At $1-$2 per minute (plus gratuity), massages don’t come cheap. But pain medication isn’t without side effects, and there’s nothing fun about feeling achy all the time. I decided I’d invest in weekly massages for one month and reevaluate. Here’s how it went.
Eager to start this experiment off strong, I booked an hour-long Swedish massage for Saturday at my favorite spa in New York City: Haven Spa. The therapist gently kneaded out my knots and assisted in some therapeutic stretching of my shoulders, hips, and hamstrings. The chilled-out music and soft lighting helped to set the mood and gave me a mental recharge. I walked out feeling lighter and longer, my shoulders seemingly defying the weight of gravity.
The next morning, I woke up without my usual stiffness. Instead, I felt limber and loose. During yoga classes the next few days I noticed that I was more flexible throughout my entire upper body (take that, crescent lunge twist!), and I wasn’t quite so sore at the end of a long workday. (If you’re over 40, you need to do these 5 stretches every week to stay ache-free.)
By Thursday, things started to change. The impact of a stressful work week was wearing on me, and the pain crept back into my shoulders. I spent the next couple of days nestling my upper back into a heating pad in hopes of easing my aches.
Saturday couldn’t come soon enough. I practically sprinted down to the Lower East Side for my next massage, this time at Chillhouse. I hadn’t been there before, and the recently opened spa’s lush, bass-heavy music wasn’t the vibe I was used to at wellness centers. Fortunately, the therapist was strong and attentive. She gave me an intense rubdown, digging in deep around the edges of my shoulder blades where pain tends to linger. Her firm hands left me tender (in a good way) for the rest of the day.
The next morning I had no kinks in my neck or stiffness in my shoulders, but the physical bliss didn’t last as long as I had hoped. (Here’s an easy 60-second fix for neck pain.) By Tuesday, stress caused my shoulders to hunch forward and nudge up toward my ears. Ouch! I didn’t have time to practice my usual self-care, like gently stretching, exercising, and getting plenty of rest, so that amplified the pain. Lesson learned: If the investment in a massage was going to pay off, clearly I’d need to put in more effort toward maintaining its effects.
Armed with the insights of the first half of my experiment, I was determined to make the benefits of my third massage last as long as possible. I visited Eastside Massage Therapy, a no-frills massage center on the Upper East Side that is known for its staff of highly-skilled therapists. The hour-long therapeutic massage was customized to work on my pain points, and I left feeling great.
The relaxation and relief took me through the beginning of the week. When I started to ache again by mid-week, I doubled up on other pain relief techniques—taking lots of yoga classes, attempting to sleep on my back instead of my side (these are the 7 best pillows for back sleepers), and stretching throughout the day. This mindful approach helped keep the pain at bay, but it wasn’t foolproof. My upper body felt tight and sore (although less than usual!) by the next weekend.
Disappointed with the lack of long-term benefits from previous massages (and the fact that I was running low on funds), I went the cheaper route with my final weekly massage treatment: a 20-minute quickie at a generic nail salon down the street from my apartment. And, well, I got what I paid for. It eased some pain while I was in the chair, but I was sore again the very next day. The rest of the week was typical, with stress building up tension in my upper body and me attempting to alleviate it by resting on a heating pad, exercising, and relaxing as much as I could. (Here are 10 silent signals you’re way too stressed.)
Was the high cost of a regular massage worth it? I don’t think so. While I enjoyed getting pampered more often, the pain relief never even lasted a full week. Other lifestyle choices I make seem to have a bigger impact on how my body feels, which was a useful lesson to learn. My recommendation: Save your spa funds for a day when you wake up with a particularly stiff neck, or a desire to treat yourself to a truly soothing experience—then it’s worth the splurge.