Category Archives: Self-Care

Massage and the Great Flood

House FloodI was enjoying the evening air, checking the massage therapy schedule book to review next week’s bookings when my 90-year-old mother-in-law asked for help.


I dashed in from the patio and stared. A little tsunami of water was spreading down the hallway into the living room, and all the bedrooms. Oh, and it was pooh water.

Well, that was a week and a day ago. In the past week I somehow managed to get to work and massage my clients, but darn it was tough.

I had six giant hair dryers in my house and had to find a hotel suite that would also take us (and the dog) on a Saturday night. In the midst of the chaos, my spouse slipped and needed a ride to the emergency room with what looked like a broken thumb.

Swea’pea is going to be OK, but the injury meant I am the dishwasher, shower assistant, jar opener and lifter of all boxes and items heavier than 10 pounds.

Well, somehow we managed to find shelter and get the house dried out. And somehow I managed to get to work this past week and be all nurturing. Walking the talk. No migraines. It was pretty interesting.

Massage therapists really don’t have a lot of stress. Once your practice is going and you have some moderate competency there is not a whole lot hand wringing to do. Persistence and consistency pay off. Usually if I feel the need to fret, I have to watch the Lakers.

But my meter was running hot all week with all this multitasking. I used my own massage advice. I did navel breathing as much as I could – car, just before a client, just after. I called a good friend to share and ask favors. I asked a neighbor to feed the cat and keep an eye on my house while we were gone. Child pose and kitty-cat. MSM liniment.

We have managed to survive what appears to be the first week of about a month out of the house. And I need a massage.

The best part of the week: One morning I was running late for work, so my mother-in-law offered to give my spouse a sponge bath. That look of horror was better than any Jamie Lee Curtis scream ever.

A Degree from Massage University

My education in massage did not stop with graduation from a massage school. If anything, it intensified. Now a practicing therapist, I was learning every day from the most prolific of authors, the best logisticians, the brightest of the best.

It has been hard to keep up sometimes, but very rewarding. The classroom has been my therapy room, the teachers: my clients.     university     Lessons learned go from the obvious to the subtle.

Some favorites:

Don’t smack your hands together like humpy honeymooners to warm your oil. (Can we get that one on a billboard?)

Don’t breathe on your clients face while doing neck stretches. (Again, billboard?)

Do listen to a client without distractions when they are speaking to you, even if you are getting a text.

Do ask every client to return. A genuine invitation goes a long way in a society where millions of people don’t mean what they say.

I was pondering some of the big lessons I garnered from clients the other day, after I heard that a former client, a very prominent man, had died at age 91.

Sad, yes, for I was thinking he would reach 100. But I remembered what he taught me about massage. He was a connoisseur, having had massages all over the world for many years.

He told me he liked me because I did “real” massages. He never told me how many therapists he had interviewed, but one day the house manager let it slip that a parade of therapists had come, once, and gone before he picked me.

That was good for my ego, of course.

So what did I learn? These were big lessons and small.

He always apologized if he was late. Always.

It’s important to take time for oneself.

And always buy the best seat at the ballpark that you can afford. Otherwise why go to the game?

Hmmm. Is it April yet?



The Push

Massage therapists know that when a client has been pulling something – wire or cable, storage boxes, dogs, etc. that they will find a host of sore and overstretched muscles.

Ergonomically, it is not good to pull, but to push. Push we can do much more easily and with much less fatigue. Somehow the design of things and the human body makes push much better than pull.

This concept gets forgotten, here and there, by otherwise wise, experienced and intuitive massage therapists, in this case me.push

Oh my, something was up. I went for my weekly massage, which I hadn’t had for three weeks because my schedule got crazy, and felt what seemed like a loop of fatigued tissue running from my traps to posterior rotators to lats to triceps to forearms to my thumbs.

Funny I didn’t know that bad patch was there until the massage therapist starting rubbing there. How many times has a client told me that they had no idea something hurt until it was touched? It was especially bad on my left side. Lo, I am left-handed.

As my friend and massage therapist trade-partner tried to get the angst out of this area, I suddenly became aware that I had been doing something wrong. Oh so very wrong. Me? In the biz now for 20 years and I have found a new way to feel yucky?

Hey, it happens.

After three massages that week, I began to feel a lot better. The drilled-in fatigue dropped, I felt less looped in the shoulders and back.

But I needed to find out for myself what I had been doing that had run me off the boards.

I was working with a client who had a habit of clutching items – files, purses, children, and etc. when the dawn finally broke over Marblehead.

