Tag Archives: stress relief

Snappy Answers to Massage Questions…

Sometimes the best relief on a massage table is nice, firm Swedish efleurage. And with some clients, a quip is the best way to break the tension.
This is my homage to Mad Magazine’s Snappy Answers to – Massage — Questions…

Question: Been doing massage long?
Snappy Answers: You’re my first.
Ever since the parole board let me out.
My first client was Abraham Lincoln. Lousy tipper.

Does massage hurt?
Snappy Answers: Only if you pay extra.
Depends on how you tip.
No one has ever survived long enough to tell me.

Where do knots come from?
Snappy Answer: Knott’s Berry Farm.
Did you go to school to learn this?
Snappy Answers:
Yup, and I got an A in Elbow.
No, I watched a video. Once.
No, my arrest record kept me out.

How many massages can you do in a day?
Snappy Answers:
Depends on what I did the night before.
Six good ones. You’re my seventh.
Dunno. It’s my first day.

Who massages you?
Snappy Answers:
My cat. I use a lot of Band-Aids, but it feels great when she stops.
I prefer to relieve my tension at the shooting range.
My massage therapist retired after I took up bread-braiding.

Do you hands ever get tired?
Snappy Answers: I never use them.
Only if I knit instead of knead. Lucky for you, I left my needles at home.
Sometimes. That’s why it’s a walk-on-you massage today.

Massage with the Eyes in Your Fingers

There is a time in every massage when the therapist begins to rub the posterior neck. For many of our computer-burdened clients, it presents an opportunity to relieve the congestion of technology.

The head is supported by these many muscles, embedded with many layers, often adhesed, and near the source of many functions from sleep to mood to respiration.

Headaches emerge from these groups, as do disorders such as head-forward posture, and as some suspect even problems such as chronic fatigue.

So what do many of us do when we approach the root of these many complex problems? We effluerage upward, in the direction of the cranial vault and away from the shoulders.

Medical Illustrations by Patrick Lynch, generated for multimedia teaching projects by the Yale University School of Medicine, Center for Advanced Instructional Media, 1987-2000.

Medical Illustrations by Patrick Lynch, generated for multimedia teaching projects by the Yale University School of Medicine, Center for Advanced Instructional Media, 1987-2000.

Let me make a case that we are drawing our hands in the wrong direction. Take a look at the accompanying picture from Wikipedia. See all the muscular origins? The SCMs, the traps, the cervical erectors?

The upward effluerage comes from the general direction of Swedish massage, which is in the direction of the heart, following venous flow.

But at the shoulders, we are no longer drawing toward the heart, but away from it. This draws thumbs and hands into the great space at the under-cranium, the place where those headaches and balanced-head issues hide.

With congestion disorders from headaches to fibromyalgia, we may do much good for our clients by drawing down from the hairline toward the mid-trapezius.

Try drawing congestion away from the source, toward the crux of the trapezius. You might be surprised by the results.


Massage to Measures

Massage therapists like to think we help people deal with stress, injuries and fatigue. But how do we know we help?

Massage is, after all one-on-one. We are stars or idiots one hour at a time, and we often don’t take much credit for our clients’ successes or failures. Is a massage therapist a facilitator or a game-changer? Do we really know?

I’m reminded of the times I thought I had no clue what I was doing, only to have the client hop off the table and give me a compliment and a big tip.

But I also remember that once on vacation – after one particularly hideous massage from someone who thought they were fantastic – that I said thank you and left a tip anyway. I made a mental note of the therapist’s name in case I ever happened to go to this resort again so I could get someone else.measure

How we measure ourselves and our effectiveness in massage therapy is something of an emerging issue. In a practice that is more art than science, can we really measure ourselves?

People have often received treatments for medical conditions that have no proof or promise – but the treatments are tried in the belief that they may relieve suffering or repair the underlying condition. That is the art of medicine.

Can we also preserve the art of massage while some therapists attempt to move into the medical – and the reimbursed – field?

A recent post by long-time and very respected massage instructor Noel Norwick of Los Angeles asked the question on Facebook.

His question on medicalmassage@groups.facebook.com group referred to a study. It found that soothing talk – reassurance – worked just as well as physical therapy treatment after whiplash. Here’s the link: http://www.bodyinmind.org/treating-whiplash

It appears to say that treatment versus soothing talk have the same results. My comment was that it might say much about the quality or delivery of treatment instead of its effectiveness in the right hands.

Would that be the case if reassuring talk were compared to massage? I think not. Hope not. But let us ask this question another way – if we could offer nothing hands-on, would we offer reassuring speech? Isn’t that sometimes the de facto treatment for stress disorders – even though many of us would propose that massage would be much better?

Heavy Hearts, Light Touch

A massage therapist’s toolbox is crowd with all kinds of fancy techniques to address troubles in the body.

