How often should I be getting therapeutic massage?
The answer to this question, as with so many, is: That depends.
In general, regular preventative massage for people ranges between 1-6 weeks. Acute pain, tension, and trauma can be 2-3 times per week. Yes, people really do come that frequently. And they come less frequently. I have my peeps who come in 2x per year, once every 8 weeks, with the spring and fall equinoxes…
You name the pacing, I have probably provided it or know a therapist who does. It all depends on the person and what they are doing with their time on the table. Believe it or not, the clients who have been with me the longest know that the majority of the work is theirs to do. I show up and work my butt off for them when they’re here, chart their sessions, make referrals to all kinds of other therapies, and eventually, we arrive at a pace that works for them. There are more differences than commonalities between all of my clients. But the ones who stick around do have one thing in common… they know I am not fixing them, or healing them. That’s their job. I provide the space and the tools, they do the work.
We are going to dive into the deeps about what I mean by this, starting with a couple of questions you can ask yourself and/or explore with a licensed massage therapist to get more clarity on the best pacing for you:
What are you hoping to achieve with your massage sessions?
Acute pain relief and chronic pain/tension require different approaches. Bodywork is great as a part of preventative health regimens helping people stay nimble, healthy, and create more body awareness to prevent future injury. People often (not always) gravitate toward massage because it’s holistic in nature, approaching health from a whole body, whole person perspective rather than the more narrow, acute focus associated with allopathic, westernized therapies. We are taught in school that everything a person has experienced, they will bring with them onto the table. The therapy happens when the client is an active participant in what is seen as a mostly passive therapy. Our job is to provide space for people to explore the experience and sensations of the soft tissues of their body SAFELY. Our bodies are complex and this is why massage therapists have education and licensure requirements.
There are tons of therapeutic benefits that can come from receiving regular massage. But what is regular? I think the better question, the question I want you to ask me as a professional, and the question I am going to give you some guidance on is:
‘What is best for me?’
Many of us are new to the art of self-care. The truth is, most of my clients are over the age of 40. They are established in their careers, have dedicated loads of time to building a life full of a lot of things… sometimes, those things are great because they provide stability, structure, a roof over our heads, and food for our bellies. Once our basic needs are met, we often get stuck somewhere between trying to achieve greatness and giving up trying all together. Most of us are just searching. Searching for meaning and purpose… and often, this search leads us FAR, FAR AWAY from the present moment and from the sensations of our body. The irony is that the one place we aren’t searching is the one place real meaning and purpose thrive. In the present moment and unlike our thoughts, our body exists only in the present moment, sensing the internal and external environments of the now.
And then something happens…
It could be something small, like a nagging pain in our jaw that used to bother us occasionally, but now we notice daily. Or it could be something big… like experiencing a debilitating car accident or grieving the loss of a loved one.
This something triggers a turning inward. A curious journey into the self. We recognized our vulnerability and mortality. This happens at different times for different people, if it happens at all. We begin to sense our time on Earth is not limitless, sense our impermenance, and then naturally, we begin to recognize the need to take care of ourselves… aka: self-care.
Enter therapeutic massage and bodywork…
This time on the table represents a lot of different things to a lot of people. Massage is a tool, and just like any other tool, it’s there to help you with a job. I like to think that the job massage does best, is develop a deep, intimate, and profound knowledge of your physical body. It’s a door to a complex world that is meant for you to explore. Your time on the table is unique because you are unique. And what you will gain from spending time directing your attention to the soft tissues of your body is a deeper awareness of the tensions, movement, pain patterns, and restrictions within your body.
