Research has shown that massages can reduce pain and stiffness, relieve stress and lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression. Plus, you just feel great afterwards.
Even if you don't have the time or the money to hire a professional massage therapist, there are simple ways to tap into benefits of this healthful form of relaxation.
Tips for the time-crunched caregiver
Massage Therapy Hall of Fame Inductee and founder of Elements Therapeutic Massage, Michele Merhib describes four do-it-yourself massage techniques that can help you quickly work out the kinks after a long day of taking care of an aging parent.
What you'll need: a chair, a pencil, two tennis balls, and a tube sock
- Back: Between helping your loved one get in and out of their chair, steadying them as they walk, etc., your back can take a beating. To soothe your seizing muscles, begin by taking the two tennis balls and placing them in the tube sock. Lie down on your back, with your feet on the floor, knees bent. Place the tube sock lengthwise, just above your sacrum (the triangular bone found at the base of the spine). Make sure that one tennis ball is on each side of your spine. Use your arms and legs to for support and balance as you roll the sock up and down your spine.
- Neck: Got a crick in your neck from staring at the computer screen all day? Take your right hand and place it on your left shoulder with your thumb pressing against the base of your neck. While applying constant pressure, rub your thumb slowly back and forth along the side of your neck. Tilting your head towards the side you're massaging will shorten your muscles and allow you to get a deeper, more intense massage. Once you've knocked out the knots on one side of your neck, switch hands and repeat the process on the other side.
- Foot: You can use a tennis ball to give your aching feet a rest and engage in a little bit of DIY reflexology. Grab your ball and place it on the floor in front of a chair. Sit down and place one foot on the ball. Slowly roll your foot backwards and forwards, putting as much pressure on the ball as is comfortable. Merhib says that you should feel a slight pulling sensation, but not pain. Next, work the ball from side-to-side, making sure to get every area of your foot, from toes to heel. Then, plant your heel on the ball and work it around in slow, small circles. Finally, cross one leg over the other, take the ball in your hand and gently roll it up and down your arch. Repeat with the other foot.
- Hand: Is your hand seizing up on you after a long day of filling out forms for your loved one? You can use a pencil to loosen up the muscles and ligaments in your hand. Place the pencil, eraser-side down on the big muscle at the base of your thumb. Move the eraser around your palm using slow, small circles.
- General tip: Massage your muscles using long, flowing strokes. Trace the path of the muscle until you reach the bone where it originates.
A full body rub-down
It may not happen often for a caregiver, but sometimes the universe will conspire to give you a solid block of uninterrupted "me time."
On those days, you may have time to engage in a technique called Abyhanga—a form of oil massage designed to help relax and restore your nervous and endocrine systems.
Lissa Coffey, lifestyle and relationship expert, and author of "What's Your Dharma?" offers instruction on how to perform an Abyhanga self-massage.
What you'll need: ¼ cup of massage oil (scented or un-scented), a bowl of hot water
- Heat the oil by placing it in a container inside the bowl of hot water. This will prevent the oil from getting too hot or catching on fire. The oil should be no warmer than comfortable bath water.
- Place a small amount of heated oil in your hand and begin by briskly massaging your scalp with your palms.
- Use gentle, circular motions to massage your face and ears, being careful to avoid getting any oil in your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Sweep your hands up and down the front and back sides of your neck, your shoulders, and your upper spine.
- Continue down your arms, using long, back and forth motions when massaging your large muscles and small, circular motions when attending to your joints. Don't forget to work on your hands and fingers as well.
- Gently massage your heart and abdomen in a circular, clockwise fashion.
- Rub down your legs using the same guidelines that you used for your arms.
- Knead your feet, using the open part of your hand to massage your soles.
- Don't bathe or shower for about 30 minutes after your massage.