Archive for Self Care

Sh!t Massage Therapists Say: Hung Up on Hydration

For countless generations of massage therapists, clients have heard a familiar refrain: be sure to drink lots of water after your massage to flush out those toxins!

This is a phrase I have heard parroted by new massage students, seasoned massage therapists, even clients who try to predict what I’m going to say after a massage. Sometimes, when reading SOAP documentation from other therapists, it is the ONLY advice given as homework/self care. We repeat this refrain out of… habit? Fear of not seeming legit to your client or employer? Fear of doing something other than every other massage therapist before you? Where did this even come from?? I have been scouring all of my massage therapy textbooks and I cannot, for the life of me, find the part where it says this.

smarty-pants textbooks

smarty-pants textbooks

Now, don’t get me wrong- drinking water is SUPER GOOD FOR YOU AND IMPORTANT TO CONSUME. So much so, you can’t live for more than 3 days without it- just ask the participants on “Naked and Afraid”! It is generally my preferred beverage (behind wine and coffee). But for the purposes of recovery after a massage (and, for that matter, recovery from what brought you in for a massage in the first place), “drinking lots of water” is about as helpful as “breathe plenty of air” or “look both ways before you cross the street”.


Ok, maybe a little, but on a day to day basis, your kidneys and liver do a super great job of keeping you from looking like The Toxic Avenger.

Oh, Toxie.

Toxie is probably just thirsty, right?

While water does help to escort any “toxins” (uugh, don’t even get me started on how much I hate that word) and waste products out of your body, “flushing” your system by downing a gallon of water is akin to over-watering your lawn: you wouldn’t just dump buckets of water out in your yard and call it a day, right? No, that would disrupt the nutrients in the soil and the roots’ ability to hold on to the ground, so you gently sprinkle water over the lawn for some time. This is also how you should consume water- throughout the day when you are thirsty, through non-water beverages, and through foods containing water (basically everything but saltines.).

Experts tend to agree that a) they don’t know where this “8x8oz glasses per day” recommendation came from and b) normal people living normal lives need about one to one and a half liters per day (including food), more if you are losing fluids due to heat/sweat and/or exertion, to maintain good health.  I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at the finish line of IronMan Wisconsin, and let me tell you, when an athlete is dehydrated and cramping, he is handed a cup of salty chicken broth and instructed to sip slowly, not a gallon of water to chug.


A few years ago, this guy wrote a book (since shown to be not all that science-y) that got everybody freaked out about not drinking enough water. So we all bought nice water bottles and now dutifully drink up when we are hungry/tired/allergic/whatever. I know we’ve all gone on the kick where you decide you are going to drink massive amounts of water during the day because it is “healthy”, but where did it get you? Feeling thirsty, cold, and peeing all day? Yeah, thought so.

When you drink too much water, you are also changing your electrolyte balance and “rinsing” out any water-soluble vitamins and nutrients along the way, many of which are helpful in repairing the muscle that we just worked on in your massage, or that help facilitate a proper muscle contraction. You are continually cooling your body as well, so you are less able to hold on to heat (and probably scrunching your shoulders up to your ears  and tightening all your muscles to stay warm!) Your body also turns off production of the hormones that say “hold on to this water!”, which is why you’re running to the bathroom every 30 minutes.

It’s all about balance– extremes are rarely helpful.


Look, advising someone to drink “lots of water” isn’t usually going to hurt them (unless they have heart or kidney disease), and it can be helpful in cases of things like rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, or constipation. But drinking water after a massage is not going to “flush toxins”, improve recovery, or prevent soreness. It is not the best (and definitely should not be the ONLY) advice we can give to our clients. Here are some better things you can try:

  • Get regular massage! Seriously- this one is the easiest.
  • Move! Get some moderate exercise- go for a walk, have a kitchen dance party, do that yoga video you like…
  • Stretch! Look up stretches on YouTube, ask your trainer for help, go to a yoga class, spend 5 minutes after you wake up to knock the cobwebs off.
  • Breathe! A few times a day, like when you’re waiting at a stop light or when your coworker goes out for a smoke break, pay attention to your breathing for a few minutes. Exhale longer.
  • Strengthen weak/locked-long muscles! Massage therapists can’t prescribe exercise, but we sure can tell you what needs work, and that’s information you can talk about with your trainer or PT! Those weak muscles are likely contributing to your pain and causing posture and movement inefficiencies. Fix it!
  • Use hot or cold! Inflamed tissue that has acute pain or feels like it’s “on fire”? Throw some ice on it for 10-15 minutes. General feeling of “tight muscles”, chronic dull pain, or feels like it “needs to stretch”? Put a hot pack on it for a while, or take a hot bath. Tight muscles looooove heat!
  • Find ways to manage your stress! Meditate, do a hobby you love,  work on an adult coloring book, do some exercise you like, take a hot bath, have lunch with a good friend, watch a movie that makes you laugh….
  • Get some sleep! Real, actual sleep helps your body and mind repair, and regular massage might help you sleep better. Maybe it’s time to look into a new mattress or pillow, too.
  • Do your physical therapy! I know, it’s not always fun, but if you have been prescribed PT, DO IT. They go to WAY more school than us.
  • Eat a delicious dinner! Get some nutrients in you to repair any damaged tissue we are working on.
  • Talk to your doctor! If your client isn’t seeing improvements in their condition, maybe it’s not muscular.
  • Quit your job! Just kidding… but my retired clients sure are a lot happier. 😉

