There are many opinions about how often one should get a massage. A quick search on Google or YouTube may tell you that the ideal frequency is weekly, fortnightly or monthly; however, there is often little discussion beyond this. While the question itself sounds simple, the answer can be quite complex depending on the clinical approach.
The best solution is to have a clear and effective framework to guide all treatments. There are four phases of treatment to address someone’s dysfunction and reach a full resolution:
The initial phase helps to identify where someone is in their recovery journey and whether they are moving along the correct healing timeframes. For example, if someone comes in for treatment at four weeks and is showing signs of inflammation, they are stuck at the acute stage of their injury and need help progressing. During this first phase, massage treatments should be frequent to meet objectives like the resolution of pain, restoring range of motion and restoring the ability to perform daily activities.
Please note: Tissue healing itself has three sub-stages: acute (when injuries are inflammatory), usually 1-3 days in; sub-acute (proliferation) at 3-21 days; and chronic (maturation) lasting 21+ days up to 2 years.
Break down movement dysfunction into parts
The second phase aims to break down the various movement dysfunctions and treats those individual parts that exhibit mobility, strength or control impairments. From there, foundational exercises are developed to help perform the correct movement. In this phase, massage treatments and exercise prescription will continue to be frequent to support mastery of the foundational exercises rather than spending too much time later correcting any issues.
Build simple movements into functional movements
In the third phase, we build those foundational movements into functional movements. There is a greater focus on movement quality than on the number of repetitions. When practising with poor technique, there is a likelihood of return to harmful movement patterns.
During this phase, exercise prescription begins to hold more weight over massage. With that said, massage treatments will continue to help with offloading tissue as exercises progress.
Build load to exceed the pre-injury level
The last phase aims to build up load to exceed the pre-injury level. It looks at how the individual will be loading during their sport or activity and then creates exercises to target those areas. In this phase, exercise prescription is the main focus; massage treatments may be minimal but can help if there are reaggravations.
Overall, the goal is to move through these four phases of treatment – though injuries may be reaggravated in some cases and require further work. The time spent in these phases will vary from person to person, as it’s all about the meeting the objective measures and not the number of weeks spent performing each activity.
Looking at the frequency of massage treatments during these four phases, we can see a high massage component up to mid-phase, which gradually decreases towards the end phases. While this does not provide a direct answer, hopefully it gives a better understanding of where massage fits into a clinical treatment framework.
The best way to find out how often you should get a massage is to see your practitioner so they can discuss your goals and create a plan to address your needs.