13 Lifesavers Massage Therapists Keep Handy

  I’m horrified to report that last night I discovered three tiny warts on my hand. Gah, it’s an occupational hazard I was hoping never to experience! As I dabbed a liquid bandage onto the spots after freezing them dead with this frightening spray I bought at the drugstore, I thought about the many products that help me get through the day. Mind you, I’m not getting a kickback for any product mentions, and I’m not even sure it’s all right to list brand names here. So if I’m in the wrong, please feel free to educate me….

Toothbrush, toothpaste, breath strips and gum In massage school, my foundations instructor mentioned that the day before or the day that we massage, we shouldn’t eat strong-tasting foods. Considering that I work five days a week and lurve my garlic and onions, that’s just not an option. So all of the above-listed items are key. Breath strips are my most recent find. They’re small but mighty and spare me from sounding like I’m chewing my cud. Gum is reserved for times I really need to brush but can’t. I buy a softer-smelling, pleasing flavor and only chew a half stick at a time to reduce obnoxiousness by half. 

Barrettes, hair ties I’m sorry. Show me a spa with coiffed massage therapists, and I’ll show you the harrowing behind-the-scenes that is required to give a great massage while still looking pretty. It’s an endless battle for them. I simply can’t do it. In my world, makeup is minimal, bangs are often clipped back, and hair MUST be off my neck, or I exit the therapist’s room with makeup melted down to my knees and wet hair, much resembling a dirty puddle. 

Mini fan this relates to the hair ties. It’s teeny and doesn’t pack much of a punch, but that wee machine keeps me sane each session. I’m a sweat-er, plain and simple, and I’ve taught myself how and when to position that sucker on me (and not my client) without the client knowing. 

Traveler’s manicure kit From nipping surprise hangnails to trimming and filing nails, I use at least one item from my kit daily. (Have I ever mentioned that I often have to file my fingertips in this profession? Strange, but true!)

Burt’s Bees Hand Salve If I had a dollar for every time someone told me, “How can your skin be dry and cracking? You’re rubbing oil onto your hands all day,” I’d have a good dollar or two by now. We have to lather up all the way past our elbows twice as many times as we massage, before and after each session. This salve is as sleek as satin, and smells like a field of lavender. Don’t be discouraged by the price; a tin should last you at least one winter. 

Coconut oil This all-natural product was a big help for my forearms last winter. Again, we’re scrubbing up quite often throughout the day, and during the cold months I was alarmed to discover that the skin on my arms felt a lot like tweed. It took two weeks during my back-mending hiatus to get that skin feeling like…well, skin. While it doesn’t do much for cracked fingertips, coconut oil aborbs quickly, smells warm and comforting and, best of all, doesn’t sting chapped skin like a mother-trucker. *Ahem!* 

New Skin liquid bandage I learned this just today. Fellow MT’s would tell me to dab some New Skin on the cracks in my thumbs, and I ignored them…because it peels right off and feels scratchy to the client, doesn’t it? Well, that may be true for the generic brand I bought last winter, but the New Skin I just got today actually feels like skin, so much so that I dabbed on some extra to make sure it was there. 

Non-latex gloves These made today’s three massages possible. Not pleasant, mind you, but possible. (The liquid bandage purchase happened after my shift.) Therapists and clients are pleasantly surprised that a massage with surgical gloves feels almost like the gloves are not even there. But they come with a caveat for sweat-ers like me. You’d be amazed by how much sweat one hand generates in a 50-minute session! It made for some embarrassing squeaks during one of my appointments today when some trapped air escaped the glove all deflating-balloon-like. 

Good shoes I can’t emphasize this one enough. I need steady, supportive shoes to do good work. We’re not just on our feet all day, we’re lunging…All. Day. If my shoes don’t fit properly, I’ll know within the first five minutes of my first session. It makes for a long session when you’re uncomfortable on your feet….

