If I could afford the time, I’d get a massage each and every day. It feels so good to take time out, reconnect with one’s own body, allow someone else to attend to your body and meet it’s needs. In the real world, I get some form of body work most weeks, and at a minimum get massage once per month. It’s easy to justify it to myself … I work with my body, I need to be in the best possible condition so that I can focus on my client rather than on the fact that my [insert body ache or pain] is killing me. But massage isn’t just about a ‘justifiable treat’. In fact I believe as a modality massage is one of those that can put the treat into treatment.
As far as treating symptoms and pain goes, massage therapy can work wonders. I recently saw a client I’ve not seen for a while who feared he’d trapped a nerve in his neck. He was in considerable pain and had quite limited movement, and we talked about what might be happening and how I would work to relieve any muscles which were in spasm and making the situation more uncomfortable. A few days after his appointment I received a text which said it had “eased up a lot and feeling human again so it really helped!!” I love these kind of updates. But it does beg a couple of questions about how quickly a client might get better or fixed. How many sessions will it take to feel back to ‘normal’ and how often should you receive massage for persistent pain.
But there’s no ‘fixed’ answer. Your own body is a good guide though. If your neck has been causing you discomfort for a couple of months, is disturbing your sleep, and if you are having to turn your whole body rather than just your neck, it’s uncommon and actually unlikely that you will be ‘back to normal’ in just one appointment. You want to be pain free, but the pain is actually as a result of a number of factors: your habits, postures, any past and existing injuries, and is strongly influenced by things like stress and mindset. In one appointment I might be able to take out the intensity of discomfort from a muscle in spasm in the appropriate area, but a single massage won’t rectify a poor sleeping position, unravel your ‘laptop posture’ or distract you from the stresses which result in you doing a tortoise impression, sinking your head into your shoulders.
It is much more likely that the pain relief will develop over the course of weeks and months. If you allow massage to become a part of your life, your body will come to realise that it doesn’t need so much habitual tension, and that the ‘volume control’ of your pain can reduce. This can even be true when it comes to complex, structural issues such as osteoarthritis - massage won’t cure the condition, but it can help make living with the condition more manageable and less painful. This is backed up with many recent studies which have show substantial benefits for arthritis sufferers from basic massage techniques - less pain, more range of motion, greater joint function. Why wouldn’t you want to make massage part of your self-care routine?
Ah but there’s the rub … self-care. Not something that comes naturally to most people. But that’s another article.
So, what can you expect after your first massage? The hallelujah chorus to be playing as you skip back into your life, pain free and feeling 20 years younger? Probably not, but you should feel better. It is unlikely that you will be totally pain free, but you should have a greater range of movement, less muscle spasms, and I typically find that clients continue to ‘unravel’ for a few hours or days after their appointment depending on their lifestyle and stress levels.You should also sleep better that night, and find the effects lasting for several days. But remember, if the pain in your neck took a few months to get you onto the table, it is likely to creep back in as you get back into the same patterns of movement and routine.
So why have massage at all? Well, with each massage appointment, the cumulative effects will build and the pain and discomfort levels will drop. After your third or fourth massage, they should have dropped considerably, and that pain which creeps back shouldn’t get to the same level that you started with. After four or five more appointments, you’ll not really remember how that pain felt. The effects aren’t linear - there will be ups and downs, some days will be better than others and some appointments will create less improvement than others, but the overall trend will be an improvement … back to your ‘new normal’.
The effects of regular massage are long lasting. In studies that use a 12-week protocol of weekly massage, the effects lasted for at least 6 months after the final massage, although the benefits do slowly start to drop off. So whilst it seems like a huge commitment of time and money … it really is an investment. And we are only talking about the initial injury, pain or incident.
So how often should you get a massage? Most of the studies that show substantial benefits use a weekly protocol but that’s for huge improvements. If you are in pain, what I have found to work really well is to start off with a weekly massage for about 4-6 weeks, then reduce to fortnightly, and then spread the appointments further out to more of a maintenance programme. Some of my clients who were in quite considerable strife initially, now see me once ever two or three months. They will come back more frequently when things start to tighten up again but after one or two additional appointments, catching the tension at an early stage, and they are right back into maintenance mode.
Obviously massage appointments cost time and money, both of which are typically in short supply, so work with what you can. But please be reassured that frequency and regularity are big factors in the success of the treatment. Remember, massage isn’t just a treat, but an effective modality of treatment for a wide range of ‘issues in the tissues’.