Dear Client: Your massage is about YOU…

….NOT your therapist.

I know it’s time to write when I’m being dogged (and unnerved) by a recurring theme.

The last six new clients I’ve seen have all talked about their last/past experiences of massage with other therapists.  And it’s not good.

(Note to other area LMTs…your clients are coming to me!!)

Not all complaints are the same.  However, their root cause is.  The simple fact that a Licensed Massage Therapist doesn’t listen to, or act on, the needs of their client.  And it completely baffles me.  Just a few of the horror stories I’ve heard just from the past few weeks…

1) One of my regulars kept telling me she was trying to get a co-worker to come see me after complaining of some upper back pain.  The way my client was describing her responses, it was as if she was scared to see me.  When she finally couldn’t take the pain anymore, she decided to schedule an appointment.  Upon talking with her, I got her to open up about her apprehension in coming.  Apparently, her last massage left her in tears.  She has/had severe trigger points (painful knots and restrictions) between her shoulder blades.  Instead of her last therapist working within her pain tolerance, she was using as much pressure as her pointy little fingers and elbows could muster.  The therapist’s response when my client told her, through tears, it was too painful???  “I know, but we have to get these out!”   And I could tell she was still very apprehensive about getting on my table.  After reassuring her that communication would be crucial and constant throughout her first session and that she would dictate the amount of pressure I would use every step of the way, I could see a glimpse of trust coming over her.
Bottom line: she was heard, her requests were honored, I kept my word, and trust was established.  Not only is she now a firm believer in massage, but she has scheduled several more sessions to continue to address her issues.

2) A gentleman – also complaining of pain between his shoulder blades.  Upon walking in my door, he started talking about purchasing a package…even before he knew what my style of massage was like.  I smiled, thanked him, and suggested he wait until after his first session to be sure I was the right therapist for him.  (Appreciation already showing in his face.)  During our consult, he was comfortable enough to tell me that the last few therapists he saw simply wouldn’t do what he asked.  Asking several times to increase the pressure, to concentrate more on his areas of discomfort, etc., his requests went ignored and he was “resigned to pay $60+ to have someone rub cream on him.”  This, I find, is a common complaint.
Bottom line:  I addressed trigger points causing him so much discomfort, he allowed me to work other areas that were contributing to the problem, and he knew at the end of the session he was on his way to alleviating his pain.  He, too, scheduled several more sessions to continue his work.

3)  In 2011, I did about a six-month stint at a local massage business across town.  And while I made some very nice therapist/client connections there, ethically, I would not pursue any of them after my departure.  However, there were a few who inquired as to my whereabouts and found me, either by referral from said practice, or through a search of their own.  After an entire year had passed, I received a call from one of those clients.  Upon consult, I learned that he had been going to different therapists trying to find someone who would listen to him.  He said, “It seems like they all have their own routine and that’s all they know/want to do.”  He also told me that they would spend only a little time on the areas causing him the most discomfort and spend too much time on areas that didn’t bother him much at all (these areas being what most other clients complain about).
Bottom line:  I listened, I addressed his specific issues with time and attention to detail, and it was the first time in a year he felt any kind of relief.  He has already scheduled his next appointment and, since his mandatory daily activities contribute to these issues, he will continue to reschedule as needed.

YOUR bottom line…interview your therapist well.  You will have some understanding in your initial contact over the phone by how much time and information the therapist is willing to share with you.  Did they ask you specific questions about your discomfort?  Did they ask if you’ve ever received massage before?  Were they able to offer some helpful ideas until you’re able to get to your appointment (perhaps another three days away)?  Were they confident in their answers to you?   Did the therapist have reservations about meeting your needs and refer you to another, perhaps more specialized, therapist?   These are all indicative of a conscientious, well-trained LMT and worth considering a visit.  The interview process should not stop there, however, and much more information should be gathered and discussed prior to your getting on the table.

For some, it’s a matter of spending some time and money until you find the right therapist.  But, as mentioned in scenario #1, it’s sometimes a matter of one horrific experience which can scar you to the point of never trusting an LMT again.  It’s an unfortunate occurrence for the client, as well as for the industry itself.  Like the old saying goes, “If they like you, they may tell a friend. If they don’t like you, they’ll tell everybody!”

