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July 29, 2009

Prevent On The Job Injuries

The average massage therapist's career lasts about five years. The main reason for this is on-the-job injury. If you've graduated from an accredited massage school in the past 10 to 15 years, chances are they pounded the importance of good body mechanics into your head. If you've been a practicing massage therapist for a while, chances are you've had an injury and figured out how to work with it or taken a course on injury prevention.

I managed to have very few work-related aches and pains during my 10 years of practice. Knowing what I know now about my tendency toward ligamentous laxity, I'm amazed I wasn't side-lined by injury. That's not to say I didn't have any instances of hand, wrist or arm pain, but I believe there are several reasons why I was not plagued with these types of injuries.

First, my practice built slowly over a two year period. I believe this allowed me gradually become stronger in the key muscles that supported my hands, wrists and arms. I remember during my massage clinicals having an injury half way through the semester. I had pain in the middle of the palm of my hand from pressing into tissue with the tips of my fingers. I learned to either support my fingers with the other hand while doing this or, more importantly, switch "tools" when doing deep tissue work.

Second, I learned to be very protective of my thumbs. Early on, I wanted to do everything with my thumbs because that is what felt natural. I heard warnings from instructors that if I kept that up, I would be in trouble later. I heeded their advice I take this opportunity to thank them now for saving me from myself. My education taught me protection and enough techniques to allow me to change up the way I did things if I was starting to feel tired. This enabled me to work 8 and 10 hour days.

Third, and ultimately, I admit to working with back pain the entire 10 years of my practice. My ligamentous laxity lead to an unstable pelvis. All the body mechanics in the world did not change the fact that while working in stances such as the archer and the horse, pushing through my body with one leg lead to SI joint misalignment.

The advice I have for massage therapists everywhere is take the opportunity to learn what type of body you have and where you have weaknesses. Go to a professional who can teach you how to take care of yourself. If you tend to be stiff and inflexible, implement a stretching regimen to balance out this "weakness" in your body system. If you are very flexible like I am, there are exercises that you will need to help strengthen and stabilize your joints. Sadly, the cookie-cutter advice I got advocated stretching for my back pain, the exact opposite of what I needed.

Yes, I'm advocating a trip to a physical therapist, not because I'm blindly promoting my new profession, but because I believe that the investment will result in a long and healthy career for massage therapists. If I knew then what I know now, I could have saved myself years of working through pain. Who knows, I may have developed a relationship with physical therapy and found employment opportunities through them that would have allowed me to stay a massage therapist and be an integral part of a health care team.

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Posted by linda at July 29, 2009 8:34 AM

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