I had been working on rotator cuffs from the opposite side of the client, pulling up and back on trigger points in the lats / tereses / infraspinatus muscles. One can massage from the opposite side, on occasion, of course without ending up sore. But one must use the weight of the body, mainly one’s assets, to create the pull. Somehow in the frenzy of the past month I had forgotten this and started using my pulling muscles instead of leverage. What are the pulling muscles? Traps, lats, triceps, etc. Somehow I had forgotten to bend my knees and use weight instead of muscle.

Oh, I have been very good this week. Now I work trapped shoulder blades from the same side. I take care to move the arm into flexion to expose the shoulder. And I vow to never, ever, to pull again. Time for another Epsom soak.

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They are Called Trigger Points for a Reason…

thumb-pressure-lThe nice man who likes to run every day came into my massage therapy office looking for some relief.

I thought I was going to do a massage – but it turned out to be an intervention.

This man had gotten a hold of a trigger point therapy workbook. He had been doing his own trigger points at home – now his aches and pains were so bad he couldn’t sleep.

The points had been overworked to the point that his body was now so tight and armored this was going to be a tough massage.

With his knee bent, I tried to distract the femur from the hip capsule. Nothing doing. The psoas was so tight it wouldn’t move.

I took a teaching moment. “You go through this at massage school,” I said. “You discover trigger points, see them as the answer to all ills, and you come into class one day having set them all afire with your own merciless fingers. You learn the hard way.”

I took another moment to demonstrate a trigger point release on his common extensor. “Really?” he said. “Is that all the pressure you use?”


It took a while, but I was able to get some of the psoas unlocked. I see a lot of Swedish in his future.

With some massage therapy clients, assigning a little homework on their own trigger points may be a good thing. But (oh no please!) don’t try this at home without some instruction.

If home trigger point therapy seems like a good idea, I like to tell clients: “You will be very tempted to be much meaner to your trigger points than I am.”


Yearly Goals, Triumphs, and Mulligans

Goals 2015Right about the end of the year, or sometimes the beginning of the year, I do an audit of my massage therapy practice.

Years ago I started doing because I found it was easy to slip into a groove – also called a rut – and because I usually take at least a few days off during Christmas and New Year’s.

My list includes things I think went well, things that sucked and things I need to take more seriously, as well as look toward some goals for the next calendar year.

By setting these things down on paper, I was able to take some mega-steps in my massage therapy career. My status as a spa employee helped me buy a home, but once that was done – and I had two years of spa experience learning about massage, people, management, etc. – it was time to move on.

Picking up the skills I needed to move on took some practice. All the while I had minor and major goals to help me along – how to book a private client was a mini-goal. Once I could book one private client, I learned enough to give myself a goal of three private clients a week, and so on.

I like big goals for the end of the year, but little chunks at a time to avoid discouragement. Making the goals is not so important as learning how to get there. If I am off by five massages, who cares? At least I figured out how to get a few clients.

As you may notice, lots of these goals are not the purview of massage schools. They have a hard enough time teaching people the basics of techniques and body mechanics without turning themselves into business schools as well. We had a class or two on basic business skills and that was it.

The odds are probably good, too, that most massage students would not need business skills because few go into business for themselves. What they needed were skills at getting jobs working for others, and learning how to survive in the environments of places such as spas, clinics and chiropractic offices. Some of those skills could not be taught they had to be earned. One of my classmates was great at interviewing, but couldn’t show up for work. Another gave a terrible interview, but was rock solid and loved by the clients.

A spa manager I liked a lot confessed to me once that she often hired people solely based on whether they were on time for the interview. She had long ago given up on the idea of figuring massage therapists out.

Now, in my 20th year of massage, I’m looking at the nuts and bolts of what I am doing and asking myself: Is this where I want to be? Am I working enough, too much? Going in the right direction? Are my clients benefiting from my work? Where do I want to go from here?

These are great questions to ask  – in past years my questions would be how can I get more clients or make more money. Or how I could better use my energy – doing massage or managing or training those who do? Not easy questions or answers but this helps in my sense of satisfaction from work.

Wherever a massage therapist is on his/her career I urge this time of year for some self-reflection and goal setting. It really makes a difference in the long run.

Thumb Scrum

Massage therapists may think they are immune to injury, even though many of us came to do massage after recovering from injury. We’re helping people, after all, so that should be a win-win. We win, the clients win, all is right.

