Dealing With Your Massage-Related Injuries

You may have heard me make the claim that I’m injury-free. “I’ve been using my weird body mechanics and low tables for a decade, and I don’t have any pain to show for it.” How could that be possible? How can a massage therapist avoid all injury?

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It… may have been an exaggeration. What I mean to say is that, while I’m CONSTANTLY injuring myself in new and interesting ways, I don’t have any chronic pain to show for it. It’s a matter of giving each new ache or pain the reverence they deserve, actually treating the injuries instead of ignoring them, and adapting to allow those parts to recover.

Let’s look at the last two months. I got a twinge in my thumb while doing some weird little swirling flourish thing during petrissage (I have no memory of commanding my hands to do this), and I started having pain in my wrist after allowing it to extend to an extreme angle during a high-pressure move.

What did I do? Well, I certainly didn’t keep doing the same stuff. I immediate instituted a thumb vacation for my right hand, choosing to use fists, fingertips, forearms, and thumbless petrissage for a couple of weeks (see my thumb self-care video for more).

No biggie, it’s happened before. The wrist thing was fun and new, so I had to figure out new adaptations just for that. It turned out that any pressure on the palmar surface of my hand that allowed my carpal region to sink was going to produce some pain, so: More soft fist and elbow use, even if it meant using each hand in an asymmetrical way. One hand would be palm-down, the other would be fist-shaped, and everything was groovy. My clients didn’t notice, and I’m sure it felt good.

In fact, I always find these injury adaptations interesting. They force me to try new angles, and new combinations of tools. I always take some new technology away from the “rest” period, making this process an integral part of the evolution of my technique.

By the way, in the same time period, I also injured my back in the gym and acquired some new knee and ankle pain while out running. My workout routine, fraught with injury, is actually where I learned the whole adapt-until-it’s-better dance. I switched up my exercises at the gym, increased my warm-up time before my runs, and redoubled my nightly stretching.

I also actually cared for my injuries. I iced my knee, and I wrapped my hand and ankle for the first few days of each respective injury. I took a day off when I needed it, but I also made the recovery period as active as I could: I kept working, and I kept exercising, just with the alterations needed to keep from aggravating my sensitized nervous system.

Make no mistake: As a massage therapist, you are an athlete. While we can put a lot of safeguards in place (warming up, stretching, using sensible body mechanics), injury and recovery are just part of using your body in extraordinary ways. Definitely listen to your body, and don’t invite pain by ignoring warning signs or being careless. At the same time, try to lose the fear that you have about being injured, and be prepared. You’re going to get aches and pains, so how are you going to deal with them?

Of course, If your aches are piling up faster than you can deal with them, it may be time to lessen your work load, or consider different ways of working. Your table height might be wrong, or you might be relying on petrissage too much. You might not be resting enough between clients, or forgetting to eat. If you’re overworking out of pressure from your boss or your clients, it’s time to look out for yourself. Ain’t nobody else going to.

As a final note, also recognize when an injury goes past your ability to deal with it. If it’s more than just a “twinge,” If it’s not getting better, or if it keeps flaring up despite your best efforts to adapt, it’s time to see a doctor.

What do you think? Am I the only one constantly dealing with aches, pains, and twinges? Have you found ways of working that have reduced your frequency of injury? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Dealing With Your Massage-Related Injuries

  1. Thank you for great help tips! I recently injured my thumb, that I kept ignoring for a while and now it finally caught up with me. I have watched your self care video and so very grateful for it. It is officially on vocation! I constantly have to adjust my body mechanics and figure out new ways of applying strokes to accommodate my body. I have to remind myself every day to treat my own body with as much respect, care and consideration as i would treat my client’s. It feels good to know that I’m not the only one who keeps trying to figure it out! Thank you for sharing you wisdom with us and your passion for self improvement and discovery. Keep it up!

  2. Hey Ian… I have a theory that keeps coming back to me (or is I keep coming back to it)… isn’t the problem that to reach our clients, even if we’re anchored to the table, we have to bend our torsos forward, for protracted periods of time. A lot of stress on the Quad Lumborum, no?
    I notice that my coworkers all seem to have chronic ache/soreness in the sacrum. Wouldn’t that be the root cause?

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