I was taught in neuromuscular therapy that if you were having trouble identifying a potential gait distortion you should have the person walk faster. This works because when the person is walking faster she doesn’t have time to adjust to an imbalance (e.g., pronating foot ) before she takes the next step. A few years ago, I drastically increased the amount of massage I did per day. In a way, this was similar to having someone walk faster to accentuate a gait distortion. Doing the extra massages without a break put me in a situation where everything was magnified including warning signs that I might be in danger of injuring myself. Though this is not an experiment that I’d like to repeat, I’m glad that I was able to learn from it. Here are my top four “When You’re Most Likely To Get Hurt” scenarios:
When You’re Tired
We can all relate to the mental effort it sometimes takes to get through the last massage of a long night—and it’s precisely at this time that body mechanics fall by the wayside. Why? Because it’s easier to reach (low energy expenditure), potentially compromising a shoulder joint, instead of moving (higher energy expenditure) to be in a better position to apply pressure.
Suggestion: Move your feet. No matter how tired you are, keep telling yourself to move your feet. Once you move your feet and are in a good position for your next move, you can lean all you want on the table (or the client, depending on the amount of pressure she wants) and “catch your breath”.
When You’re Drifting Drift Off
Admittedly, I sometimes have gone off into la-la land during a massage. I’m usually brought back to reality by pain. The pain is often a result of me overusing a tool (thumb, fingers, knuckles, elbow-forearm) because I hadn’t been paying attention to what I was doing.
Suggestion: Practice with all of your tools to the point where you are changing them without thinking. So when you drift off, your automatic pilot (tool changing pilot) will kick in before the pain does.
When Your Brain-Glucose Is Low
In 2015, I wrote an article for Massage & Bodywork Magazine called: Minimizing Injuries: Some Common and Uncommon Advice (https://www.abmp.com/textonlymags/article.php?article=1276). In the article I talk about how brain-glucose lows can lead to poor decision-making. I also go on to explain that complex carbohydrates can immediately reverse this condition.
Here’s how a brain-glucose low could play out in the massage room. You’re on your 3rd back-to-back massage of the day, but you didn’t have time to eat before your first massage. The last person you worked on talked constantly and towards the end of the massage you found it very difficult to both carry on a conversation and do the massage. Now, at the beginning of your 3rd massage you’re having trouble remembering what your client wanted you to focus on. At this point, there’s no way that you brain has enough mental energy to worry about body mechanics.
Suggestion: Have healthy, complex carb snacks, like an apple or granola bar, available to eat between clients so that you can recharge your brain. Personally, when I have a back-to-back client day, I make sure that I have an ample meal before I start massaging for the day. Then it only takes a few bites of a healthy snack to avoid a brain-glucose low.
When You’re Overly Determined
When I was first starting massage, I would disregard technique/form because I was determined to get the job done no matter what. For example, if I was working the pec minor and my thumb was killing me I would simply ignore the pain. But over time, my thumbs started to bother me.
Suggestion: Practice good technique/form to the point where it becomes automatic and overrides your determination to get the job done. Good technique to me starts with being comfortable with all the tools in my tool kit so that I can switch out a tool before I burn it out. My idea of good form includes a neutral back whenever possible, joints stacked over each other when delivering pressure, and stances that take the strain out of my upper body. Because of different body types and pre-existing conditions, you’ll have to define good form for yourself.
The 10 Massage Challenge
You can probably get away with not paying attention to these four scenarios for a short time, but eventually things will catch up to you. And if you ignore a few at once, there’s a potential for some serious pain. So here’s my challenge to you: For the next 10 massages note when you feel pain. Each time you do, ask yourself if you’re tired, hungry, foggy, drifting or overly determined? If you answer “yes”, on average, one out four times then try some of my suggestions. Please let me know how it goes and I’d love to hear your top “Most Likely to Get Hurt” scenarios!