Tag Archives: massage classes

Meetups for Massage Therapists

I am just back from our massage therapist state convention Classes, networking, stuff to buy and a bit of fun. I had the joy of being a test body, demonstrating treatment by one of the best bodyworkers in the world today.
But the big annual meeting/convention paradigm is changing Conventions are losing attendance, and may be going the way of the pay phone. We have lots of other opportunities to communicate, so fewer therapists every year, also means fewer people selling products, fewer recruiters and fewer classes.
At some point our state meeting may change to every other year, or it may morph into some sort of social event that happens to have some classes the same weekend. They just don’t want to call it a convention, because conventions are losing money.camp
Well, should the community of massage therapists care? What does a convention do for we who rub?
As someone who has spent 25 to 30 hours a week for the past 20 years in a dimly-lit room, I have to say I like seeing other people who do what I do. It’s a good time to compare notes. How’s business? What are your shoulders feeling like? Find a good program for your schedule? How do you unstick scalenes?
Hey, we can do all this online, of course, but I do like to see folks in person. I notice that the web has replaced much communication, yet people still gather in groups. Perhaps we should have bonfires on the beach, so we can feel our tribalism as in days gone by. Whoop-whoop!

Massage Heals Whiplash

Massage at the Top of the Spine

People who have suffered whiplash are a good number of the clients in massage therapists’ practices. They seek relief from neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches, migraines and fatigue.
Massage does wonders for sore muscles of the neck and shoulder even years after a whiplash. It opens fused muscles, improves circulation of blood and lymph, and helps muscles re-learn movement.
Usually people with whiplash have been around to many different doctors and therapists. Often they have gone as far as they can with them and have decided to try massage to reduce symptoms.
And here is where the massage therapist can shine. Depending on whether the whiplash was from the rear, front, sides or diagonal directions, massage can open up clogs of adhesed muscles and return their natural movement.
Most have thick fibrous bands starting at the occipital ridge and ligamentum nuchae, and simple Swedish strokes – softly drawing away from the occiput and gliding back – can draw down the congestion.
Light to medium trigger point work on taut bands of the trapezius, splenii, scm’s and scalenes will further restore motion.
What I find, however, is that many clients tell me massage therapists shy away from their occiputwhiplash zones, even though this relatively simple work will bring much relief.
The whiplash survivor is not a china doll, but someone who needs the relief of massage.
Sometimes we are used to massaging the thick muscles of the shoulder area but clients start to cringe when we move up to the neck. It is a natural reflex to dig in to hardened tissue of the neck in order to loosen it. Actually, the opposite works much better. When I check the neck I soften my hands and do more soft molding strokes. I want the defenses to drop, not increase. When hands are soft, the tissue responds by allowing you to massage more deeply, but with gentleness.
Another common reflex is starting a stroke lightly and adding pressure as it proceeds. In effect, it is a grinding motion and a very unpleasant sensation to the client.
Instead, use the same medium pressure throughout the stroke. Go back and start the stroke again with slightly more pressure, repeating and adding slightly to the pressure with each glide, taking care not to depress the vertebrae. At the end of four to six strokes, the tissue will have been opened and drained. Success!
Drawing away from the congestion and doing light pressure techniques on the neck and upper shoulders will bring a great deal of relief without having to get into more complex techniques best left to intensive workshops. There is no reason to be afraid of making these areas worse. Your hands can’t go from 40 miles per hour to zero in one second!
A few who have had severe whiplash – and survived – they are the tough clients. Their symptoms are more serious – vertigo, sleep disruptions, fascia that forms nooses and restrictive loops over the years of compensating for severe imbalance.
I like to think I have great massage skills for all these folks, but I am cautious. Have neurologists or osteopaths with experience in these dysfunctions evaluated their injuries? Are they stuck or hyper-mobile? Have they had an increase in symptoms from additional injuries?

