It's easy to overuse hands during a workday, and then they are still needed for everything we do after work. We need our hands for all aspects of life and daily activities.
A weekend gardening project, painting a room in the house, or trimming a tree all use the same muscles massage therapists use while working. Those are sporadic activities, but what about a massage therapist's hobby that requires hand repetitive movements? Playing the piano or guitar, knitting or crocheting, sewing, gardening are all movements that wouldn't give the hands the rest they need.
When your chosen profession and the activities you love require hands to have extra care, here are the top five ways to provide excellent self care to your hands.
Being self-employed brings a different set of scheduling challenges than therapists who have someone else writing their schedule.
When self-employed, there is the beauty of writing your own schedule, but this can be a downfall for some therapists. In the beginning, when trying to build clientele, massage therapists may take clients 7 days a week or overload one day because that's what clients are asking for.
If you write out your ideal workday, think down the road when you're as busy as you want to be, what would that look like? Monday through Friday, Tuesday through Saturday? Will you work some day shifts and some evenings, or would you prefer to work days only while the kids are in school?
Now that you have an ideal schedule fill clients into the openings. Clients don't dictate your workweek. You have openings, and they need to choose from what is available.
Even if you believe you need to accommodate everyone else's schedule to gain the clientele you need, think about teaching them. When they ask for a night you don't normally work, and you do it, they may expect you to bend your schedule for them always. Clients shouldn't know how busy you are or aren't. Give them two choices of times and leave it at that.
Part of taking care of your hands is not overworking them. For some, 8 clients a day is too many. You may do craniosacral work, and 8 sessions isn't a strain to your hands. Conversely, you may know certain modalities or types of clients require more of a break for your hands than others. Deep tissue, sports massage, athletes with dense muscle tissue, ART techniques are examples of when you might want to limit those sessions to 2-3 per day.
Breaks between clients are important. Do you take 30 minutes to change the room, do paperwork, and quick self-care when needed, or does your day feel frantic with 10 minutes between clients and leave you no time for running to the bathroom?
When you work for someone, request your limit of sessions per day, and ask for the breaks you need between clients.
Now that you have a plan to manage the time at work, it does just as good to have a plan for after-work time. As we already talked about in writing your schedule, keep your downtime as downtime. You may be asked to massage a weekend event after working your regular workweek. Weigh the pros: more exposure, experience, money, with the cons: hand overuse, soreness, tendonitis flaring up.
It doesn't mean you can't cover a shift for someone who called in sick, massage a special event, or take a client for pre-race sports massage; just make the decision from an objective place.
Are you already tending to an overuse injury? Has your work week been particularly hard on your hands already? Did you adjust your workload knowing this was coming?
Another way to be strict with your downtime is being aware of the activities you do on days off. Limit activities that are repetitive for your hands or put a strain on the arms and hands.
I had a student who played the violin professionally and came to massage school as a second career. For her, hand care and body mechanics were extra important because the head, arm, and hand use for playing her instrument were already putting strain on her body, and then adding massage was a concern we talked about. She decided she could do both if she planned out a specific self-care routine and stuck to it.
Days off should be days of rest for your hands. Making sure you have self-care tools available at home and using them regularly will prolong your massage career.
Yes, your hands are your money makers! I don't know about you, but when I became a massage therapist, not only did I have to get used to short nails, but I thought twice before doing something that put my hands at risk. This could be anything from taking the small slopes while snowboarding for the first time to wearing gloves for projects around the house. After many cuts to my hands, I learned it's a nuisance to massage with gloves or finger cots, so it's worth the 2 minutes to get gloves on.
Another type of preventative care for massage therapists' hands is hot or cold therapy. Have you ever soaked your hands in an ice bath? It doesn't feel great, but it takes care of the inflammation. What about paraffin dips? Much more appealing sounding, and it can help prolong healthy joints in your hands.
Self-massage to your hands, or getting a massage from someone you respect, and being the client a couple of times a month are both good ways to take care of your hands and prolong your massage career.
You know the importance of body mechanics, but when is the last time you invested in a continuing education course on them? Maybe never? It is more fun to learn a new modality but investing in your body mechanics is an investment in yourself. YOU are the most important part of your business. Without healthy hands, you can't massage, help your clients or pay your bills.
Body mechanics is an area of your education that should continue to grow each year you massage. Bad habits form, we get lazy, and poor body mechanics lead to injury. Go through this short body mechanics checklist.
Here is an article about body mechanics with some further tips and assessments to see if you are at risk for injury.
With close to 25 years in this profession, I continually say massage therapists are the greatest people. Massage therapists are some of the most caring, compassionate, and genuine people there are.
When we remember why we became massage therapists in the first place, it's easier to take care of our bodies, so we can continue to do what we love. Not everyone is cut out for the type of work we do. We do so much more than massage muscles. The skill you have should be appreciated by yourself as much as it is by your clients.
This profession draws a certain type of person. Realize you are special and appreciate the gift you have to help others. Taking care of your hands and the rest of your body should come naturally but if you need a nudge in the right direction, stick with The Fit MT.
Until next time,
Be fit, be strong, and care for your hands.
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