Self Care for Massage Therapists

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Self Care for Massage Therapists

Anyone who has worked as a massage therapist for more than a few hours a week knows that self care is extremely important. Massage therapists typically don’t last very long in their industry due to overworking or physical ailments. Some employers place unreasonable expectations upon their employees such as working long hours without a break, working too many hours within a day or working on several clients back-to-back without a break at all.

As a self-employed Remedial Massage Therapist, I have the freedom to dictate my own hours however this has made me think even more about looking after my body and mind so that I can continue to run my business well into the future.

How much your work load affects you will be determined by many factors, some of which are in your control and others which are not. I will now list what I feel are the biggest factors that lead to physical and mental issues for the massage therapist:


Obviously, how old you are makes a difference in how much work you can do and how long you take to recover. The massage therapy industry often attracts people looking for a second or third career and therefore as a whole the industry is dominated by older people.

Once people get past 30 years old, they tend to notice that they have a bit less energy and that when they injure themselves, it takes a bit longer to fully heal. This is natural and it’s something we can’t totally change however there are many things we can change to ensure we are healthy, happy and strong for as long as possible in our chosen career…

Technique (Bio-mechanics)

Some people would say technique is more important than age and to some extent I would agree, I just feel that we need to accept that, at some point, our age will have an effect on our body – yes no matter how good our technique is. “What about x therapist who is 90 years old and it still practices daily without issues” I hear your say. Yes, there are people that can manage to maintain a practice into their later years but that would be the exception rather than the rule… having said that, Technique is so important that it could be the difference between one therapist ending up in hospital after 6 months of practice and another going 5 year with no major issues.

Top Four Technique Guidelines

  1. Breath deeply (this will help you achieve #2!)
  2. Maintain the natural curves of your spine
  3. Use your body weight rather than your muscular strength
  4. Use the larger parts of your body to massage whenever possible

Using the above guidelines, you will do so much to mitigate any damage to your body from working as a massage therapist.

Breaks and Stretching

What do you do in your breaks? If you don’t get any breaks, perhaps you need to find a new employer or consider going into business for yourself. If you do get breaks, what do you do in them? Do you slump down in a chair and eat a chocolate bar? If so, it’s time to change your habits. Any spare 5 minutes can be used to stretch all the most important muscles you use for massaging.

Top Five Stretches for Massage Therapists

My top five stretch recommendations for massage therapists are:

  1. Pectoralis Major
  2. Upper Trapezius (And Scalenes)
  3. Obliques
  4. Forearm Flexors (Including fingers)
  5. Lower Back

If I don’t have time for all of these, I do the obliques by putting my hands up behind my head since this externally rotates the humerus and stretches the Pectoralis Major (killing two birds with one stone! Not that I would kill a bird since I am a vegan) and after that I’d stretch my back by doing a standing forward bend. If each stretch is held for 30 second for 3 repetitions then that routine will only take around 5 minutes (Obliques are done on both sides). To do the whole routine of five above only takes around 10 minutes.

Consider longer breaks between clients

This applies to those running their own business and have some say over the hours they work. If you are starting to book more than 3 hours of massage a day but are still only putting 10-15 minutes between clients, consider putting 30 minutes between clients. This will allow to you to relax and do proper self-care between clients. Trust me, in the long run it will be worth it. You will begin to enjoy your job more and feel less pressured and your clients will notice you are less stressed. We are supposed to be setting an example of relaxation after all. Are we not?

Decide on a Limit and Stick to it

This also may not be an option if you are working for someone else but for those of us that work for ourselves there is no excuse. Once I started making a decent amount of money from massage, I started to up the expectation of how many hours I could work in a day. Perhaps this was from the excitement of a new business or just greed for more money however after working days with more than 4 hours of massage I began to be a bit more modest with my expectations of what I can actually achieve. I found my limit was 4 hours of massage in a day and that even doing that every day for prolonged periods would be too much. Now my ideal day is 2-3 hours of massage. Doesn’t sound like much but this is more than enough income to pay the bills and save money and it leaves me plenty of time for… having fun and enjoying life which is why I started my business in the first place!!

Do a Weekly Swap

If massage is so good we should be using it as well right? Sometimes it is easy to let time slip by without scheduling the massage that we really need. If you work with other therapists it can be easy to arrange a regular massage swap. If you work alone then you may have to put in some extra effort but at least when you do this you will be practising what you preach and if a client asks how often you have a massage, it’s nice to be able to say ‘I have at least an hour every week!’ 🙂

Take Natural Anti-inflammatories Daily

It’s a good idea, early in your career, to develop a taste for some of the following natural anti-inflammatories:

  1. Cloves
  2. Turmeric
  3. Rosemary
  4. Ginger

Personally, I like to take several of them at once in a drink that I love. It is often referred to as ‘Golden Milk’. Check out my golden milk recipe.

You could also consider taking a supplement to promote healthy joints. My choice for this is Glucosamine, MSM and Chondroitin.

Keep the Mind Healthy and Balanced with Daily Meditation

This is a powerful, profound and potentially life changing practice. You don’t have to believe in anything superstitious. Meditation has been helping people of all faiths to achieve a calm and alert state of mind since time immemorial. I have found the app Insight Timer to be incredibly helpful to ensure I make time to meditate every single day. You can start with just 5 minutes a day and slowly increase it until you reach a level you are happy with. Don’t give up, the benefits for your state of mind are HUGE! It will also help your body to heal faster as well.

Self Care for Massage Therapists – Summary

  1. Expect less of yourself as you age
  2. Practice good technique
  3. Take regular, longer breaks and stretch
  4. Don’t work too many hours each day
  5. Consume natural Anti-inflammatories Daily
  6. Meditate Daily

I hope you enjoyed my guide to self care for massage therapists. Contact me if you have any better ideas or want to comment.

Follow Oak McIlwain:

Remedial Massage Therapist

Oak McIlwain is a Remedial Massage Therapist from Fremantle, Western Australia. He has been refining his massage skills for over 7 years after his corporate exodus. You can read his Bio or find him on or Facebook

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