Weather you are a professional athlete, a sport and fitness enthusiast, or a weekend warrior including regular therapeutic massage as part of your fitness plan is an intelligent decision. A complete wellness plan includes not only an exercise and dietary plan, but caring for the wear-and-tear and minor injuries that naturally occur with movement is necessary. Therapeutic Massage is the ideal compliment to a total fitness plan.
Here are some of the facts:
How do I get started?
Find qualified therapists in your area is first, then make some phone calls, have a conversation and express your needs and your goals. Be sure the therapist understands what you are looking for and that they have the skills to address them. Once you have found someone you are comfortable with then book with them. If you like their work and like the results you are getting, look at your calendar and figure out what times and days work for you and book your appointments out. You will be more likely to keep your appointments once they are booked at your optimal time, then if your are scheduling at your therapists’ convenience. The key to getting the most out of massage is consistency. The effect of massage are cumulative and will pay off with improved performance and quality of life.
WTF is Muscle Hygiene?
What is muscle hygiene you may be wondering?
You are probably familiar with the concept of dental hygiene. Same idea just with your muscles and soft tissue.
Many people put a lot of wear and tear on their bodies in their day to day living and often do not take the time for repair and recovery. If you are an athlete, have a job that requires repetitive movements, put high output demands on your body daily, even people who sit at a computer all day, this constant use and abuse to your muscles and soft tissue requires maintenance, repair and recovery to keep up with life.
So, let’s go back to the dental hygiene concept. Firstly, as we use our muscles just like our teeth when we eat and drink; they get dirty, we bush, we floss, daily. Our muscles are the same, they are used daily; metabolic waste is created, restriction happens, muscles get tight, spasms can occur. These things require maintenance, or muscle hygiene.
When left unaddressed these issues can lead to inflammation, tendonitis, bursitis, joint dysfunction, arthritis, joint replacements and general immobility due to pain or discomfort. Sounds dramatic, but think about it, if we don’t practice good regular oral care; it can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, dentures and poor health. It’s the same with our muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and joints.
What we can do on a daily basis? Integrating good hydration habits, regular stretching (no one ever became limber in one 10 second stretch, it’s a cumulative process), self-massage techniques (more on all that in other blogs) and just like you go for those teeth cleanings, you need to schedule regular massage. For most people once per month is sufficient. If you have a soft tissue issue that is more acute, you may need appointments closer together in the beginning (commonly once week). As your injury or issue heals, gets healthier and you are getting treatment to treatment pain free you can extend the length of time between appointments. Ultimately, we are looking for that place where you start to feel tight and not quite achy, but if you went longer you would start feeling limited with your movement. This is your body’s rhythm. It is my experience that everyone’s body has a rhythm. You may only know that feeling after getting massage consistently. Usually it takes about 3 sessions. You will become aware of the feeling of relaxed muscles, a feeling of length and freedom/ease of movement. Clients report, “I feel taller” or “I needed to readjust my rear-view mirror” or a feeling of “airy-ness” or “I feel so light”.
As Mother’s Day is nearing, I am thinking about my own mother and motherhood as a whole. I am a dog-mom and have never had a human child, the closest experience I can to relate to having children, was caring for my parents in their end of life process. It is amazing how we really changed roles, Children really do become the parent and parents become the children. Most things I did on a daily basis were with their welfare in mind. This went on for more than a year, nothing I had done before could have prepared me for what I experienced. In hindsight, there were many things I could have put in place to support the process.
In my massage practice I have worked with many pregnant clients all through and up close to delivery time. I have even been in a few delivery rooms to help reduce the discomfort and pain of delivery. What screams to me is that after the baby is born all self-care and support seems to stop, understandably, there is a new life and a small helpless being whose every need depends on Mom. It’s like a woman goes into the hospital to have her baby and the doctors and nurse help with the birthing process and when that is over, in some cases a day or two later, the baby is handed over to the new parents and it’s like here you go, good luck… and then life begins!