Yet one of the most effective techniques one can use to release tension is to say something. Just a little something to put the client at ease.

A small joke is letting clients know your empathy for their stress. Yes, the inmates are running the asylum. The Red Queen has lost her head. Welcome to the “e.r. for p.r.” Some people drive like they think –not. It is part of life to acknowledge the crazy and nonsensical.

Life teaches us that the way to release tension is to laugh, and sometimes it is the best solution to release thoracic tension during a massage.Transversus_thoracis

For people who have recently been through the wringer, and back again, it is good to remind ourselves that we can laugh at the strange things in life.

It gets clients ready to relax. It says you understand, that you have been there, and no matter what else transpires in the next hour, you have met a friend who gets it.

Not a bad way to start? It will not work for everyone, but it often is a great opening to healing energy. If the body can laugh, it can raise and lower the rib cage, it can expand and contract the diaphragm. It can liberate itself from the heavy weights of life.


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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The Snooze Button

It’s a great compliment to a massage therapist when the person receiving falls asleep during a session.

Those little zzz’s say trust, relief, serenity and healing. And for this massage therapist, it most often happens during the Swedish portion of the treatment, when long flowing strokes push dream-like consciousness over the line into sleep.

So what on earth is going on when the therapist finds a knot to end all knots and the client takes a snooze?

Let me explain. In the midst of a treatment combining myofascial release and TrP release for adhesions and tension in the temporalis and masseter group. My client went from “that’s it”…” to total zzzz’s. During trigger point release!

I hit the Travell & Simons (not Simons & Travell) trigger point chart – I had touched, very lightly, above anterior TrP1 of the temporalis. Whatever happened next was totally weird.Pterion

The client went into sleep, snoring lightly and diaphragm breathing for perhaps the first time since I’ve been treating her. Y-reka! A minute later it was gone.

“I don’t know where I went,” she said. “No idea. But it was nice.”

“I’m not sure either,” I said. “But you relaxed beautifully. I think your whole body just did a reboot.”

I’ve been looking in a lot of my massage books, but only finding general points to induce sleep. I flipped to Wikipedia for help. In this region the skull bones are thinnest. It is the junction of the coronal, sphenoid-parietal and squamous sutures. This area is certainly a big player in the TMJ patterns of jaw clenching and imbalanced sutures. Craniosacral anyone? Polarity?

Baffling. This little spot is called the Pterion. Uhuh. Try saying that with a mouthful of granola.

Exploring the Body’s Bermuda Triangles

Massage as therapy can be pretty basic. Therapists compress and glide along major muscle groups in the direction of the heart. The effort requires skill and practice. It reduces tension and boosts circulation of blood, taking some load off the heart.

That kind of therapy is refreshing and soothing. But what about the spots that make the tension return and impede circulation?

I have come to think of these areas as the Bermuda Triangles of the body. Stuff flies in, and it never flies out. Inside the stress of life is found: Too many hours at the computer, the unpleasant anger of a loved one, the contracted fear of an old injury.bermuda triangle

For myself, and I suspect most therapists, the challenge in massage is to identify and release these zones so the person has a massage outcome that lasts and gradually heals the area. Easier said than done.

My most frequent triangle is at the posterior shoulder, roughly the area of the infraspinatus. This area tends to get skipped in general massage that focuses on major muscle such as trapezius.

In this area I often find near stone like contractions, loads of trigger points and for whatever reason, unresolved grief. Slow gentle work from Swedish to rolling to restore circulation leads to light and gradual TRP work and lymphatic drainage. When this area feels “normal” again – that is its temperature and texture feel like the rest of the body, headaches, chronic shoulder pains and even thoracic outlet symptoms fade.

My next Bermuda Triangle is the upper posterior shoulder/neck. Here lay a number of stuck structures: posterior scalenes, the oft-forgotten serrate posterior superior among them. What lies beneath? Treatment here often opens the diaphragm, perhaps by inhibiting reverse breathing.

For the stuck pelvis, along with referral hip and lumbar pain, I find the next triangle at the posterior-medial thigh. Here hamstrings often stick to neighboring adductors, pulling the legs inward and affecting balance. This area seems to be directly connected to unexplained pelvic pain in women. Hmmm.

My next fun zone is the medial calf. Here lies the only area of the soleus and posterior tibialis accessible to massaging hands. Here lies also a lot of leg stiffness, ankle dysfunction and lack of stability. Even simple effluerage help in this no-man’s land of the leg. With major lymphatic channels deep to the soleus, virtually on the posterior tibia, this is an action zone for swollen feet.

Some themes arise from the patterns. The lower body triangles are very protected and core supporting. The uppers are surprisingly accessible but daunting. It is very difficult to apply techniques there because of a combination of pain and sensitivity there. Some first massages are simply spent making the brain aware of these spots.

