As a massage therapist, one of the most frequently asked questions I hear in my practice, is how often should I receive treatment? While I would love to say that you should be coming in every day for massage, that really is just my wishful thinking. In reality, this question is not quite as straightforward as we would like it to be. Everyone's issues are slightly different, and we all react differently.
Most often, we can make a significant changes within the first treatment, but usually we are not able to get the whole problem. There is rarely a one time cure and additional treatments and recovery time is needed. This is especially true of the chronic pain; think about how long it took you to get into that state, and ask yourself it seems reasonable to expect it to be fixed immediately. The answer is no. When small problems get left untreated they can turn chronic and accumulate until the tipping point... The proverbial feather that broke the camel's back.
In this case, I usually tell my clients that in order to make a significant improvement, there should be about 3 to 4 massages close together. This can be 1-2 times a week. In some cases, co-intervention with a chiropractic or acupuncture treatments can expedite the healing process. The key is to be consistent with treatments and avoid falling into old habits of poor posture, sedentary behaviour, and stressful situations. By placing the treatments closer together, we are able make more steady progress. After this, I always suggest a maintenance program in order to keep things under control, thereby decreasing the likelihood of these acute problems happening again.
When it comes to more severe problems, such as recovering from a serious injury, things get a bit more complicated. I would love to be able to tell you that we can fix you in a short and specific time period, but I would be kidding us both. There are so many variables that determine the efficacy of a treatment plan. I'll say that a similar approach should be taken as acute conditions when treating chronic pain, albeit for a longer period of time.
The other type of clients are those who have steady issues of tension, pain or discomfort from their work habits, exercise/sports, or even simply from posture issues. These are the most common seekers of treatment, and there are 2 ways to proceed with this problem. The first possibility is to treat it like a more acute problem, doing a few treatments close together, to get the situation under control more quickly. However, for many people, time and money may be an issue, or they may simply find that they feel such a large difference after the first treatment, that they are good for a while. For those clients, and for all of the other situations listed above, I always recommend a maintenance program.
When it comes to maintenance, there are few things to consider. Are you doing anything between treatments to help yourself stay pain free, or to counteract your daily activities? How long do you feel good for before your problems start to return? If you are getting exercise to counter your stationary life, and stretching regularly to keep your muscles loose and mobile? If so, then you will find that you can go longer between treatments without feeling pain or discomfort.
Either way, I recommend my clients take a more active role in being connected to their bodies. Many times, our pain sneaks up on us, and we get blindsided. If we check in and become more connected to ourselves, we can start to recognize the signs of building tension, and can deal with it more quickly and easily. If you start to do this practice, you may notice that you don't really find any problems for about two weeks, or maybe you can go a month or more before things start to bother you. Whatever the case, if you want to have a specific prescription for your body, let your body tell you what your maintenance schedule is, and come in before it starts, or as you start to feel the tension building.
I do find that most clients react very well to a general maintenance schedule of about 1 month between treatments. When clients stick to this schedule, even without the kick-start option for the chronic low-grade pain, they start to see significant improvement overall. One of my favourite moments is when a client has been doing a monthly schedule for a while, comes in for an appointment, and when asked what the problem areas are today, they stop, look surprised, and say: "Actually, I'm feeling good. Let's just keep doing what we've been doing."
Whether you are trying to deal with a specific pain, or general tension, massage can be a great, natural way to heal yourself. A more concentrated program can really help to alleviate a major issue, and a maintenance schedule can help to keep the pain away more permanently. Whatever you choose, remember that you are your best source of information. Try to connect to yourself, and listen to what your body is telling you. You'd be surprised how hard it's trying to get your attention.
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