I applaud this woman for having faith in her co-worker and giving massage another chance.  And, as we both can attest, I’m grateful she placed her faith in me.

Any thoughts?

WYSI-nn-WYG (What you see is Not Necessarily what you get)

In my last post, I skirted around another reason massage is so beneficial…one in which I can personally attest.  If you don’t suffer from it yourself, you likely know someone who does.  It is prevalent in the US, continually in the media, and more women fall victim to it than men…more every year.  I’m talking about negative body image.

Presently, I’m not sure what is saturating public awareness more…the actual retouching/photoshopping of images to a non-attainable standard, or the movement to bring a message of truth to young girls that their body is not what gives them value or worth.  And I’m not speaking to obesity.  That, for purposes of writing, would fall under health issues.  No, I’m talking about a beautiful work of art, crafted by the Almighty, who has been convinced by fashion magazines and the like that her body is flawed because she doesn’t wear a size 0.   The pornographic industry also does its share of convincing women that men are only attracted to physical perfection, or rather an over-inflated version of it.  I could go on for days, but it’s likely nothing you haven’t heard before.  But what you may not have heard is how massage therapy can help a woman who possesses negative thoughts with regard to her body.

For reasons I won’t bother explaining, I have suffered from body image issues for the past twenty-plus years.  Doesn’t matter why, all that matters is that it existed for me to the point that I refused to even look at myself in the mirror after a shower.  I just remember feeling ashamed and ugly.  So, when I began my second semester in massage school, I was scared to death.  The first semester was all science…show up, hear lecture, test out, move on.  After roughly a two-week break, it was across the hall to the hands-on room and all that stood between that massage table and my storage cubbie was a few shoji screens (those oriental tri-fold panels).  Undress, walk across a gym-sized room donning only a bath towel, and be a guinea pig for other students on which to practice.  So you can imagine when a student is practicing their draping methods and accidentally uncovers a breast, or better yet, is trying to work on the abdomen and slips that sheet down a little too quickly past the hips, how it may be a rather traumatic experience for someone like me.

Now, the introduction of my body to an onlooking world was purely by force.  I say that with humor…now.  Yes, I can honestly say I hated getting on that table for the first month or so, but sometimes that’s what is needed.  If not someone else forcing me (the school) then forcing myself to do the work necessary to overcome this great obstacle.  Dealing with body-image issues in an internal work, not an external one.  Yes, nutrition and movement are an integral part of being healthy, but it is the change in perception of who you are that will begin the healing process.  And who you are has nothing to do with what you look like.

Getting on the massage table for these folks is the biggest challenge.  It is also the most courageous one.  It means they have taken a positive step toward learning to accept their bodies…no matter the shape, size, number of scars, disfiguration, or color…which will, in turn, allow them to stop ruminating.  Having your primary focus in life be the image that stares back at you from the mirror is consuming and defeating.  Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, even if for just one person – a massage therapist – can be the first step in the healing process.

Being unhappy with our bodies has serious, and sometimes lifelong, ramifications. Feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing can set up a lifetime of self-deprecating behaviors. What regularly scheduled massage allows us to do is “get back” into our bodies and reconnect with ourselves. Massage can help us release physical and mental patterns of tension, enhancing our ability to experience our bodies (regardless of their shape and size) in a more positive way. Just as it facilitates our ability to relax, massage also encourages an awareness of the body, often allowing us to more clearly see and identify destructive behaviors, including overeating or purging.*

Massage also creates a sense of nurturing that is especially powerful when it comes to poor body image. Accepting the nonjudgmental touch of a trained therapist goes a long way toward rebuilding an appreciation and respect for your own body. If we find acceptance for who we are and how we look, we are giving ourselves permission to live comfortably in the skin we have.*

Touch is a powerful ally in the quest for physical and mental health. It not only can help you be more in tune with your body, but it can help create a sense of wellness and “wholeness” that is often lost in our segmented, over-scheduled lives. When we regain that connection, it’s much easier to remember that our bodies are something to be cherished, nurtured, and loved, not belittled, betrayed, and forgotten.*

Below is a link to one of my favorite, most honest and affirming articles ever written with regard to what a massage therapist thinks when you are on their table.  If you have even the slightest apprehension about receiving massage – negative body issues or not – take this article to heart.