Massage is so much more than what happens on the table- if we can give our clients better advice on how to continue the benefits of massage in between sessions, we can start to see real progress, and massage will continue to gain traction in the realm of complementary medicine.

Hey Jess, didn’t you just give me a glass of water after my massage though?

I’m not a monster, you guys. 😉

Things That Make Me a Better Therapist (possibly unexpectedly)

Burnout. BURNOUT! It’s in the back of every massage therapist’s mind. When we started on our journey, someone, somewhere, warned us that the longevity of a massage therapist is finite, and if you’re lucky, you might get 3-5 years out of this career. Well, I’m going on 10 years deep, and there are days where I feel like I’m just getting started. Along my career, I’ve learned some great things to keep me fresh and functional, and they might not be what you’d expect.


Ok, you probably expected yoga. I’ve been doing yoga since I was a teenager (with Kathleen Hitchcock on PBS), in classes here and there, sometimes with more diligence and sometimes sporadically. When I was in massage school, yoga is where my classroom experience clicked: I suddenly got, on a very specific level, what kinesiology was all about. I’m the kind of person who learns better by getting my hands (or, you know, body) into the material, rather than just reading it, and yoga was a huge lightbulb in my understanding of the human body. Going through poses and learning the nuances of how to engage certain muscles (and now I knew where they were!) helped me connect how the body moved, where pain might be coming from, and gave me ideas of how to treat the muscle on the table.

In yoga, a common cue is to “shine your heart”, and now my students get tired of me telling them to “keep their heart open”. I don’t mean this on a squishy, metaphysical, “love everybody”, level, but on a physical push-your-chest-through-your-shoulders level. This forces your shoulders to relax, keeps your neck neutral and long, and allows your power to come from your feet.

I also turn to yoga for another reason: bodywork. Duh. I’m not always able to get on the table for a massage (a tragedy, for sure!), but yoga is a great second place- obviously there is stretching of the muscles, but it also works to un-stick fascia, mobilize joints, creates body awareness, and gives me 5 minutes of just laying down, not having to DO anything, which is the best. Boom.


I know you’re totally thinking about some James Bond scene where a massage is taking place and 007 is getting karate chopped. Sorry to disappoint you, but this is not what I have learned from kickboxing! Rather, kickboxing taught me about body mechanics and power.

I get asked several times a day if I get tired or “isn’t it so hard on your body” to be a massage therapist. I really don’t feel drained or beat up at the end of the day. I mean sure, sometimes I’m glad to be done, but I don’t have to do ice my arms or anything at night. This is because kickboxing taught me to get my power from the ground, not from my shoulders. When you punch, you would tear your shoulders off if you just used your arm and shoulder muscles. But if you pivot and push from your foot, through your leg, and up into your waist? POW.

Shuffling is also a big part of boxing. Since Swedish massage is credited to a fencer (is that the right term for one who fences??), fighting movements will help you get from point A to point B effortlessly.

So, in order to get that power, you need to have good body mechanics. Your stance, when staggered, should be as if you are in the corners of a box; not like you’re on a balance beam. This squares your hips and eliminates torquing in the spine, which will save your back AND make your movements more efficient. Whaaaaat.

Strength Training

Power. Body mechanics. Strength. Kinesiology. I LOVE resistance training!! You can’t lift with bad form. You can’t (or shouldn’t) lift with a rounded back, or with locked joints.

Breaking your body down into a series of exercises that strengthens your body also forces you to tap into your knowledge of kinesiology. I know that my glutes and hamstrings are weak, so squats and deadlifts to the rescue! I love solving the mystery of a client by not only knowing where to lengthen the tissue with massage, but also give them information on which areas might be weak or out of balance. Added bonus: I totally feel like a beast when I lift, which makes me feel like I can take on any challenge a client can throw at me. (Please do not throw actual things at me- sports involving catching/throwing are my weakness!)

