Let’s face it, if it were up to massage therapists we’d say that you should get a massage every day, but in reality – very few people ever have the means or time to make this scenario play out in their lives. So technically speaking, your frequency should depend on how much you like massage, how often you experience chronic pain, and your budget.
If you’re able to afford it, getting a monthly or weekly massage works best at helping prevent injuries by catching tight areas before they become problematic. With my more athletic clients (runners, weightlifters, gymnasts), I usually recommend timing their massage to coincide with the times they are training their hardest. For example, runners can develop tight hamstrings and hips, gymnasts and weight-lifters can get tight shoulders. These tight muscle groups can elicit injuries over time if they aren't treated by massage.
If you are physically active, I recommend getting a massage within 24 hours after a hard workout. Doing so will enhance the body’s reparative abilities thereby providing you with the added bonus of a speedy recovery from your workout while keeping potential pain and injury at bay.
For runners wanting to perform at prime levels, it’s best to schedule your massage at least 3-5 days before your next big race – especially if it’s been a while since your last massage. In fact, if you haven’t been consistent with self-care massage, it would be best to schedule your professional massage therapy session a bit further out. I say this because deep tissue massage also puts your muscles through a workout that can take additional time for your body to recover from. And the last thing I’m sure you would want is to be “sore” from a deep tissue massage on ‘race day.’
So, in keeping with these guidelines, here are a few more recommendations:
Drink water - lots of water - particularly after your massage. Active muscles (even muscles in pain) produce metabolic waste. Increasing your intake of H2O will facilitate your body’s ability to process these toxins and waste products (flushed from the muscles) out of the body.
Massage does not have to hurt to be effective. While working on a tight, troubled area will certainly cause some discomfort, it shouldn't leave bruising or cause you to jump off the table. If you do find yourself consistently bruised after massage sessions, you may be going to the wrong therapist! Or, you may not be communicating enough with your therapist regarding the pressure and your sense of pain. Take steps to correct this immediately.
Most people (and some massage therapists, too) often confuse ‘deep tissue’ massage with deep ‘pressure’ (like when you say “go harder”). Deep tissue massage targets both the superficial and deep layers of muscles and fascia and although it can often be quite intense due to the deliberate, focused work, it needn't always elicit pain.
When I perform deep tissue work, I typically focus in on a few specific problem areas and work the entire muscle. Because physically active people often have quite a few tight spots and interconnected issues, deep tissue massage is often the modality I use the most. That said, deep tissue work is not an “every day” sort of therapy.
With the exception of athletic training and performance, the best policy for most of the general public is a regular schedule of maintenance massage which typically means a full-body massage about every 3 to 6 weeks.