Every once in awhile I hear someone say, “Massage doesn’t work for me. I go, I feel soooo much better, and then a few days/weeks/months later my pain comes back.”
So here’s my question…. If it’s working for you, what’s keeping you from continuing? Think about it like this. If you start exercising and feel more energized, but then you stop exercising, you don’t expect to keep feeling that same energy, right? If you begin to eat more healthfully but then fall off the wagon, you’re not surprised when you don’t feel so well anymore, right? If you stop brushing your teeth, you’re likely to get a cavity, yes? If you never get your car’s oil changed, and your engine suddenly fails, you shouldn’t be surprised, correct?
This article is for all those who want to know what frequency of massage will work best for you and your goals, how to get the best results, and how to ensure that you’re using your time and money wisely.
The first thing is to think about, as with most questions, is what are your goals, i.e. why are you getting massage in the first place? Is it for pain management? Is it a part of your injury care and/or prevention? Is it because you want to stay active and healthy? Is it part of your self-care and stress management routine?
- If your goal is to address an acute or chronic issue, such as pain, stiffness, discomfort, or an injury, it is usually most helpful to begin with more frequent visits (as frequent as once or twice a week, or once every other week). Then, once the issue has calmed down to the point where it is manageable in your daily life, regular but less frequent visits are generally advisable (usually once every two to four weeks). You can think of these as “maintenance” visits. It is important to note that, depending upon your issue, other complementary modalities, such as acupuncture, reiki, physical therapy, chiropractic care, or yoga may also be beneficial to avoid future flare-ups.
- If you are a runner who is using massage as part of your self-care routine, first of all, yay for you! If you are good about foam rolling, “orbing,” “Sticking,” etc., and if you tend to remain free of pain and injuries, a good rule of thumb is usually about once a month when you are not in the peak of your training.
- If you are training for endurance events such as a half marathon, marathon, or longer triathlons, or if you are doing a lot of shorter races, once a month is the minimum I’d recommend, with additional/more frequent visits during the peak mileage weeks. Massage aids in recovery by reducing bodywide inflammation and helping to maintain full range of motion [see last month’s clinical corner article], so coming in a few days to a week after your 18- and 20-mile runs and/or longer training rides is always a good idea.
- If you are coming in for stress management and/or general wellness, it is a little more subjective. Some of you come in as often as twice per week, while others come every month or so. All of us, myself included, can stand to get a massage once a month if it is logistically possible for us.
There are many variables at play, and no one person is like the next. There are also logistics such as time and finances to be considered. But from a strictly clinical perspective, the best rule of thumb is to start with a plan that we both think is doable with the understanding that it can be adjusted based on how it seems to be working for you and your goals.
For example, are you coming in every two weeks but feeling pretty horrible around day 10? Maybe come in a bit more often for a few weeks or months. Are you coming in every two weeks and wondering why you’re back so soon because you feel great? Maybe try coming in every three weeks for awhile and see how that goes.
While massage is not the be-all and end-all cure for all that ails you, the truth of the matter is that if you are looking for long-term results, consistency is where the true rewards are. If you love the results and want them to “hold,” it is important to continue to come in with the frequency that your body would benefit most from, and I am happy to talk with you about that. Just ask!