Oh, and then that little thumb screams tingle-tingle in the middle of the night.

The problem with bad thumbing is that it doesn’t tell you that it is hurting while you are doing the hurting thing. It tells you much later in the day, usually just before your deepest sleep cycle, by waking you up to a tingle party.

Oh, and it can take months of babying to get better. I know. I did it recently, as in earlier this year. Many soaks, rubs, deep cross-friction and MSM lotions later, I can say my thumb has returned as fit as ever. Of course, I know how not to hurt my thumb, I just suffered some sort of temporary delusional amnesia associated with getting that last knot out from under the cranial vault.

For the record, let’s go over thumb health. The thumb is a wimp, unable to go outside without his brothers and sisters. Thus the thumb is always stuck to its neighboring fingers when applying any pressure or other massage stroke.

Do not drag the thumb behind its family, keep it close – as in stuck – to its protectors.

Do not lead with the thumb unless it is stuck completely to the other thumb – that is both hands together at the thumb creating one seamless stroke.thumb

If your thumb is able to bend backwards at the first joint, you will get away with disobeying all these thumb rules, but then the day will come when the thumb quits altogether. This is the curse of the hyper-mobile thumb.

As someone who occasionally forgets to practice safe thumb, I admit to being less than perfect while on trigger point hunts. But I know my thumb will remind me later of what I forgot earlier in the day. Zap!

Effleurage & the Flaming Snowplow

ouchEffleurage & the Flaming Snowplow


Most massage therapists make a habit of getting massages, as do I. A good massage is always appreciated, but at times it is hard not to be a “back-seat” massage therapist.

Recently I was looking forward to some relief for a strained deltoid when the effleurage began on my forearm. It started as a delicate, slow Swedish stroke. It treaded middle depth along the bicep and suddenly plunged head-on into a flaming snowplow of death over the coracoid process.

Oh my. My therapist made eye contact, I suspected to see if I was impressed. I writhed. Another effleurage. I cringed.

“Are you okay?”

“Well, no. The stroke feels really good on the arm, but then it feels like the pressure suddenly increases and it is very painful,” I said.

My therapist suggested skipping the area. As delicately as I could, I explained that shoulder soreness was what really brought me in for a massage.

My therapist looked perplexed. I offered that perhaps less pressure on the sorest area would work better. More perplexed look.

As a bad stroke, the flaming snowplow does double duty. First, it is very uncomfortable for the client. Second, as the therapist increases pressure away from his or her body, the stroke goes beyond the ergonomic zone. That places more strain on the therapist’s neck, back, wrist and arms. The pressure is produced from the upper body, instead of the feet, creating strain.

I don’t know where the flaming snowplow effleurage comes from. As a student I committed it once and got roundly screamed at by my instructor.

Effleurages feel best with constant, comfortable pressure along an effleurage. They are often the first stroke to be used and set the tone for other techniques such as MFR or trigger point. If I can effleurage without pain, I can usually treat the sore spot with other means. A win for the massage therapist, a win for the client.

Now, about the time I got the flaming snowplow effleurage up the arm followed by the Reverse Flaming Snowplow down the arm….

Seated and Ready

A regular table massage client loves to two-time this massage therapist every chance she gets. I do not mind at all. My client has fibromyalgia, travels frequently and loves to get chair massages.

The service she uses most often is at an airport near her employer’s national headquarters. She looks forward, especially on a day-hopper trip, to stopping in for 20 minutes of relief.

Initially I was scared to use them, she said, worried they might not understand someone like chairme. But I just did it one day when I was desperate – and it really was very good.

There are two therapists at the terminal chair massage shop she loves to get – and so far most of the ones she doesn’t know have been pretty good, too.

Given the opportunity, I’ll ask questions. Market research? Perhaps. So what’s good about a good chair massage?

I like that they look at me and talk to me before I sit down, checking in on what I want and don’t want, she said. My name is in their computer so they can check on what I’ve had done before.

Most of the time I need firm pressure, especially to relieve the burning spots in my shoulder. They know that too much pressure increases my pain, but just the right amount helps.

The good ones seem to know the pressure, but they always ask me if it’s right. I like being asked.

The only time I didn’t like the chair massage, I think it was this guy’s first day. Probably his last. He wouldn’t look me in the eye and didn’t ask me anything. I had to tell him I have fibro and pointed at my left shoulder burner. He just nailed me with the point of his elbow, no warm up or rocking in. My shoulder went off like a flare gun.

