Published in Holistic Therapist Magazine
Anyone who works intensively with their hands is prone to injuring their arms, wrists, thumbs and fingers and unfortunately massage therapists are no exception. The arms and hands are just not designed to withstand heavy work over extended periods of time leading to carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and other hand and wrist RSIs. It is rare for massage therapists to be taught how to protect their bodies leading to an exceptionally high rate of injury in the profession.
Yet the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. If you know the correct way to use your body you can have a long and healthy career. Protecting your hands is easy when you absorb the principles of dynamic body use and the good news is that it also helps to give your clients an even better treatment!
Why do massage therapists and aromatherapists get injured?
There are lots of reasons why bodyworkers tend to get injured while carrying out their job:
o Poor body mechanics: Many massage therapists have very poor training in body mechanics causing them to awkwardly twist, bend, or position their joints out of alignment while working. See the section on “Mighty Massage Stances” below to see the best positions way to stand and move while working
o Doing too many massages at one time: Many massage therapists (or employers!) have unrealistic expectations about the number of massages that can be done in a day or a week. Massage is physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding. A realistic full time massage schedule would be no more than 20 treatments a week ie: 4 massages a day 5 days a week, or 5 massages a day 4 days a week
o Massaging with your table at an incorrect height: As a general rule, a table that is at your fist level while you stand beside it, allows you to use your body in a more optimal way while massaging. Many of us have been taught to have our tables much higher – around waist level for example. This is fine if you are doing incredibly gentle work. However as soon as you start to do any deeper work you will naturally hunch up into your shoulders leading to strain and injury
o Limited techniques and repetitive motion: No one part of the body is designed to do the same motion repeatedly without rest. Most massage therapists are taught a limited repertoire of techniques that use the same muscles over and over again. This inevitably leads to injury and pain.
o Trying too hard: Many of us don’t quite feel good enough. We think the client needs more work or harder work to get a good treatment. Pushing and straining to get a result leads to us needing a massage more than the client!
o Using muscular strength rather than body weight and energy to work deeper: Martial artists know that muscular strength alone is a very poor way of achieving power. We need to learn how to use our body weight and energy (chi) to achieve depth and pressure. Good martial artists can break a brick with their hand while holding an egg!
o Not listening to your body: Unfortunately many massage therapists carry on working when they are in pain due to work pressures or embarrassment. This is a big no no! If your body hurts you need to change something!
o Doing other hand intensive activities: If you are doing other hand intensive activities such as part time computer work or a career as a professional violinist in addition to massage you may stand a higher chance of getting injured. This may also be an issue if you are combining massage with beauty therapy as this often requires activities that put the hands under additional strain.
o Believing there is a right and wrong way to do massage: Massage is a wonderful creative art. There is no right or wrong way. Many therapists carry on doing techniques that hurt their bodies believing that this is the “right” way to do the technique.
Give yourself permission to find different ways to do things and most of all IF IT HURTS DON’T DO IT
Mighty Massage Stances
While working, your body should mainly be in one of the 4 stances below. Using a massage stance should be a dynamic dance and you may flow from one to the other depending on what is best for your body at that time.
o Forward Tai Chi Stance: Similar to a lunge. Particularly useful for effleurage based strokes. Weight can transfer between the front and back leg to give power.
o Horse Stance: Feet hip width apart and legs bent. Make sure knees roll outwards rather than medially to prevent strain.
o Kneeling Tai Chi Stance: This can be used to maintain good body mechanics when you need to be at a lower level than standing would allow.
o Seated: Have legs wide apart and both feet firmly connected to the ground. Make sure your own spine is not slumped.
Using the principles in this article has kept me injury free for 25 years as a massage therapist (and still going strong!). This is the best career of your life so don’t spoil it by becoming a bodywork burnout statistic!
Try out some of the ideas here or even better come on our 1 day Deep tissue course running in Brighton on 29th January and 17th September 2015. For details see the Jing website www.jingmassage.com or give us a call on 01273 628942. We love to chat!
About Rachel Fairweather and Jing
Rachel Fairweather is co-founder and director of Jing Advanced Massage Training – an organisation dedicated to excellence in all aspects of postgraduate massage training. We are dedicated to helping massage therapists have the lifestyle and business you deserve. Based in Brighton, we offer courses around the country including London, Wigan, Kendal and Edinburgh. Our courses include longer qualifications in advanced massage including our revolutionary BTEC Level 6 (degree level) in Advanced Clinical and Sports massage and 1-2 day CPD courses in Marketing, Hot Stone Fusion, trigger point, myofascial release, stretching, pregnancy, on site, living anatomy and many others. You can also check out our DVD in advanced clinical massage techniques, downloadable from the website and our new online course in low back pain. Please call or check our website for further information and course dates.
Tel: 01273 628942