What you should (and shouldn’t!) do after a massage treatment.
So, you’ve had your massage, you’re feeling nice and relaxed…you know, that muscles melting off your bones feeling. You know your massage therapist was talking to you at the end of the treatment, but you were feeling too sleepy to really take it in. So what to do now? I mean, you had a massage for a reason right? It could have been to relax, de-stress and have some ‘me’ time. Perhaps it was because you’ve had some nasty tight spots that needed an ease off. Maybe you had an injury and you were looking for a way to help speed your recovery. You could even be one of those people, who is so tuned into what your body needs, that you are having regular maintenance treatments — giving your body a regular ‘tune up’. Whatever the reason, you want to make sure the benefits are going to last as long as possible don’t you? You don’t want to lose that lovey, relaxed feeling right away do you? Here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your massage session.
I can’t stress this one enough. We know that a very large percentage of our body is made up of water (between 50-75%…around 60% on average for an adult). We also know that getting a massage can help flush some of the toxins out of our bodies. So what’s the link I hear you ask? Water is what helps the body to flush out these toxins. Massage helps to increase the circulation of both the blood and the lymphatic system. Your blood needs water in it to keep it moving and doing its job of bringing oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, organs and other tissues. It also helps to take away the waste products created by the cells in these areas. While your lymphatic system is responsible for maintaining your immune system, it also helps in the removal of toxins. It serves as the fluid transport system between the cells and the bloodstream. Without adequate water, the lymph system becomes sluggish and doesn’t do its job properly. This can lead to low immunity as well as aches, pains and fatigue from the build-up of these toxins. It can be common to need to go to the toilet frequently after a massage, this is because the increase in lymph circulation is helping your body to get rid of any toxic build-up. So that’s a good thing. But it also means that you’re losing water every time you go and pee…so you need to replace it in your body to keep the cycle going. When I say you should drink water after a massage, I also mean you should increase the amount you would normally drink. Adding an extra glass or two will help your body to get rid of all the nasties and keep you feeling better for longer.
Also keep in mind that the water content of a cup of tea, coffee, soft drink or alcoholic beverage isn’t the same as adding that extra glass of water. In fact, after a massage I would recommend you avoid these things. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics. Basically this means that you lose more fluid than you gain when you drink it. So instead of helping to flush out toxins, fluids with these in them will pass through the system more quickly than water, and won’t actually help the lymph and circulatory system at all. In fact, because they stop the body from absorbing water effectively, it will do the opposite and your body will struggle to get rid of the toxins.
Yup, have a snack on hand to have after your massage. Because massage speeds up your circulatory systems, other body functions can also be increased — this includes your digestive system. Have you even felt light headed after a massage? This could be because your body needs a fuel boost. Of course it could be because you’re dehydrated, you’re half asleep, or you have low blood pressure (and keep in mind your blood pressure will drop during a massage as the body becomes more relaxed). But needing an energy boost from a snack is up there on the list.
However, I don’t recommend you have a large meal right before a massage to combat this though. Mainly because it will likely be uncomfortable — lying on a very full tummy while someone is pressing on you from above doesn’t sound like fun to me! Again, a light snack, an hour or so before your massage, can help too. If you tend to get light headed, or feel ravenously hungry after (or even during) a treatment, this could be worth trying.
So, you’ve just taken some time out. You feel more relaxed, your muscles are looser, you feel calm and content. Heading to work, or out for a night on the town, are both not the best options for you right now. While sometimes it’s unavoidable, try to book your massage for a time when you know you can go straight home after it. Put your feet up, read a book, watch some TV, have a nap…whatever helps you to continue to feel good and helps to prolong that calm feeling of wellbeing. Listen to your body. If you feel like having a sleep — do it. If you want to stretch out on the couch — go for it. Your muscles have just been worked and manipulated, similar to an intense work out — this is your time to recover, repair and retune yourself.