Eight Things I Learned from 50 Naked People

A negative body image is not necessarily about those few extra pounds on the hips. It might instead be tied to the scars of past injuries and surgeries. Massage can help here, too. For burn victims, research has shown massage can help in the healing process, while for post-surgery breast cancer patients, massage and bodywork can reintegrate a battered body and spirit. In addition to softening scar tissue and speeding post-surgery recovery, massage and bodywork for these clients is about respect, reverence, and learning to look at, and beyond, the scars.*

So?  How do you see yourself?  Are you content with the person looking back at you from the mirror or do you turn away?  If you are struggling to accept what you see, perhaps connecting with a caring massage therapist is a positive step toward creating a healthy self-image.

Any Licensed Massage Therapists who would like to leave their information in the comments section in order to make themselves available to those seeking this type of therapy are encouraged to do so.  Members of other industries involved in the promotion of healthy self-image are welcome to leave their info, as well.

*Positive Body Image Through Touch, ABMP

Tell me where she is…I’ll go beat her up for ya! Part II

As mentioned in my previous post, people donning raised eyebrows when telling them you’re off to get a massage aren’t in-the-know as much as they think they are.  Yes, massage feels good.  And, yes, for some it is purely a way to indulge themselves every so often.  However, for a variety of reasons, some which may surprise you, massage is an absolute necessity for many.

For stress:

  • Decrease anxiety.
  • Enhance sleep quality.
  • Greater energy.
  • Improve concentration.
  • Increase circulation.
  • Reduce fatigue.

It’s a huge topic, and I’m only going to touch on it.  Let’s face it, everyone and every-body is stressed.  Work, family, places to go, people to see, deadlines, lack of sleep, divorce, illness, death, addictions, diet…you name it, it’s stressful.  And nowadays you can dismiss the old “but some of it is good stress.”  Good stress is the type of emotional challenge where a person feels in control and provides some sense of accomplishment…much easier to attain were we not a nation continually fighting an onslaught of unremitting pressures on a daily basis, brought on by others or ourselves.  Stress causes us to feel anxious, lose sleep, and lack focus…not to mention the perpetual knot we feel in our stomach when we ruminate, or can’t “shut it off”.   And while we definitely need stress and for our bodies to react when we’re jumping out of the way so as not to get hit by a car (fight or flight), our bodies do not differentiate emotional stress and physical stress.

For health issues:

  • Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
  • Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays.
  • Ease medication dependence.
  • Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system.
  • Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
  • Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
  • Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ—the skin.
  • Increase joint flexibility.
  • Lessen depression and anxiety.
  • Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks.
  • Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.
  • Reduce postsurgery adhesions and swelling.
  • Reduce spasms and cramping.
  • Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.
  • Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller.
  • Relieve migraine pain.

All of these….absolutely true!  Did you know about even half in this list?  Do you even know what some of these mean to your body or specifically HOW massage helps do these things??  Yeh….if I wasn’t an LMT I wouldn’t either.  And that’s the unfortunate dilemma with regard to educating the public or other health practitioners as to the validity of using massage as an alternate method of helping the body heal itself.  It’s getting there, but massage has a long way to go in being recognized as legitimate healthcare.  And because there are so many false beliefs and attitudes circulating already with regard to the massage industry, it’s just that much more difficult to find credibility…has anybody seen “The Client List”?

There are many other reasons massage is beneficial, however, there is one reason, in particular, I hold near and dear to my heart.  But to do it justice, I’ll save it for the next post.  It’s good…and if you don’t suffer from it yourself, you  probably know someone who does.  Till then…

Stay in touch.

Tell me where she is…I’ll go beat her up for ya! Part I

Without being obsessive about it, I have a client who takes very good care of herself…eats organic, does yoga, plays often, etc…and gets massage when her body tells her it’s time.  It’s just her way.  She possesses a high-stress job and her chief complaints usually take the form of neck/shoulder pain and headaches. So, when she contacted me last week with details of her issues and what may be contributing to them, I exhorted her for being so body-aware and for always implementing the advice I give her to expedite her progress.  You know what she says to me?

“People make fun of me for being so aware but, it helps me I know!”

I said, “What?  They make fun of you?”

She replies with, “Yeh…they say ‘oh, you’re going to get massage again??'”

