The world is full of a diverse range of body types, yet all of us have to learn how to best take care of our bodies. Optimal health is a goal I’d imagine all of us strive for at some point in our lives, but there is a difference between healthy enough and optimally healthy. Healthy enough means you’re not sick, but any challenge to your health can make you sick. Optimally healthy means that you are doing your best to take care of yourself daily and have maximized your health.
No matter what your health is like, one thing is for sure, any injury you get will be a setback, making you inactive and in a lot of pain. Once injured, the new goal then becomes getting back to a normal foundation of basic physical health. The reality is that not all injuries have to occur; sometimes the proper self-care will prevent it. Even when we are practicing the proper self-care regimen, sometimes our regimen can be improved.
What is the proper self-care regimen? This answer, while open-ended, does have some basic guidelines for us as a species. Our bodies might be different according to our diet, environment, genetic predisposition, along with other factors, we still have basic needs for self-care. The foundation of our physical health is to make sure we stay hydrated, eat a nutrient-rich diet, exercise with a regular frequency, as well as using the proper recovery techniques. The proper recovery techniques include sleeping a full night of sleep, stretching, & massage therapy to stay healthy and injury-free.
The adage of ‘no pain no gain’ might hold true regarding physical activity such as strength training, but the same can be true of both stretching and massage therapy. Sometimes releasing our ‘knots’ and tightness is a painful experience, but we have to go through it to keep our muscles balanced. If we let those knots exist, then they shorten the muscles, eventually shifting the bones and ending with new pains developing. Keeping the muscles balanced with proper recovery techniques is important to reduce pains & prevent injury. The best way to manage this is to not only know how to stretch yourself, but how often you should be stretching and receiving massage therapy.
Depending on your body type, some people should stretch every day, while others should be stretching 2-4 times a week at a minimum. Remember, while that might sound like a lot we are creatures of habit, in our daily lives, we do repetitive movements like pushing a door or sitting in front of a computer over and over again. These repetitive movements are the primary cause of why we need to stretch even if we are not athletic. Not everyone needs to stretch the same muscles, but all of us need stretching in some form or another.
It's okay to be a little intimidated by not being sure what to stretch, but we can always read a book or ask a professional. When it comes to learning from a professional, its usually best to ask your local massage therapist or athletic trainer to teach you specific methods that would benefit your body. Not everyone benefits from the stretch provided in a ‘downward dog’ pose, so professional guidance is wise.
Massage therapy (like stretching) when done with proper technique and methods will help your muscles and soft tissues stay lengthened, supple, and ready to move freely. What I mean by ‘proper technique’ when it comes to massage is 100% dependent on the therapist’s treatment on you. Your job is to decide if you are getting professional treatment. For massage to benefit your physical health, the therapist must ask you basic questions on your health, along with what your main issue for that session. These questions guide the massage therapist as to what to do for you, specifically in that session.
The frequency of massage also varies from person to person, but around the time a person is around age 25 and above, they should be coming in for maintenance massage about every four to six weeks or so. Athletic individuals can benefit from frequent massage therapy at an early age. Massage therapy at regular intervals of time is similar to how a dentist would like you to come in for maintenance every six months. Our teeth are stronger than our muscles, so we do not need to get them worked on as often. Specificity in stretching and massage is how you maximize the results of a proper self-care regimen.
In some cases, there are other types of people that can benefit from a temporarily higher frequency of massage therapy. Athletic individuals, people recovering from injury, people trying to reduce aches, or are trying to prevent a physical imbalance from getting worse should see a massage therapist every 5 - 14 days for a fixed period of time. The close frequency of these types of massages allows a massage therapist to build progress from one treatment to the next while allowing the receiver’s body to adapt to the changes being made in each session. This would be considered to be what is known as a Massage Therapy Treatment Plan. Treatment plans have an end goal in mind. Usually, the frequency of a Treatment Plan can last from 4 - 6 weeks in most cases, with more serve cases being up to double that estimate. This is similar to how Physical Therapy will recommend a treatment plan over a few weeks with a high frequency of sessions to accomplish an end goal.
Knowing the proper ways to take care of your body is how we optimize our health and spend less time injured and out of commission. Self-care is the tool we must use not only to optimize our health but also to reduce the chances of injury.