February 22, 2012

How Often You Should Get Massage

Every ten days.

Okay. I made that up. The real answer is “it depends.” It depends on what you can afford and what you want massage to do for you.

If you have pain that massage therapy can help directly, the answer is really, “several times a day,” which, unless you're fabulously wealthy, translates into “get a therapist who will teach you how to do it yourself and see them till you get the hang of it.”

If you want massage to increase your circulation, lower your production of stress hormones, improve your immune system, or decrease systemic inflammation, the answer is, well – nobody knows. But at least daily. Most of those benefits, touted on many a massage therapist's website, last only a few hours. Again, if you're fabulously wealthy, go for it! That's what I'd do. But if you're really interested in just those benefits, take a walk, eat some vegetables, and learn to meditate. Cheaper and more effective.

But I don't think that's exactly what most of my clients come to see me for. It's certainly not why I get massage. I get massage because I feel like something accumulates in me that I need to get rid of, some physical equivalent of mental confusion. I feel I'm losing my place, somehow. My perceptions are getting dulled and clouded. I'm sort of perched in my body, instead of fully inhabiting it. It gets gradually worse, until one day I wake up knowing, “damn it, I need a massage!”*

For me, this cycle runs, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, at something like ten days. When I was a computer programmer with money to burn, I got a weekly massage. That was about right. Nowadays, when I get most of my massage by trading with other therapists, the timing often depends more on when our slow times are than on anything else. But if I was building the ideal massage schedule from scratch, with no constraints, I'd do it this way: I'd see a favorite therapist every two weeks, and have a second therapist I saw every month. And – after all, this is the ideal world – maybe a third that I saw once a month, too. That would add up to about weekly.

I'd get other people because no one therapist, no matter how good, seems to clear every register and clean every window. I encourage people, including my regulars, to go out and get massage from more than just one person. Fabulous I may be; I don't deny it; but massage therapists, like singers, work in a certain range. There are notes I just can't hit.

In general, you should get several sessions from a therapist before you make up your mind whether they're right for you. It takes two or three sessions for therapist and client to tune to each other. The relationship deepens: the therapist gradually discovers what works and what doesn't, what to work on and what to let be. The client gradually releases more and more resistance, as the work is more and more apt. It's a lovely process and it never really stops. I'm much more creative and experimental with my long-time clients. In general I think they're getting much better massages than my first-timers.

So that's in the perfect world. In the real world, “how often?” usually comes down to: as often as you can afford. Monthly feels to me like maintenance. I really try not to let a whole month go by without getting massage. But weekly is a maybe a bit luxurious, unless you're working on specific physical problems or under unusual stress. (Several of my monthly regulars ramp it up to weekly at particular times: bookkeepers in tax season, say, or teachers at the beginning of the school year.) The people I see at wider intervals than monthly, I have a vague feeling that we're slipping behind, not keeping up with the accumulation of – of whatever it is that accumulates.

* This feeling – and the fact that massage is so effective at getting rid of it – accounts, I think, for the prevalence of the “massage gets rid of toxins” myth. See Laura Allen's video about this, or Paul Ingraham's systematic take-down. Massage does not flush toxins, or metabolic waste, or anything else out of the body. But yes, I hear you. It sure feels like it does.


  1. Beautifully written. Thanks…

    It’s so true what you wrote about one therapist not clearing every register. I have a favorite therapist but I go to others. I go to one because she’s good, almost lulls me to sleep but the biggie is that she works on Sunday. I love getting a massage on a Sunday because it helps me to get centered for the upcoming work week.

    And, yes, it does feel like massage flushes out toxins – even if it doesn’t…