you for this! I’ve only been doing this work for a couple years and I absolutely love it! I feel like I would rather care for others instead of myself, but reading this reminded me that no matter how bad I want others to feel good and take care of their bodies, they’re not gonna be as motivated to do it if I’m not showing the results of self care myself. also, I want to be helping people for a very very long time and to do so, I need to put my needs first. Thanks so much for the tips! Definitely gonna try icing. My forearms are usually way tighter then they should be. — Posted @ Wednesday, May 29, 2013 9:39 PM by Paige vohland

Nice. Very nice. — Posted @ Sunday, August 04, 2013 8:32 PM by Terri May LMT

I started to study and practice massage therapy aiming to have a pollute-less business, I also wanted to do something that will allow me and push me to take care of my mind, body and spirit. I am very luck found massage, I love my practice and honor taking care of my being, I practice Yoga, African dance, ocean swimming, healthy eating as much as possible, I cut gluten and dairy 90% and process packed foods, once a month massages and lots of self massage using heavy rocks and balls. I started with Swedish massage and are specializing in Thai Yoga Massage soon I am going to Costa Rica for and other training on it with a great teacher. I do a lot of trades also with massage practice, and I am grateful to have both energies in my life. In order to continue taking care of myself in the mid future I plan to study Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, plus I think is super interesting and an other great practice. LoveBless <3 — Posted @ Monday, August 05, 2013 2:43 AM by Alejandra