Much to my surprise, I felt a little indignant after that conversation…like I wanted to go find that woman and beat her up for picking on my friend!  And then I realized that this is, of course, a common response by people who don’t receive massage on a regular basis and have preconceived notions that it’s all an indulgent, spa-type experience. So, in true Maria fashion…gloves off!

So let me tell you what I really think!

As I stated in a previous post, about 98% of my clients come to see me for very specific issues…painful ones.  Sadly, with new clients, I am typically their last “resort” and nowhere near their first option.  Most medical staff lack in-depth knowledge regarding soft tissues restrictions and how they cause pain and imbalance…that’s not an assumption – many clients tell me about their conversations with their doctors.  With the lack of doctors on board with massage therapy (and gunning for an MRI, a pill or a knife), it’s no wonder people have a distorted view of what massage really is and can do, not to mention that massage may be an alternative, less invasive therapy.

My next post will be written specifically for the “…massage again??” crowd.  It could take a novel to explain all that massage can do, but I’ll try to keep it brief and to the point.  Actually, don’t take my word for it…just look at what my clients have to say …  http://www.syracusemassagestudio.com/#!testimonials

What makes me a better therapist?

No, I’m not referring to how I rank amongst the fourteen other therapists down the road.  What I mean is… what factors will contribute to my being a better therapist each day for my clients?  Well…there are three I can think of right now.

1.  Never stop learning.  When LMTs fulfill their state-mandated number of course hours, they have learned only the basics…the minimum requirement for passing the state boards.  Granted, we learn a LOT, but it’s really only scratching the surface (no pun intended…ok, well, maybe a little).  And we learn this very quickly when we begin our new practice – whether we contract with a local business, or we create our own.  As excited as we are to “change the world”, we quickly realize the world has some major problems in which a feel-good, fluff-n-buff isn’t going to solve.  Only through continuing education courses, keeping up on the latest techniques, reading various industry journals, and a willingness to stretch herself, will a therapist find success with her clients and thrive in her business.

2.  Constant communication.  I would have to say that only 2% of my clientele come to see me purely for relaxation purposes.  The other 98%??  Chronic pain.  And when seeing those people for the first time, we have a long, leisurely talk about whatever they want to talk about.  Granted, most therapists won’t go quite that far or can afford the time to do this…at least to the degree I do.  If time allows, I’ve spent upwards of 45 minutes gabbing with a client and when they talk, I listen.  They usually tell me most of what I need to know about their issues.  Sleep patterns, work habits, how they drive, how stressful their job is, when their divorce will go through, what they ate for lunch, which ankle they broke four years ago, etc.  Believe it or not, all of these can factor into their painful issues and I let them know why and how.  We have a lengthy conversation about all of it, and then we talk about the work itself before we get started.  Why?  Primarily to alleviate fear of the unknown.  When a client knows what’s coming in the next hour, their whole countenance changes.  They’re no longer frustrated that “no one can help them” but are encouraged and optimistic that their therapist knows what she’s talking about and, well, “hey, this just might work”.  I’ve had many, many clients tell me this was their first glimmer of hope of finding a solution to their chronic pain, or that what we’ve been working on in their sessions is actually producing results.  Communication doesn’t stop there, though.  After each session, we talk about how they feel…do they notice any changes?  Feel less restricted?  In most instances, clients become more body-aware…something they take home with them, which fosters better habits, postural or otherwise.  I also send them home with several things: 1) instructions regarding the application of heat/cold therapy, as well as upping their intake of H2O; 2) mild stretching techniques which I’ve demonstrated before they leave the studio; and 3) sometimes, if the work was particularly intense, I’ll give them a sample of a topical analgesic to apply over the next day or two, or, if they’ve been having trouble sleeping, I’ll mix some massage creme with a relaxation blend of essential oils to apply before bedtime.  I follow up with new clients in the next day or two with a phone call to see how they’re feeling, answer any questions they may have, etc.  When they come back, we start the conversation again…this time it’s more about the changes they’ve experienced and how best to proceed with treatment.

3.  Last, but certainly not least….feeling your pain.  I’ll admit, I hate this part but, honestly, it’s the most beneficial thing that makes me a better therapist.  I frequently suffer from (non-work related) migraines, neck and shoulder pain, and low back/buttocks/right thigh pain due to a hip imbalance (my right leg is about an inch shorter than my left).  But because I know what these feel like, I can pinpoint areas intuitively on my clients and quite successfully alleviate their pain in most cases.  There have been one or two times when I believe I’ve incurred pain in other, atypical areas by divine intervention….yes, I said that.  Because three days after said pain, I’d get a client with the exact same ailment…one I’d have a difficult time treating specifically if I had not gone through it myself.

