If everyone could get a massage twice a week, the world would be a better place. Even if you can't pop in for a massage as often as you'd like, there are things you can do to keep yourself feeling good in between appointments. It's called "self-care," and adding just a couple techniques to your daily routine can make a difference.
A Routine That Works
From gentle massage to warm compresses, your routine can utilize many techniques. Right off the bat, set your goals. Are you trying to reduce tension in a specific area? Prevent a joint from locking up? Reduce your overall stress levels? Once you have a goal, decide how much time you're able and willing to spend on self-care. You're more likely to stick to a routine if it's realistic and you feel like you're accomplishing a set goal each time.
Even tight schedules can be accommodated. Office stretching routines can be done during a five-minute water break. Gently massaging warming or cooling gels into your sore muscles takes the edge off a workout, and using hot or cold compresses while you watch TV at night helps with long-term pain and tension.
- Make your routines convenient, obvious and effortless. Try things like:
- Leaving your massage balm on the coffee table by the TV remote.
- Setting up a computer app that brings up your stretching worksheet every time you open Netflix.
- Keeping any tools you use, like tennis balls (more below), next to the same chair you use to take your shoes off when you get home.
- Storing microwaveable compresses in the same place as your go-to evening snacks and beverages.
- Buying nubbed, in-shower massage tools that massage while you scrub.
Techniques to Try
With each of these techniques, 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.
- Basic Self-Massage. With or without oil, use broad strokes to "warm up" an area that's tense or painful. Then, use smaller, slower and more concentrated strokes and deeper pushes to relax it. "Close out" that area with a few more broad strokes, then move on to the next. Here’s a how-to for self-massage of forearms.
- Trapezius Release. Cross your hand over to the dense muscle on your opposite shoulder, just to the side of your neck. Take a slow, deep breath in. Breathe out on a slow count of ten, and as you breathe out, gently squeeze the dense muscle. Repeat three times per side.
- Back Twist. Lie on the floor with your knees bent, your feet flat, and your arms relaxed by the sides of your head. Breathe in, and as you breathe out, gently drop your knees to the floor on one side. You'll feel a soft stretch in your back. Hold for a count of ten, then repeat on the other side.
- Tennis Ball Foot Massage. Tennis and lacrosse balls make great massage balls and even the rounded edge of wooden stairs will work for this technique. Simply push the rounded surfaced back and forth over the bottom of your foot with light-medium to medium pressure. People with fallen arches or significant foot pain often find this uncomfortable, but others will find it provides amazing relief for aching feet.
More self-massage resources:
- MassageByHeather.com on Youtube. Multiple body areas and techniques covered
- Self-Massage for Head Pain from Body Sense Magazine
- How to use massage balls for myofascial release video by Massage Track
- Deep Stretch Yoga Playlist by 5 Parks Yoga. Includes targeted areas as well as long, full-body routines.
Evaluate Your Ergonomics
If you do a lot of sitting, standing or driving in your day-to-day life, you may be exposing your body to a lot of strain that builds tension over time. Adapting your equipment and environment is an easy way to reduce that strain and improve your overall comfort.
For sitting: Desk ergonomics are crucial for preventing strain. The two most important factors to keep your back straight but relaxed and to keep your wrists straight and at or below elbow level. Sitting up straight significantly reduces strain on your entire upper body. Keeping your wrists straight and your shoulders relaxed prevents unnecessary pivoting in your wrist that can lead to painful carpal tunnel syndrome. Investing in good office equipment is well worth the cash.
For standing and walking: The importance of shoes and proper inserts can never be overstated. Like office equipment, good ones are worth the money. People that abuse their shoes should replace them every six months and inserts as often as every four. Have a specialty footwear store check for the correct length, width and arch style of your foot. You'd be surprised how many people are wearing the wrong size or not supporting their arch correctly. If you walk on the inside or outside edge of your foot, called pronation or supination respectively, you'll want to purchase inserts to correct for it specifically.
For driving: Putting your car seat in the proper position and sitting up straight can reduce tension from your head to your toes. One easy tip is to drop your hands from the classic "10 o'clock and 2 o'clock" position to "7 o'clock and 4 o'clock." Try sliding them from the classic spot into the new spot while paying attention to your shoulders. You'll be able to feel how much tension falls away as you move your arms down.
Once you've gotten in the habit of self-care, you won't know how you lived without it. These little maintenance routines will help you stay healthier and happier until the next time you visit your massage therapist.
About the Author
M. Simpson is a licensed massage therapist, writer and artist who grew up fortunate enough to have parents that would indulge almost any creative whim she had. Her mother herself made baskets; sewed costumes, clothes and quilts; beaded; made pottery; painted; restored the occasional piece of furniture; and instilled in her a healthy love for pens, inks, paints and papers. When she's not with clients, she can spend hours in craft stores just looking at things, trying to dream up projects and find excuses to buy what catches her fancy. Simpson put this post together on behalf of Massage Track