You had a massage, you feel great, now what?
Self-care is the most important part of receiving massage therapy. Massage will break up tissue and stimulate healing processes in the body; what you choose to do after your massage will determine the lasting effects of your massage. Here are some general prescriptions for making the most of your massage.
- Stay Hydrated
- Take It Easy - Avoid Injury
- Move and Stretch - Promote Healing
- Eat Well
- Focus Your Intention
Stay well hydrated
There is some debate in the world of science as to the exact necessity and benefits of drinking water after a massage. Particularly regarding the common claims of flushing out toxins and lactic acid from muscles. However, we all know the human body requires sufficient hydration to function properly. After you get a massage your body will be healing and responding to the massage therapy. This is an especially important time to maintain optimum hydration.
Take It Easy to Avoid Injury
Give yourself time to properly heal. This will ensure you receive the full benefit of the massage. After your massage, muscles and connective tissue will be looser and injury will be more likely. Also, Just like after an intense workout, muscle fibers and other tissue can be torn during deep massage work. Avoid heavy lifting and extra strenuous activity the day after your massage to protect yourself from injury and allow healing to take place. Some light activity will be in your best interest however…
Move and Stretch to Promote Healing
Right after your massage, it is good to go for a walk or do something easy but active. Just like a cool-down after a workout, its important to give your body the right cues and keep things flowing. The way you move in the days after your massage will be important too.
The soft tissue of your body will be in a kind of receptive state after massage therapy. An imperfect but helpful analogy is to liken it to glass blowing. The glass is heated up and becomes malleable, the craftsman will then shape the glass and as it cools it holds that shape. Your body is similar, massage makes the muscles and fascia more malleable, and even begins to shape it. The way you move in the next 24-48 hours will further affect the way your body rebuilds. Your massage therapist may recommend stretches and exercises to help you progress towards your goals, start doing those right away. In addition, movement and light stretching will promote blood flow and stimulate your nervous system further helping the healing process.
Be careful not to overstretch. Even if you are feeling more flexible after your massage, avoid pushing yourself to your limits of flexibility. You risk creating injury or triggering the overstretched muscles to respond by tightening back up. Allow the massage work to settle in and then you can enjoy a gradual increase in flexibility.
It is always important to get adequate sleep. After a massage it is essential. You are investing in your health by receiving a massage, if you want to maximize your investment you must give your body a proper chance to heal and integrate the work done during the massage session. Make sure to get sound sleep the nights immediately following your massage.
Massage does many things to help you relax. It releases hormones that make you feel good, and it physically relieves tension in your body. Savor this, bask in it, allow this feeling to settle into your mind and body. If you can, schedule your massage at a time that allows you to relax afterwards, the body takes advantage of this time as it is free to heal and find balance. As mentioned above, it is important to move around a little right after your massage, ideally by doing something easy that won’t take away from your relaxed state, like going for a walk. Focus on breathing deeply and allowing energies, emotions, and physical sensations or tension to move freely throughout your body. If you can’t do this immediately after your massage, take some time later in the day or next day to just breathe and relax without distraction. Meditation can be a great way to do this and to support any healing process.
Avoid processed foods and high amounts of sugar that may increase inflammation. An unnecessary increase in inflammation following a massage can interfere with the healing process. Try to eat foods high in vitamins and minerals like fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat foods that you know from experience will leave you feeling energized and refreshed, without taking a toll on your body.
Focus Your Intention
In my experience, the one factor that can make or break the effectiveness of any treatment is the attitude and intention of a person. A person who doesn’t want to heal and doesn’t care can get a hundred massages and never make any progress; A person who is determined to persevere and heal maximizes their progress. I’ve seen it first hand again and again. My clients who are the most determined and optimistic regularly have better results and progress much faster than those that are apathetic or pessimistic.
Hold the intention of healing in your mind always. Visualize your muscles responding to the massage: becoming more flexible and free. Feel yourself gaining strength and movement back. There are two important aspects to holding an intention: your thoughts, and your actions. Focus your thoughts on healing. Focus your actions on supporting the healing process. All the ways I have described above will help you focus your actions on health, and by doing so you will naturally create thoughts that are focused on health.
Massage therapy is a tool for you to use
Massage therapy in and of itself can do very little to help you achieve your goals. If you utilize massage therapy as simply a tool to be understood and integrated into a total effort towards realizing your goals then you will be successful. Take action, support your healing by doing everything mentioned in this article. Communicate clearly with your therapist as to what you are experiencing and what your goals are. Give them detailed feedback during the massage and pay attention everyday between massages so you can let them know how the massage is affecting your situation. Wether your goals are to enhance your current well being or recover from a traumatic injury, it is your actions and intentions that will steer the course of your progress.