Massage Goals and Baskets

Hey, it’s the time of year most massage therapists try to take a few days off, before the deluge of Christmas gift certificates and post-holiday injuries start piling up on the books.
I like to practice something with therapist employees and therapist friends. It’s something that shouldn’t be so rare but we often forget to do it. It’s the where-am-I-going-in-the-next-year game.
Yes, goals.
This shouldn’t be that hard, but I find many people in this field don’t set goals because they are bummed out if they don’t meet them. But goals are just that – something you shoot for in basketball. The number of attempts does not count; it’s the baskets.
So we will benefit from having personal goals, professional goals, income goals, housing goals, fitness and massage goals. Who’s up for some thinking ahead?
With employee massage therapists, I’ve met some resistance because when people are struggling, their gaze drops from the horizon. But this is the best time to set goals, little to large, because scoring will develop confidence. Forget the attempts and count the baskets!basket
Try setting small goals. One of my favorite therapists complained that she felt like she did the same massage all day. Well, that will drive anyone crazy. We talked and she said she wanted to learn some new moves.
Well, there are great ways to do that. Classes, sure, but how much do you retain with just short practice sessions during class? Take the class with a friend and practice that night and the next day. Retention of techniques goes up tremendously. Plus you get some work on your own tired body.
I wish classes had refreshers in a few weeks so people could go over what they learned and see the amount that has stuck or been lost. When I do classes or training, I offer that.
The less expensive way to learn is to trade with another massage therapist. Now I’ve had people come and get massages from me solely to copy techniques later, and they do not do very well. The missing step here is to tell the person you want to learn and practice some of the moves done on you. That takes feeling the technique, as well as getting off the table to really see what is being done with a test-body. Sound like school? Yes.
But at some clinics/spas those Tuesday morning schedules are a great opportunity to hold practices – if others are willing to share. Sometimes you just need to find the right people. In my experience, therapists who “steal” moves from the prone position do a poor and ineffective copy of the original. And those who say they want to learn do much, much better.

Massage and the Full Sixty…

When I was new to doing massage therapy, I had a habit of getting lost. Lost in the neck, lost on the back, lost in the space-time continuum. I’d glance up at my clock and see that I had spent 40 minutes massaging the back and I had 20 minutes to do the rest of the body. Or worse yet, 40 minutes just on the headache, and had 20 minutes to get hands on everything else!
And, learning point, most massage clients will be unhappy with that schedule. People will rarely complain, but they may decide not to come back. All my enthusiasm to erase that headache would cost me the opportunity to gain a client. Drat!
It happened often enough that I found a couple of solutions, which I will gladly share, and I timedeveloped some hacks – ways to get the client to forget that I had just given an uneven massage.
Fasten your seat belts.
Ask – Let the client decide – “Would you like me to spend all of our time today on your headache or do you also want a full-body massage?” Guess what the answer is 90 percent of the time…Full-body.
The clock – I drew a circle on an index card. The first 30 minutes was blocked in red, the next 10 in blue, the next 8 in yellow, etc. I hid the card behind my oil bottle, right next to my clock. The red zone was for the back and posterior arms. The next 10 minutes for posterior legs and feet. Eight minutes for anterior legs, eight for anterior arms. Four minutes for head and scalp.
Keep the card in view and practice, and you will run on time.
Okay, so what to do when space aliens have stolen your brain and you don’t have enough time to finish a full massage? When fudgsicles happen, make fudge!
Swoop – Big, long, slow, wasting Swedish effleurages. Three swoops to a limb will still trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. A timeless coma will result.
Hide – Stay in the room at the end of the massage and hold up the client’s robe in front of your face and conveniently stand in front of the clock. Offer to assist by holding the robe while they slip in arms and stumble out. “Let me help you with your robe.” It works.
I don’t recommend what one therapist did to me one day at an otherwise nice day spa. She carefully pointed out the clock to me to show that we were running on time. At the end of the session I got up and looked over at an empty space. She had removed the clock!

Flames Climb Higher Than Hands

Those who do therapeutic massage are well aware of the statistics in the field. Burnout is a huge problem amongst therapists.

What I have often heard from people is that massage is too hard to do enough of it to be secure financially and take care of one’s personal needs as well. I’ve also heard from folks who don’t have much commitment to the field that they are surprised when it turns out massage is work, and they stay in the hobby-job cloud.

I have also heard the burnout complaint from therapists, who don’t charge enough, spend too much on frills or never take a vacation. I’ve never heard it from my core group of friends who have been practicing for nearly 20 years.

So I’m a bit surprised to say that this week I felt burnt out. Yes, dark and twisted like a used paper match. Done inside and out. Phhhht! burnout

There, I said it. I feel fried!