All of that being said, I just realized that what will make me a better therapist is simply being aware of the fact that I want to be a better therapist and will continue to strive to be such.   My clients somehow know that…and so do all their friends they’ve sent my way.

Any thoughts?

~Maria

Let’s get it started…

Welcome!  This is the first entry, of which I hope there are many more, of an ongoing dialogue with the massage therapy client.  As a few of my current clients can attest, there is no lack of information for me to share when it comes to the restoration and well-being of someone who is experiencing discomfort on a daily basis.  Whether that discomfort is in the form of headaches, low back pain, stabbing sensations in the shoulders, or achy legs…in most cases, there is likely a solution, therefore, there is work to be done.

But before we get rolling, there are a few things you should know:

One…this is an informational blog about massage therapy to the client.  Not other practitioners, not students of massage, not social media gurus, etc.  No…topics discussed here will be, for the most part, written in plain English and easy for the client to understand.  Technical terms will be few, and only when I feel it’s important enough to be included in one’s everyday vernacular.

Two….the above statement is only half-true.  This is an informational blog about massage therapy, yes, but also about other health-related topics such as food (not diet), movement (not –cough- exercise), work, play, breathing, stress, sleep, and what goes through your head and heart on any given day.  All of these contribute to the condition of the body’s tissues and overall health.  (If diet and exercise are your thing, bonus points!  BUT, food and movement are an integral part of feeling your best and it is a completely individualized process.)

And three…

I am not a healer. 

According to Farlex Free Online Dictionary:

v. healed, heal·ing, heals
v.tr.

1. To restore to health or soundness; cure.
2. To set right; repair: healed the rift between us.
3. To restore (a person) to spiritual wholeness.
v.intr.  To become whole and sound; return to health.
More importantly, and more revealing:  Noun 1. healingthe natural process by which the body repairs itself.

Did you catch that?  …. “by which the body repairs itself.”  Any practitioner claiming to be a healer, needs to consult another definition: narcissism.  Narcissism: inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.

Massage therapy, and the like, can assist the body in the repair process, but it cannot heal or cure a condition on its own.  It is very much a collaborative effort on the part of the client (which I’ll address in more detail at another time), a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT),  Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, osteopath, personal trainer, etc., depending on the issues to be addressed.  An LMT works with your body – we ask the tissues to consider giving up some of their anger and give way to the pressure and heat we offer so as to calm and soothe painful points in the neck, shoulders, etc.  (Every now and then a client will come along who has named their trigger points – what most people refer to as ‘knots’.  I had one client who named hers after her ex-husband and two teenagers.) .  We politely (and sometimes not so politely) manipulate tissues to soften their stance in some areas, thereby allowing the opportunity to strengthen tissues in others.  And, many times, it is simply a retraining of the soft tissues to go where we want them to go in order to alleviate pain and restore balance.  But by no means can I refer to myself by a term that denotes that I, and I alone, am responsible for the progress that takes place within a body responsive to change.  If you do happen to find someone claiming that distinction, better check and make sure they have Messiah on their resume, as well.

I’d much rather say that I “run interference” when referring to what my education and experience have afforded me.  When a client presents with pain, my primary goal is to alleviate it, yes, but there’s only so much I, as an LMT, can do.  The client has much homework after they leave until their next visit, such as mild stretching, increasing their water intake on a daily basis, making adjustments in their work environment and sleep habits…just to name a few.  Becoming “body-aware” is such an integral part of the healing process – thoughts precede action.  Action gets results.  Only the client can take complete control as to the progress of their healing.

There are, of course, some people in which, for a variety of reasons, there is no healing of a particular issue … that is when we call the work involved management.  Whether it be for pain, balance, or mobility, sometimes all we can do is explore ways to manage a problem that can never fully go away.  Another topic for another day.

‘Til then, feel free to write me with any comments, criticisms, or questions.  I’m happy to answer any and all within the scope of this practice.  I’m also happy to give you my opinion on a number of other things, too!