As massage therapist, your hands are the tools of your profession. Treat them with the respect and care they deserve.
Hand Care During a Massage
One of the most important hand care tips is to avoid hyperextending your fingers or your wrists during a massage. That pressure on your joints could lead to traumatic arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, or chronic minor ligament injuries. Keep a little flexion in the finger joints when using your full hand for a massage technique. Also, keep your wrists straight.
Use your thumbs with care. Your thumbs are hinges, and their strength comes from the arches, so make arches with your hands and fingers. Slightly flex your thumb joints and avoid hyperextending them. Save your thumbs by using your other fingers, knuckles, forearms, elbows, or massage tools when appropriate.
Keep your hands and forearms soft and relaxed during a massage, using your body to work deeply, not the small muscles in your hands and arms.
Hand Care Between Massages
Other hand care tips for massage therapists include:
- Massage your hands frequently, working out tight or sore areas. Better yet, have someone else massage your hands.
- Moisturize your hands with a high-quality lotion or cream. Frequent hand washing dries out your skin, even though you’re using oil or lotion during a massage.
- Stretch and strengthen your hands and arms as needed. Make sure to balance strength and flexibility. Learn good technique or you risk doing more damage than good.
- Rest and take breaks as needed. You might also want to avoid hand-intensive activities outside of doing massage.
- Listen to your hands (and the rest of your body). If you have discomfort or pain, do something about it right away.
Another hand-care technique is contrast hydrotherapy. If you studied hydrotherapy, you already understand its vasodilation benefits.
- Find two containers of a size to hold enough water that you can immerse one or both hands and forearms to above the elbows.
- Fill one container with hot water (98–104 degrees F) and one container with cold water (55–65 degrees F).
- Place one or both hands and forearms in the hot water for two to three minutes.
- Place hands and forearms in the cold water for one to two minutes.
- Alternate between hot and cold two or three times.
- End with cold water, unless you plan to massage your hands and arms immediately after the contrast hydrotherapy. If you plan to massage the areas right away, end with hot water.
Caution: Avoid heat on swollen or inflamed tissues, recent wounds, and acute injuries. Avoid cold if you have Raynaud’s disease, another cold-intolerant condition, or poor circulation.
Body Mechanics As Part of Hand Care
How you use your body affects your hands. To help relax your hands, relax your body. Here are a few body mechanic tips to help protect your hands:
- Face your work with your whole body, lining up your feet, legs, torso, arms, and head in the direction of your pressure. Step into the direction of pressure and let your body weight and momentum work for you.
- Keep you body aligned. Stand with your knees flexed and your back straight. Be aware of maintaining a lumbar curve. Let yourself dance from your knees and ankles as you do a massage. Let your body power your arms and hands.
- Maintain your center of gravity. Plant your feet on the floor. Think pelvis first, then shoulders. Lean in and out as you massage, lunging, dancing, shifting, and using your body weight.
- Breathe deeply using your diaphragm while you massage. Working muscles need oxygen.
- Consider taking up a somatic practice, such as Feldenkrais or Alexander Technique, that teaches you body awareness and better body use.
For more about hand care for massage therapists, a good reference is Save Your Hands!: The Complete Guide to Injury Prevention and Ergonomics for Manual Therapists by Lauriann Greene.
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