RMTs know that when a client commits to self-care exercises between treatments, they may speed along healing and extend the overall benefits of massage. However, for patients who approach massage therapy as a purely passive process, encouraging participation in self-care can be quite a challenge.
The way in which RMTs broach the subject of self-care may have a significant impact on patients’ resolve to follow through with suggested approaches. After assessing the patient’s individual needs and creating a customized treatment plan, the massage therapist will typically suggest exercises that could be done independently to promote wellbeing between appointments.
Paying attention to resistance factors, engaging in regular follow-ups, and clearly explaining the benefits of self-care can go a long way to inspiring genuine commitment to a prescribed routine.
Some patients are quite eager to participate in a self-care routine, while others may counter their RMTs recommendations with skepticism. Experienced massage therapists understand that communication comes first when developing the routine, and is crucial for identifying and resolving potential roadblocks. Massage college graduates have valuable opportunities to practice communication fundamentals during their practicums, building skills that will prove particularly useful when introducing self-care routines to patients:
Active listening: Paying close attention to, validating, and responding positively to your patient’s concerns helps build trust and establish rapport. RMTs are then better equipped to neutralize resistance to self-care by providing reassurance or making adaptations where needed.
Encouraging feedback: Involving patients in the construction of their own self-care routine can help resolve concerns that this new regimen is being “thrust” upon them. Learning more about their likes and dislikes may go a long way toward developing a plan the patient will stick with. For example, if the patient makes it clear from the outset that they don’t like and will not perform a particular activity (such as swimming), the RMT can suggest a more realistic alternative.
Demonstrating techniques: Taking time to demonstrate techniques for the patient will invoke kinesthetic awareness, encourage trust, and is much more effective than sending them home with a pamphlet or list of instructions.
Some patients may believe that self-care exercises are primarily remedial - reserved for those in recovery from specific injuries. However, many patients receive treatment on a regular basis simply to maintain optimal health, and they too can benefit greatly from self-care between appointments.
Massage therapy training focuses on holistic approaches to wellness, looking at particular sites of dysfunction within a whole body - or even a whole lifestyle - context. RMTs can help patients understand the true scope and benefits of self-care by discussing how the incorporation of new techniques can help improve overall quality of life. Common approaches to self-care may include:
• Mild to moderate stretching exercises to increase range of motion
• Hydrotherapy such as heating pads or ice
• Resistance exercises
• Breathing exercises
• Meditation or other relaxation techniques
Massage therapist training places a great deal of emphasis on assessment and follow-up during the treatment process. RMTs continually check in with patients to ensure that their customized treatment plan is effective - which of course includes any recommended routine for self-care.
Taking the time to ask how patients are doing with their exercises at home allows RMTs to identify challenges, offer potential solutions, or re-assess the approach. If, for example, a patient is experiencing pain or discomfort while applying a self-massage or performing stretches, they may be applying too much pressure or approaching the exercise too vigorously. A simple re-explanation or demonstration can be very useful at this point, and may prevent the patient from abandoning the routine altogether. Educating patients about self-care and encouraging participation is a team effort and on-going process - but the benefits of perseverance make this is a truly worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.
What approaches have you used to encourage patient participation in self-care?