Music and Dance

Ok- if you know me, you know I have the soul of a dancer and my heart is an 808. Massage is inherently musical, and I don’t mean of the pan flute variety. Animals (humans included) respond well to predictable rhythms. It soothes our nerves, stimulating the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) portion of our nervous system. When we bring rhythm to our massage, that allows clients to fall into that space of relaxation.

Now, there’s a reason we don’t just have the sound of ticking clocks on our iPods: we also need texture, variety, and sometimes a mean dance break. Muscle tissue responds really well to a gradual crescendo of pressure, and is soothed by a decrescendo after deep work. Mixing up your tools (knuckles, palms, fingertips) is like adding different voices to your song. Sometimes percussion (tapotement) really is the answer! On a more literal level, sometimes Kenny Rogers gets involved, and you need to know when to fold ’em, and when to walk away to prevent overworking an area.


Going back to yoga, one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard in a class- that I have used in ALL of the above examples- is to relax into the pose. Often, when facing a challenge (be it physical or mental), our natural response is to resist it, to fight it, to struggle. But what happens when you just let go and breathe? Let the struggle wash over you? Maybe it’s not even as bad as you expected. Maybe you can find more ease or depth. Maybe you’ll discover something new.

There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t tweak my practice- I’m always trying to improve and change my approach if something isn’t working. What have your unlikely teachers been? What is the best thing anyone ever taught you, that rattles in your head to keep you going? Let me know in the comments!

Remember: work smarter, not harder! 😉

Muscle of the Week: Piriformis


what a pain in the…

Deep down below the inches of meat (and skin and yes, in most of us, fat) that make up the junk in your trunk lies a small, pesky, pyramid shaped shaped muscle called piriformis. It’s not a glamorous muscle- you won’t find anyone flexing it in front of a mirror- but it’s pretty important. So, before we get mad at it for causing us pain or limited range of motion, let’s understand where it’s coming from: this muscle has a lot of jobs! Read more

What I’m Loving in Wellness This Week

Holy alliteration Batman… ok, help me out with a new title for future posts like this!

I used to be really good at being healthy. Then I got cocky about it and let a few (a lot) things slide, broke my foot, gave up sugar which led to ALL BUTTER EVERYTHING!, and now I’m *bad connection* pounds more than I should be. I have declared that 2013 is the year I take my body back… but unfortunately butter and wine are SO DELICIOUS. Uuugh. I digress. Here are some things that are helping to keep me on track: Read more

Between Appointments? DIY Some Self Care!

Today in Wisconsin, it is 12 degrees and FALLING. I’m so tired of winter. So grab a cup of hot tea, put on your fuzzy leopard slipper boots, and grab some simple supplies to relax your way into spring. Here’s what you’ll need:

diy labeled2

Project 1: The self-massager

Put one tennis ball in the toe of one sock, which will make placing the tennis ball between you and a wall much less tricky. Roll on the ball (on the wall) like a bear, and work out those tight spots. If a spot is a little spicy, hang out there- but don’t overdo it. Work until the spice lets up, but if it’s not changing, move to another area.

Project 2: The neck warmer

Take your other sock and fill it with plain white rice (the slow-cooking kind). I used a 2 pound bag for my Target knee sock. There is just enough moisture in the rice grain to deliver a nice, moist heat to your weary muscles (this is great a) during a long day b) after a wonky night’s sleep c) when you feel a tension headache knocking at the door). The weight of the rice will also keep your shoulders from creeping into your ears. Let this hang for about 15-20 minutes while you catch up on celebrity gossip the news and enjoy a cup of tea, which will also heat your neck up from the inside. Depending on the quality of your sock, this might be a little dusty for the first few uses.

Project 3: The still-point inducer

Still point induction is a Cranialsacral technique that is akin to hitting your body’s “reset button”. This is great for when you need to “wind down” after a stressful day, have a headache coming on, or are having trouble sleeping. You can buy these for $24, or you can make your own. Take one sock and two tennis balls, and either tie your sock in a knot or twist and roll like a bread bag. It should look like an adorable peanut when you’re done. Lay on the peanut so that it is just at the occipital ridge (the base of your skull, on those pointy parts). Set a timer for about 15 minutes because this will probably knock you out. 🙂 (While filming the video, I did NOT want to get up!!)

Project 4: Not really a project!

If you suffer from a tight chest (from, say, working on a computer all day, driving a car, holding children, living on planet Earth), this is a great counter-pose for your day. Take a rolled up yoga mat, towel, or even a pool noodle (cut it down to about 3 feet) and lay down on it lengthwise, so that it’s along your spine. If you like, you can make a neck roll with a small towel (or use your still point inducer!) Let your arms flop to the sides. Zzzzzzzz….

Here’s a quick video showing you how to do all of this- enjoy!

Did you try any of these tricks? What did you think? Comment below!