But I do take vacations – and the occasional mental health day – and I also vary the types of massages I do, and now I even limit the number of massages I do a week. I also coach other therapists and test them on techniques… what on earth is going on?

I think this tiredness is more than just needing a vacation. Next Steps: the self-audit, then the friend audit.

Here’s my list: Eating right? Exercising? Sleeping well? Time for me? Time for non-massage activities? Getting massage once a week? Going for acupuncture or chiro? Am I crabby?

OK, I flunked a bunch of those questions. I had a flood in my house early this year and my days off have been spent dealing with contractors, tossing, organizing and cleaning…my whole holistic schedule went phhhht. I realized the last time I did tai chi was at New Year’s break. So I have been rolling along thinking I was handling all this stuff, and it has caught up with me. One cannot be a balanced therapist without a balanced life.

My friend’s audit was a bit worse. I have been positively snappy when dealing with all the extra chores. Apparently I get up in the morning before work and like one possessed I crank right into my to-do list. Before work.

Well, the list is going bye-bye for now. I’ve booked a massage, a session with my counselor and my tai chi sensei. I’ve been acting like I lived on the kind of schedule my clients come in to undo. Lesson learned!

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Field Trips, Diaries and Memoirs

The day after the Fourth of July I took time off from massage to see the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The museum is a living testimony – every day a survivor of a death camp speaks to visitors. Pictures, old films and recordings bring those times alive.

I was not thinking about massage, really, as we made our way through an exhibit on the life and death of Anne Frank. Our tour guide pointed out that Jews were one percent of the European population at the time, but were made scapegoats for many problems that occurred after World War I.

As the noose of fascism closed around their necks, no country would take annefrankthem. No religious or political leaders spoke up for them. They were isolated and stripped of their humanity. What started as simple bullying transformed into organized genocide.

So what did it have to do with massage?

Pardon me while I answer my own question. I often see a substantial number of clients who have been bullied – something about them or their appearance or heritage – something brings out predatory behavior in some people. Often the bullying is public, and most people just stand by and observe.

It’s an unhappy facet of human nature and one that we all know and see at some point during our lives. And what of the ones who are bullied?

They often have chronic pain and stiffness leading them to the massage table. Sure it is not everyone who has ever been bullied, but a substantial number. I suppose some people who are made targets punch back and defeat their bullies.

Some thoughts to think about: Can people suffer the effects of aggression for many years after it occurs? Can we do something about it?

As a massage therapist, I think I already have those answers. Would it require changing the world? No, just letting people know when picking on others is not acceptable. I’d like to see fewer people for chronic tightness and pain caused by bullying and fear….






Massage with Attention and Distraction

Massage therapists know that many clients need to be listened to – really listened to – when they come in for therapy. But during the session there is something else that clients crave – the ability to be distracted away from their focus and relax.

I often use distraction in massage sessions, oddly enough in an attempt to help the client create mindfulness. A paradox? Yes, but it works.

In the anatomical sense, distraction means pulling one bone away from another to reduce contact – without injury to the joint.

In the massage practice sense, sometimes people are getting a massage to stop running ideas through their minds – to stop ruminating on a distractionproblem, pain or injury.

This is where as therapists, we can help clients by allowing them some time to put aside their problem or problems. It gives clients some time to divert attention, for example, by focusing on diaphragm breath, or feeling their shoulder as part of their bodies instead of a source of pain.

Surely the switch between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is in the driver’s seat during this process, but the touch of hands consoles and fosters the release of vigilance.

Giving the brain up to its basic self – respiration, registering the feel of nerves, bones and muscles, these are gifts for clients who have much stress. My biggest compliment can be a sleeping client at the end of a session.

A wise massage therapist can say: Sometimes the act of forgetting can be just as important as remembering.


Finding Your Best Massage Venue

A massage therapist starting to practice has quite a few challenges, not the least of which is finding the right place to practice.

Options are multiple: gyms, tennis clubs, spas, medical offices, chiropractic, acupuncture or p.t. clinics, clients’ homes, business conference rooms, hotels, chains, etc. Each has its advantages and drawbacks.