When I told him it was too painful, he switched to super-light and annoying. I finally just got up from the chair and left. The receptionist said I didn’t have to pay, which was good because it was a one-minute torture massage. Aargh.

I still go there, and I love my regular massage therapists. I make sure I give them good tips, so they will be there when I am in town, she said.

You can’t beat the relief after a bunch of meetings. I can tell them I want my arms, neck and back, or focus on neck and shoulders and less time on the other areas. It helps keep me sane, she said.

Playground Moves

We massage therapists see a lot of people seeking relief. If it isn’t the upper back and neck, it is the lower back and legs. I’m a fan of giving people something they can do, on their own, to loosen up.

Most people go from doing a lot of movement in their salad days to increasingly stiffening marathons of driving, sitting or standing as they grow into their occupations. My loosen-up moves are an attempt to get some wiggle back into the muscles and joints we freeze up with age.

Like most massage therapists, I freely steal moves – giving credit of course – to multiple hulakidsdisciplines. My go-to sources range from Tai Chi Ch’uan, Yoga, Pilates and Hula to Islam. Give a girl credit for observation.

The ground rules are: everything in slow motion, no pain, exhale with effort and keep breathing normally. I practice with my clients so they get the rules in their head and can mirror me. This is also my secret way to get some stretches in for myself between massages.

For example, the hula roll-about allows people to balance abdominal, oblique and back muscles. Standing in neutral, use the tummy, then the side muscles and then back muscles to rotate the hips in a slow circle. The shoulders stay still and the breathing relaxed. If you can do the slow hula, you can swing a golf club.

I like to frame warming moves and stretches not as work, but an opportunity to revive our latent desire to play. Hula hip circles are a blast. When you get a bunch of serious golfers laughing while rotating their hips, you get a serious jolt of fun. And when those scores drop, the golf guys keep coming back….

The back flexion warm-up borrows from Yoga and Islam – start out on your knees on a soft surface like a bed or mat. Lean forward and extend your arms on the surface in front of you, slowly lowering your upper body into a stretch. Just like the Moslem prayer position, and a bit like the yoga child pose. To stretch the QLs, move one hand to the left, while aiming the hips back to the right. Then reverse hands and hips to stretch the other QL.

Heck, that’s a very good thing to do three times a day for your back. Funny how a move associated with a religious ritual can be so good for the body.

What about Tai Chi? My go-to is “Wave Hands Like Clouds.” This move helps people with balance and fluidity as well as peripheral vision and coordination. All you do is hold your palm in front of your face and look at it as you turn from center to one side. As you turn to reverse, you raise your other palm and look at it as you turn back to center and to the opposite side.

Simple yet complex, this move builds core and balance. Hmmmm. Who thought goofing around and playing could be so liberating and healthy?

Please send me some of your go-to play moves in the blog comments section. I’ll steal it, and give you credit, of course. Hula!

History at Your Hands

We had a wonderful time picking out decorations for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party.

Pink table-covers, birthday lawn signs, a banner and bubble-making bottles, clean fun for all of us youngin’s. We’ll also be running around next weekend picking up a vanilla cake with white and pink frosting, tamales, sandwiches and the “Happy 90th” balloon. (Surprisingly popular, our cashier volunteered.)

All of which led me to ask Mom Mary the big question: To what to you attribute your long life?

Mom Mary looked at me quite surprised. “I have no idea. I’m just glad to be alive. I wish I felt better, though.”calm

Ooh-yaah. Hey, with a massage therapist in the family, many people would assume Mom Mary has the feel-good covered. Well, other than the occasional emergency neck or shoulder massage, Mom Mary has begged off the family discount. (Double for blood relatives and spouse, Mom Mary free.)

Yet thinking about it, I have had several older folks who come in for massage regularly. And I am impressed. My oldest client was 103, a World War I veteran. I have given massage services to many people aged 70s to upper 90s.

As a member of the second coddled generation, the lucky ones who grew up with food, dental care, schools and an expectation of college, I get a good sampling of how my elders got into their golden years.

Wars. Prison Camps. D-Day. Epidemics. No food, no heat. No air conditioning. Religious genocide. Ethnic genocide. Is longevity produced by adversity? Or, to put it another way, does that which does not kill you make you stronger?

It makes me wonder how my generation through the much-too-much millennials will fare. Will we prick our fingers on our computers and die? Could we ever be tough enough to skip a gluten-free meal?

I think a massage certificate for Mom Mary is in order, perhaps a pedicure as well. You should get some credit for living long, well and in good humor.