Zinc lozenges Surprise! Here’s a fourteenth item that I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention. Yes, they make food and beverages taste weird. Yes, there’s controversy as to whether they even work. But placebo effect be damned, they work for me. And considering all of the colds a massage therapist is trapped in a room with for 50+ minutes at a time, she or he needs a trusty line of defense. Good-quality vitamins in general are critical for the various ickies that float around, year ’round. 

This list covers the basics. The above items keep me as calm and collected as possible to get me through the day with at least some grace (which says a lot since I’m naturally ungraceful). Fellow massage therapists and bodyworkers, are there any must-haves that you rely on? 

Down Time

 It’s June, and business is slow in the massage industry. After all, getting a massage is nice and all, but it simply can’t compete with family graduation parties and warm-weather activities. Because family and YOLO, amirite? 

Blah, I’m right. And what’s worse, I just used YOLO in a blog post. Desperate times….

In the franchise where I work, the inertia has been compounded, and not for seasonal, jumping-off-a-pier-into-the-lake-instead-of-getting-massaged reasons. Corporate had us do a mass hiring of full-time massage therapists early this year. I guess they saw something in our numbers that encouraged them to grow our spa. But then they raised prices, losing some of our regular clients. And then warm weather hit….

And splat. 

Now that we have more therapists than work, the front desk staff have (basically) been making us take turns either getting called off or being sent home early. As a result, our spa is a little hungry, a little cutthroat, energetically speaking, an unwelcome pest in what’s supposed to be a nurturing environment. 

Hunger drives us toward some of our baser instincts. I’m unearthing some competitive parts of myself, as well. Last week I did six and a half hours of massage, about 40% of what I used to do. I’m boxed in by physical limitations, as temporary as they may be, as I continue to recover from a recent back injury. Two months after my month-long medical leave, I’m still doing fewer massages in a row before a break, and fewer massages per day, doctor’s orders. So between massages (during seemingly endless down time), I find myself glancing through our schedule to see if my former clients wandered to other therapists, quit their memberships or just put massage on pause. 

With so much time to think (and being my own worst enemy), it’s hard not to berate myself during slow times like these. She lost her touch during that long hiatus, the critics within me hiss. She’s just not as good anymore. Yet, when I take a deep breath and muffle the negativity, I remind myself that new clients have been rebooking with me. I just have to practice my faith and patience. Patience and faith. 

When my life-condition is high enough, I can see that it’s just a watershed period in my young career. It all looks like a mess right now, but something invisible continues to propel me forward and protect me. Maybe this time marks a new beginning, somehow. Those lost clients taught me everything they could; I’m ready for my next set of lessons. Something to that effect. 

I worked on a professional athlete the other day who had a shocking amount of scar tissue built up in his hamstrings near his glutes. He was as surprised as I was; despite all of the massage and physical therapy he’d had in his career, nobody’d ever pointed that out to him before. His hip is a constant complaint, so the two elements are likely connected. I’m hoping we can learn more together the next time he comes in, solve the mystery to free that hip. Maybe he and the other new clients will point me toward my next area of focus. Will I get more comfortable with myofascial work? Branch out and finally explore energy work like reiki? Where I am now is only the beginning. It’s something to appreciate. I can take this profession in myriad directions, tailor it to be what I want it to be.  

Yet, the other day a thought popped into my head: My job is getting in the way of my career. I love the spa where I work, overall…but if it stays this slow, I’ll never be able to afford taking continuing education classes. This week (with desperation overriding my rules) I’m picking up two shifts (potentially eight consecutive work days), and if that trend continues, I won’t have time to take classes, anyway. One of the reasons I took on massage therapy was because of the flexibility. But how truly flexible am I when I’m bound by bills and debt? 

This is just a phase, I tell myself. Things will get better…by Autumn, sure, but before then, somehow. Good fortune will come to me. I just have to refresh my determination, clean up my act anywhere I can, stay the course and believe.