I have gotten panicked calls from friends who are 3 months post-delivery and up to their eyeballs in child care, in tears, stating “can I give him back”, “I didn’t sign-up for this”. As the supportive friend I have talked them down from the preverbal ledge, however, what postpartum Mom’s need is help and a break! Self-care goes out the window and there is very little support for her. In this day and age, we as women are expected to take care of everyone including ourselves at the expense of ourselves. Where does this leave a new Mom who is doing some of the most important work there is to do, raise a child which is our future as a human race, when she is physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted?
As a massage therapist wanting to learn how to support women with massage, I have researched about other cultures and how they care for women after delivering a baby. In Asia and India women are actually cared for by family and friends. Granted their lifestyles are also very different from the isolated American lifestyle. New Moms are supported by their own mothers as well as extended family and friends. They are allowed to rest and massage is very much a part of the healing process. If there is not family or even if there is, they can hire what is called (I’m loosely translating) an actual ‘nurse maid’ whose job it is to support the healing process of the new Mom.
All this being said, postpartum massage can be an important, effective and holistic approach for the healing process and the many adjustment of being a new mother.
Massage is well-known for its health benefits; such as relaxation and pain relief. However, specific support for a new Mom includes: hormone regulation, better sleep, improved breast feeding, recovery from giving birth, reduces swelling, increased healing.
Massage can help relax muscles, improve circulation, and decrease stress hormones. After nine months of creating, carrying and delivering one of the greatest miracles of life, a new Moms’ body would certainly benefit from a little pampering and perhaps a little deeper work to get some of those knots out. Improved Circulation moves metabolic waste products out and bring fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to tissue for improved healing.
Depression, anxiety and “the mommy blues” respond well to skilled massage therapy.It is not uncommon for new moms to experience postpartum depression, anxiety or the blues due to hormonal changes, new responsibilities and adjustments to a new normal.Postpartum depression is a longer lasting condition that affects 10-15% of new mothers.You may need to enlist the assistance of a health care practitioner as well for postpartum depression.Research as shown massage to be very beneficial in treating all these conditions.
After child birth there can be residual pain, discomfort and body aches, which are all normal.Add in breastfeeding and childcare and shoulder, back, neck, arm and hand pain can increase substantially.Massage can relieve these issues without medication as not to interfere with breastfeeding.
Massage can greatly improve postpartum hormone regulation.Estrogen and progesterone levels drop after delivery, prolactin and oxytocin rise to facilitate breastfeeding, cortisol levels rise due to stress, all can be helped with massage.Massage can also positively affect the hormones that contribute to depression and the “mommy blues”.
During pregnancy often times there is a great deal of fluid retention and weight gain.The body fluids need to find a balance after delivery.Massage can improve circulation and lymphatic flow which will help the body to reduce swelling and rebalance hormones which also affect fluid retention.Good hydration is necessary for the healing process and breastfeeding however massage can assist the body with rebalancing.
After delivery and with new responsibilities of child care, new moms are exhausted.Quality sleep is important.Massage can increase the brainwaves that promote quality sleep.This is why it is not uncommon to fall asleep during massage.Quality sleep is important for recovery, hormone balancing, returning to pre-pregnancy weight and having a better mental state for handling new responsibilities.
Studies show that massage increases prolactin levels, prolactin is a hormone that stimulates lactation.Additionally, relaxes the body, relieves shoulder, arm and neck pain.New research as shown that breast massage can decrease breast pain and tenderness associated with breastfeeding; as well; reduces sodium content of breast milk which can improve newborn suckling.You will need to talk to your licensed massage therapist about receiving this work.
When can a new Mom Start Massage?
You may start receiving massage as soon as you feel comfortable to get massage. Any position on the massage table should be comfortable for you, if not discuss it with your therapist and they will be able to reposition you, use pillows or towels to create a comfortable and relaxing experience.
Can I bring my Baby?
It is ideal to find someone you trust to leave your baby with. It's important to get some "me time", difficult though it may seem. Here are some things you could try.
Postpartum after care and massage therapy
Massage can not only improve the recovery time but the quality of recovery for many women. Together with the solid guidance of your health care provider and a qualified massage practitioner you can enter into the new role of motherhood with as much ease and grace as possible.