I also recommend not to do any intense physical activity after a massage. Heading to the gym, or going for run are not the best options for you right now. Remember, your muscles have just been given a workout (especially if you’ve had deep tissue work), and need time to recover. With the muscles being lengthened and worked, you run the risk of injury if you then go on to do an intense workout. Even more important, you’ve just taken time out to pamper your body…make sure you give yourself the chance to enjoy that feeling. You can go back to your training regimen the next day.
Have a bath.
What could be better than that feeling of sinking into a nice warm bath? I’ll tell you — sinking into a nice warm bath after a massage! This can help with the above advice of rest, take a little more time out and allow your body to relax completely. Adding some Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to the bath will also help with easing any aches and pains. The magnesium in the Epsom salts will absorb through skin, while the warm water helps to open your blood vessels, therefore helping to increase circulation. You can find Epson salts in most super markets and chemists, and they tend to be reasonably priced. If you haven’t got any, a warm bath on its own will still work wonders — and if you don’t have a bath, a warm shower can be just as good. Keep in mind the word warm is important here — a scorching hot bath will increase inflammation, which isn’t a good idea after a massage.
If you are having trouble with inflammation (including swelling), you should ice the area instead. Using a cold pack (wrapped in cloth) apply to the swollen or inflamed area for ten minutes, then take it off for ten minutes. The cold should help to reduce the inflammation pain by numbing the area. You can repeat this process, but be sure to give the area those breaks in between. The cold will constrict the blood vessels which helps to reduce the blood flow (and therefore swelling) to the area. If you simply leave the cold pack on for a long period of time, the body will try to counter-act the effects of the cold by opening up the blood vessels to encourage blood flow — the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.
Welcome any emotions.
Both during and after a massage you might feel any number of emotions. As the body relaxes, it is normal for the body to also release the emotional baggage we are holding on to. While you might feel elated, refreshed or energised, there may be times when you feel a need to cry. This is okay, and it’s even normal. Prolonged stress does crazy things to our bodies, including our hormones, and this manifests in our emotions. Massage helps the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. This helps to reduce levels of the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and increases levels of dopamine and serotonin. The feel good hormone oxytocin is also released during massage because of the skin-to-skin contact — which is the one responsible for that happy, light, warm and fuzzy feeling (also known as the ‘hugging’ or ‘love’ hormone) and is even released into the air, helping to give a mood lift to those around you (no wonder I love my job!). But this can still leave us wanting a good cry, and it’s because once the stress barriers have come down, we now feel safe to stop and allow ourselves to release the emotions we’ve been holding on to (sometimes we don’t even know we’re holding on to them!) It’s actually a good thing, and can leave you feeling much better afterwards — we all need a good cry now and then. Don’t fight it, just allow it to happen.
Notice your body’s reaction
Have you ever left a massage feeling a little sore in your muscles? Or perhaps you’ve noticed it the next day? This is also normal — it’s most common after a deep tissue massage, but can happen after a more gentle massage as well. Remember that through massage we are working the muscles, so it’s like a passive form of exercise. As well as this, when muscles get overly tight, they can constrict the blood vessels in the area. Over time, this stops the circulatory system from effectively flushing out the waste in that area and you can get a build-up, which causes soreness. When releasing this tension, the blood can start flushing out those toxins, but it can leave you feeling a bit tender, like you’ve just had a workout (which, in essence, you have). If you have regular massage, you might find this decreases over time, however it does depend on what you do between visits or how often you get a massage. This soreness should not be too severe — more like the ache after a big exercise session. And it shouldn’t last more than a day or two. If it does last longer, this is can be an indication that the massage therapist might have worked the muscles a little too hard. It is important to tell your massage therapist at your next session if anything was particularly painful so that the treatment can be modified next time. Remember that massage therapists aren’t mind readers — but with adequate feedback from you, your therapist should be able to tailor the massage to your needs.
Each of these little things can help you to get the best out of each treatment. More importantly, it can help you to keep the benefits going for longer — and we all like value for money right? The final thing to remember, is to talk to your therapist if you need to. If you have a question, a query or a concern, let them know. If something new has happened with your health or your body — whether it’s good or bad, your massage therapist needs to know so that they can give you the best possible treatment and help you get the most out of it you can!
Find out more about what Susan does at Mind Body Continuum