This awareness is powerful…
Firstly, there is a common belief within several therapeutic communities that each knot, or tense muscle is directly linked to a psychological tension. The mind and body are one. We hold memories of every physical experience we’ve ever had within our bodies. This is part of our powerful ability to survive. Our subconscious brain uses our body as a hard-drive to imprint our memories in the form of sensations. This imprinting allows us to quickly sense environments that are safe, or perhaps more importantly, potentially dangerous. What does this mean? It means that unwinding your tension patterns goes far beyond one 60 minute massage every 6 months or occasionally, when you’re feeling like a good pampering.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pampering and an occasional massage is great for that too. Fundamentally, as a seasoned bodyworker, I feel the differences between massage and bodywork are subtle and more about the intention of the practice than the physical act. Massage is the physical set of movements I practice in a session. Bodywork is the whole experience and how it contributes to the overarching therapeutic journey of self-care that an individual and their therapist participate in. It involves the psycho-somatic, the mind-body relationship and creating a deeply relaxing and safe environment where you can dive into this internal world and life you hold within. I often tell my clients that they are doing the real work. I can grind the tension out of their physical body for a brief moment in time, however, it is going to come right back (if it ever even leaves) as soon as they walk out the door if they are not ready to let it go. It’s deep physical, mental, and sometimes spiritual work.
So, how often?
This is something you will have to play around with to figure out. For me personally, I am active and hard on my body in both my job and hobbies. I go every two weeks for 90 minutes… period. Ideally, it would be weekly and often it is. I used to go every 6 months, and then school happened… I got to receive massage three times a week for 8 months and that lead to me having a lot more awareness of my tension patterns earlier in their development. So I started going more frequently.
It matters less if you get a massage every day, week, month, or year. What factors in more is whether or not you are ready to RECEIVE therapeutic touch. Are you ready to let go of the things that are keeping you stuck in your life, the things that no longer serve you becoming the very best version of yourself? Because most of the time, these are the roots of your chronic pain and tension.
Your pain, your tension… they are serving you.
They are messengers calling to you from your body, showing you all of the areas that need a little TLC. If you are ready to do the work, so are we.
Once you have arrived at this place, finding an educated and licensed massage therapist is the best way to experience all of the therapeutic benefits of bodywork. Like anything, you get what you pay for. I like to tweak this adage a bit and say:
You get what you invest in.
There are several reasons why the average length of career for a massage therapist is between 5-8 years. This is not a career that makes you rich beyond your wildest dreams. The richest people in the massage business are often career business people who see the dollar per hour average cost, the minimal education requirements for licensure when compared to other forms of professional therapies, and recognize a great financial opportunity. Corporate massage companies have fulfilled their purpose of making massage more accessible and therefore bringing it into the mainstream. They also massively underpay their therapists, overwork them, and provide lackluster services from menus offering clients a taste of luxury at a more affordable price. There are talented therapists at these locations. If they are wise, they gain experience and eventually leave for better pay among colleagues who respect what they do, start their own practice, or burn out. Staying creates desperation in a space where safety and healing should be the primary and only concerns. We have seen what happens when therapists who are trying to get their own needs met work in places that underpay and undersupervise them… abuse and trauma in the treatment room instead of therapy. I will be writing a whole separate post about what you get from a $90/hour massage (this is our hourly rate at MBODI.) but for now, let me say this… When you are ready to dive into all of the stuff stored in your body, you should weigh all of the vulnerable moments that can happen in a bodywork session. Many people in our society won’t allow just anyone to touch their body. Developing a relationship with a therapist you trust is something worth investing in, because you are really investing in yourself.
Let me climb down off my soap box and wrap this up by saying that your body is amazing. You may not know it but as someone who works in all types of bodies, let me reassure you that you are a living, breathing miracle. I believe it. And I practice massage and bodywork because I love helping people believe this about themselves too. You deserve a healthy relationship with your body because it is a window into the deeper, most fulfilling parts of your existence here. This is the value receiving and giving bodywork has brought to my life. Are you ready to receive bodywork on the table and do the work off the table?
More questions: read some of my other blog posts, follow me on instagram @thepowerfulm, and sign up with your email for notifications when new posts hit the page. I pinky promise not to spam you or send annoying amounts of soliciting email. I am passionate about self-care and honor the journey you are on to learn more.