A question massage therapists often hear from clients is, “How soon should I reschedule?”
The answer to this question is that it all depends on the circumstances. Depending on the client’s needs the answer will vary. In the end, the therapist’s goal is to get a client to the point of only needing maintenance massage. The first step of that process is assessing if there is an acute or chronic injury (or problem) present.
An acute injury is typically in early stages and hopefully, but not always, the client knows what caused the injury. It could be crick in the neck with the assumption it was a result of a sleeping position. Or maybe during a workout the client noticed the onset of a muscle spasm or strain. In these cases, it is often easier for the massage therapist to figure out which muscles are involved and access how to provide treatment.
When dealing with an acute injury, it is best to address it immediately rather than waiting. More often than not, waiting for discomfort to go away will allow the body to start using and reinforcing compensation patterns. Over time these compensation patterns will become the new normal and may cause further issues.
During the early stages of treatment for an acute injury, a client may be seen up to two to three times a week. However, more often than not, once per week is a good starting point. The objective of the therapist is to secure improvements and then transition to an every other week schedule. As progress continues and the injury has been dealt with the client can then shift into a maintenance routine.
With a chronic injury, the client is dealing with an area that has been a problem for weeks, months or even years. Sometimes the injury can be traced back to a specific event. Other times it may be from an unknown cause and just be cumulative wear and tear on the body.
A chronic injury’s treatment is similar in approach to addressing an acute injury. In the early stages of treating a chronic injury or problem area, the client may come twice per week. However, I have found that most clients will start off with once a week appointments. For this example, let’s assume the sessions are held once per week.
Hopefully after two to three of once per week sessions, a person can move onto an every other week schedule. This new schedule may continue for the next two to three appointments. At this point, some people may be ready to transition to a maintenance routine. Others may benefit from continuing on to meeting two to three weeks apart for one or two appointments. After that, they can transition to a maintenance routine.
What is a maintenance routine? Typically, a massage every three to six weeks is considered maintenance. Some clients use the session as a tune up specifically for a problem area that was previously addressed. Others will do more of a full body maintenance session to address any areas of tension before they develop into a bigger problem.
For some people the timelines suggested for acute or chronic issues may not be easy to follow. An alternative way to assess when to schedule an appointment in these cases is to use a 1-10 pain scale. If we look at 10 as being the pain level at the very first appointment, we do not want to wait for the pain to return to a 10 again before we return.
Instead, we want to get in again when the pain is at most a 7 or 8. For the next appointment we want to get in when the pain is at most a 5 or 6. We can keep working down this way in order to get to a point where everything feels good and we are able to move to a maintenance routine.
A quick “one and done” solution seldom happens when utilizing massage therapy to recover from an acute or chronic problem. This means it is probably going to take at least a few sessions on the table to get over the current obstacle. The healing and recovery process takes time and consistency.
I believe this process needs to be looked at as a partnership. The therapist will do the work they can while the client is on the table and the client will schedule appointments and do any homework such as ice or heat applications, stretches, strengthening exercises or corrective movement exercises that will help them with the recovery process.
With some consistency and work by both parties a problem can be resolved, or at the very least improved. Ideally the client can get back to doing the activities they want to do in their everyday life!
Kirby is Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB). He received his training at Sister Rosalind Gefre School of Professional Massage. Upon graduation in April 2004, he was hired on as a therapist. Kirby joined the RAC staff in January 2006 as a Massage Therapist.
Contact Kirby Strissel