How Can I Maximize the Benefits of My Massage?

Us massage therapists like to quip that even when our clients commit to getting a regular weekly massage, we only have one (to two) hours to try and undo the damage they've done in the other 167 hours that week. 

Maybe they sleep on their stomach, or strain their neck when looking at their computer, or leave the gym every night without stretching. In other words--they're human. The reality is, most of us use our bodies in funky and sometimes maladaptive ways. And hardly any of us have enough time, or money, or sometimes even motivation to be getting bodywork as frequently as we may like. 

That's why I like to educate my clients on what they can do between sessions to maximize the benefits of their massage.

First, after your session:

  1. Drink lots of water. There’s conflicting evidence about how necessary it is to hydrate after a massage, but in my experience, it helps clients feel less woozy or tired after sessions, and less sore the next day.

  2. Take it easy. It’s generally a good idea to avoid strenuous exercise right after a massage, and many people feel extra tired after their session. You may want to take a nap, or just anticipate needing an extra hour of sleep.

Next, between sessions:

  1. Pay attention to your posture and body mechanics. Our bodies adapt to how we use them, and most of us spend a lot of time sitting down, either driving or looking at a screen. Set a timer on your phone to check your posture every hour or so—make sure your shoulders are down, your head isn’t forward, and that you’re keeping your chest as open as possible.

  2. Make movement part of your daily life. Everything changed for me when I stopped thinking of exercise as something that only happens in a gym, and instead started thinking about cultivating a daily movement practice. Movement helps keep our joints lubricated by synovial fluid, so it’s important to move around as much as possible, even if it’s just rolling your neck or flexing your legs at your desk.

  3. Stretch. So many active people don’t leave time in their workouts for a stretching routine. Whether you’re an athlete or a couch potato, it’s crucial that you stretch your muscles, especially those that are frequently contracted because of your posture (think pecs, hamstrings, and glutes). I’m always happy to suggest some stretches that have worked for me, or refer you to a yoga studio.

  4. Try some self-massage. Sure, it’s not as good as the real thing, but it can be helpful to work on yourself, either with your hands or with a prop such as a foam roller or tennis ball. If there’s an area of your body that you know gets tight, try doing a couple minutes of work on it every few days. Heating up the muscles first (through a warm bath, hot compress, or a workout) can make the process less painful and more effective.

  5. Check your sleeping position. Stomach sleeping causes your neck to be out of alignment with your spine for eight hours a day. Side sleeping can be much less harmful, so long as you ensure that your spine is properly aligned. I use a body pillow to make sure I’m not sleeping diagonally. Even better is sleeping on your back. Try a bolster or pillow under your knees if you have a tendency to flip over in the night.

Sometimes, self-care can feel like a full-time job. But if you’re going to invest in getting a massage, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re doing everything you can to encourage your body to adapt to the work we did. My clients who book regular sessions and commit to doing some work on their own report the greatest rates of decreased pain and increased range of motion—which in turn leads to a much higher quality of life.

Caitlin Eichorn