So you just got your first massage. As you walk out of the room you can’t believe how free your body feels. On your ride home, you can actually turn your head and look in your blind spot without pain. You wonder how long it’s been since you’d been able to do that. After you walk in the door you drink some cold water, and you settle down onto the couch to relax. As you revel in the newfound freedom in your body and mind you begin to wonder… “when you should I go back?”
The answer is, it depends.
You should ask yourself a few questions. The most important being, what’s going on in my body? The second most important being, what results am I looking for? Before we go any further, I want to mention a little caveat here. Massage therapy is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have some serious pain, get it checked out first. An X-ray or MRI is far superior to simple palpation of the area in question. If you’re unclear what might be wrong, you should not rely on body sense alone. Go get it checked out. Make sure there is not a more serious injury first. Once you’ve been cleared by your doctor you can enjoy the benefits and healing that massage has to offer. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some typical situations and determine where you fit in.
Desk worker – If you work at a desk for 40 hours a week there is a good chance you have some pretty hefty muscular imbalances slowly building up. Get in once a month or bi-monthly. This is especially true if you don’t find yourself moving your body on a regular basis (this would include going to the gym, yoga, spin, etc). You may be slowly brewing some deep imbalances that begin as a little neck pain here or a twinge of low back pain there. Over time, however, you may find these pains becoming longer-lasting. You may even say to yourself, “eh, I’m getting older. I just hurt there now.” This, however, could not be further from the truth. A monthly or bi-monthly massage is an excellent way to keep your body limber and free up any restrictions that have built up in your neck, shoulders, arms and/or glutes. If you complement this with a movement or stretching practice you will find that you can dramatically decrease the frequency of massage and still have excellent mobility with next to no pain.
Chronic pain or injury – You’ve been cleared by your doctor for massage and you’re ready for your treatment plan. Get in weekly or bi-weekly. I’ve seen time and again that increased frequency increases effectiveness. Basically, with longer-standing issues its harder to remove all the muscular imbalances in one shot. In fact, it would be too much for the body to integrate and wouldn’t be indicated anyway! The increased frequency will prevent your body from binding back up over time. Getting back into the office will ensure that you can continue to progress into the deeper layers of the muscle (and likely the root cause of the issue) without having to clear out the superficial layers time and again. Of course, this is just a very general guideline. As you continue to receive massage you want to slowly decrease the frequency as the work begins to take hold. The idea is not for you to “just get a weekly massage from now on.” The idea is to use the therapy to resolve the issue so you don’t need massage anymore.
Short-term muscle spasm – Let’s say you woke up with a crick in your neck or shoulder. There’s a good chance one of the muscles is bound up and needs a little encouragement to let go. A massage may be just the ticket to get rid of this pain. Depending on where you are realizing your symptoms, targeted and specific massage techniques can work wonders. One massage may be all you need to release these muscles and reduce your pain and restriction. Keep in mind, however, that you may be a bit sore the day after your massage. A few days later, this should clear right up and you should be moving with ease and freedom again.
Complementary therapy – If you are in a rehab program through either a physical therapist or chiropractor, you can definitely use massage as a complement to these therapies as well. You should talk to your practitioner and see if massage is something that could help their work. I have had many clients use massage a few hours or days before their session with a chiropractor or physical therapist with magnificent results. With the muscles already loosened up, they can do their work with a lot less effort and with longer-lasting results. As the saying goes… teamwork makes the dreamwork.
Maintenance and general take-a-ways – If you’re looking for regular maintenance, you should analyze your daily habits and routines and be specific with what you are looking for out of a regular massage routine. If you’re an athlete looking to boost performance, you’ll want to get massage more frequently. Think bi-weekly. If you’re someone who hits the gym regularly, but you don’t compete, think once a month. A good general rule of thumb to live by is this: the more specific and acute your pain the more often you’ll want to get a massage. Consistency will get you through your issue while going once a month will not. As things begin to loosen up and stay that way, decrease the frequency until you’ve found your sweet spot. For me, getting a massage once every 4-6 weeks keeps me feeling loose and strong. This works with y physically demanding job as a massage therapist as well as 3 days a week at the gym and 2 days a week practicing yoga. Experiment and see what works best for you. But also, let’s be real, too much massage is never a bad thing 😉