Sometimes the best option for newbie massage persons is to try as many locations as possible to determine where they would like to practice.Choices 1

The important factor in these experiences is to truly work in each venue – give it your all to see if the dynamics of a happy practice are there.

When I speak with others about their sense of success or commitment to massage as a career, opinions often track back to their personal investment in making a venue work.

The conflicts often come in when the venue requires a therapist to work out of their personal comfort zone. When I hear statements like “I didn’t get into massage to become a salesperson.” Or “I don’t think telling someone to come in once a week is ethical.”

These statements are comforting to some because they allow therapists reasons to not expand their skills. Choices like this should point therapists to seek a different venue.

I encourage therapists to put their objections aside just in case they are missing an opportunity – maybe the venue would work for them if they were more adaptable or had other skills in the mix.

Ultimately the choices we make, much in life and in work, are based on what we are willing to try and how hard we are willing to work.



Providing Post-Surgery massage to clients

Clients seek massage therapy for many reasons, and one of the most challenging for a therapist is chronic pain following surgery.

It’s a tough spot – here we are dealing with tissues that have had a direct surgical intervention – moved, touched, cut or compressed. We also are dealing with structures altered when the body’s healing response forms scar tissue and adhesions.

Massage therapy, thankfully, is low-tech when it comes to post-surgery pain. When I first began treating clients for this type of problem, I referred to muscular patterns of pain and overlapped them with “dermatome” patterns – meaning areas where disturbed nerves can cause pain.

Often stabbing or sharp pains can come from nerves that have developed adhesions or stress patterns from scar tissue pulling on them. These changes may occur far above the area where pain is felt. The massage is always gentle and soothing, following the course of nerves through plexuses and their redundant branches.

Another technique is pain mapping – each time the client returns we again map the pain areas to see if they have changed. If has altered or lessened the pain then the areas treated may be part of the disturbance.

Abdominal breathing is also an important part of these recovery massages. The diaphragm is inhibited by pain and restoring its function – awakening the “bellows” of the body allows for gentle stretching of muscles, organs and nerves. Ultimately diaphragm breathing is the gentlest massage of all.

Tips for Bringing Muscles Back to Life

As mysterious as the workings of the human body is, we massage therapists have learned a few tricks to bring errant, dysfunctional muscles back to working order.

I continue to be impressed by the methods of active release, also known as myofascial release, in reviving elements of structure and function to certain muscles.

I recently had the fun of trying to extricate a “burning” sensation in the left lumbar area over the area we associate with discs L-5 and S-1. This is a frequent complaint of people coming in for massage, and sometimes restoring circulation and tone don’t quite fix this problem.

Active release involves allowing the therapist to palpate the errant muscle and drawing it wobblethrough a complete range of motion. What people sometimes forget in this venue is that complete range of motion must be done by the client, not the therapist, to truly meet the definition of active release.

This took a good trusting relationship between me, the therapist, and my client. It helped that it was not the first time I have seen this client. It also helped that the client was suffering enough to be gung-ho about trying the step.

First, I demonstrated the full motion range to the client, then I asked the client to go through the motion with my verbal prompts. The actions of the suspected muscle, the multifidus, are varied between spinal stabilization in standing and bending, especially while holding a weight in front of the spine. I usually re-discover the aaaargh-factor of the multifidus muscle when I am trying to lift boxes onto a shelf in the garage. Or take them out.

Clients will come in and report such activity as garage-cleaning, house-cleaning, tub-cleaning, etc., followed by pain in the area later in the evening. If it has been a bad lift, the pain is immediate.

Once in a while a client will report trauma, such as falling off a ladder, or a fall during gymnastics, that will make me believe the mutlifidus is now stabilizing a spinous process or transverse process fracture. Off to the doctor they go. I can do active release for the multifidus after the fracture has healed.

This client was sitting on the massage table, back to me, while I palpated the area of the multifidus, just lateral to the spine and about a half-inch into the myofascial bundle. I kept constant pressure on the multifidus as the client bent forward, bent back and then rotated to the opposite side and bent forward. When the multifidus is particularly out of sync, I may do this with the client on their side and asking them to arch the back in this wobble-toy motion.

Give this technique a try with your massage-trading partner to see how it works for you. It’s another trick to hang onto when the clients present with a big pain in a very small area. Do you have your own version of this technique? I would love to hear some more….