As ever I am curious how therapists deal with these areas and how they identify ”Bermuda Triangles” in their clients….



Helping your clients set goals for their massage sessions

I always like to check in with new clients on their goals for massage. Do they want to improve sleep, performance, reduce aches, release stress, etc.

I like to give people a few choices on my intake, plus the opportunity to mark “all of the above.”  Lots of “aota’s” later, I have come to see what it truly means to some clients. One such new client put it so well:

“I would like to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.”

His statement made us both laugh, because it often sums up what we all want in life: freedom. We want freedom to enjoy activities without thinking about consequences.choice

I have to admit that massage cannot deliver that goal.

“When I get to that place myself, I’ll let you know,” I said.

Meanwhile, it made me think about what am I really selling as a massage therapist. When I find, treat and track dysfunction I am perhaps vending exactly the opposite: Allowing people the opportunity to choose after careful consideration of their abilities and consequences.

We all have choices, and we make them sometimes a bit too quickly. Choosing to stay at a job that is no longer fair or fun is a choice: people make those decisions for other kinds of rewards. When they come in for massages, I try to help them survive and feel better about that choice.

Massage can’t fix a lot but it can set the mood for people to adapt and make better choices when it comes to stretching, exercise, foods or sleep.

If I think back to my sandbox days, it was all about trying to have things my way – and I was guided to make a better choice for myself and for the future. Human nature, in deed.

Perhaps I would suggest this goal instead:

I would like to be able to do what is good for me, I would like to enjoy doing good for me, and I would like to do it when it is best for me to do it.

Stress Experts Love Massage

At this time in my massage therapy career, I think I have got the whole stress thing down.

Then something pops up that tells me: HA! Yes, HA! A very karmic and cosmic and pulse-wave HA!

My family and i have been living in a hotel for nearly a month following flooding at my home. A simple toilet clog and my house was drenched with watery pooh. Men in white mooon suits put big hair dryers in every room, and me, the dog and my 90-year-old mother-in-law were off to the land of free hot breakfasts. Oh, did I mention that hunnybuns went to the emergency room? In all the rush for towels, my dear one fell and snapped a thumb ligament.

All together, we are very lucky. Lucky insurance is covering almost everything, lucky the damage was mostly to floors and drywall, lucky hunnybun’s injury was not worse. We are sleeping in nice beds. I don’t have to wash my massage sheets by banging them on a wet rock. During this I have found the stress meter running into the red zone. Yes, that stress meter, the scale I thought I had zenned my way through emerging on the other side a massage therapist for all seasons. I have managed to get to the office and clear my head before sessions, but with a new respect for abrupt chaotic change.

One of my regular clients is also a stress expert. A tax-time CPA and stock market man. He knows what it is like to let the car inch along a half-mile line for the late-open post office on April 15. Those fun moments in the life of a tax guy have diminished now that one can file electronically, but the neck knots are souvenirs. I had to call him to change his appointment time. (Did you know that all the flooring stores close Nt 5? And cabinet stores are all closed on Mondays? I found out.)

We gotta get you out of the hotel, he said. Thanks for understanding and letting me change your appointment, I said. No problem, he said. Trust me I know how bad stress can get. I used to have a small office at the house. I didn’t use it much but occassionaly especially at tax time. I was working 18-hour days one year because I took on too much. I was at the house and getting ready to go to the office when I could not find my wallet. I looked everywhere. It took hours and I went through everything, the car, the house, the office, and no wallet. Finally I had to cancel all my cards and make an appointment for a new ID. I was so upset.

Next day I go into the home office right after my wife was in there getting something and I see the wallet sitting there right in the middle of the desk. I’m like, you just put the wallet there, right? She says no, and I can’t believe it. I’m like you are playing a joke, right? And she starts to get mad at me and says she didn’t go near the desk. The wallet must have been sitting there in plain sight the whole time I was looking for it and I couldn’t see it.

Well, I got stressed out too, I said. This week I convinced a cabinet guy to open the door of his closed shop so I could pick out a vanity. I took hunnybuns for outpatient surgery and played nurse. Do you know you cannot tie shoes with one hand? Or open jars, shower, or fold laundry, or get the leash on the dog?

The kicker is I went over to the house to get the mail after work one evening. I spent 30 minutes trying to squeeze through stacked furniture to get to the mailbox key hung in the kitchen until I gave up and went back to the hotel. Frustration!

Next day we’re having coffee and hunnybuns looks at my car keys and holds them up. What are these?

When we left from the flood I must have put the mailbox keys on my car key chain and forgot. I am so use to having everything in its place i didn’t even check my car keys. Hiding in plain sight!

Stress really can do bad things to your brain….HA!

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.