What’s it like being a massage therapist?
I have been a massage therapist for 32 years and a more rewarding and varied career I couldn’t have had. I came into massage, after eight years of general and psychiatric nursing. I always wanted to be a nurse from a child; unfortunately it was not the hands on career I thought it would be. I loved the holistic nature of psychiatry and massage for me has always been much more hands on and filled a gap which no one else seemed to fill.
Who were my clients?
My clients were mainly men and women of all ages, with a variety of problems and issues with muscular aches and pains of one sort or another, normally brought about by stress, anxiety and tension. Exacerbated by poor posture, lack of exercise or stretching and the inability to make time to relax and de-stress. Naturally the opinion of the day was that these clients were wealthy with excess income to spare, to enable them to pay for a relaxing treatment. The reality was far from the truth. These clients were in extreme discomfort, suffering aches and pains which impacted on their sleep patterns, there movements and interfered with there life style.
Many were elderly on a pension who could ill afford the treatment but found the benefits made all the difference to there quality of life and improved the mobility for every day living. Treatments were definitely not a luxury but a necessity to keep body and soul together.
These days I am surprised at how many teenagers and children are benefiting from a massage. Rucksacks and holdalls are very big and heavy and definitely affecting posture alongside the postural pressures from computers and mobile telephones. Peer pressure and the media cause much stress to our children and skills to combat this are often forgotten
I was delighted to discover that the benefits of the movements I had been taught were very evident in the release of the muscles, which changed from being very solid and firm with very little movement in them to being malleable and soft and allowed me to identify clearly the lactic acid crystals trapped within the muscles. I could then work on breaking these crystals down so that the body could eliminate them more easily. I can stimulate the body’ natural endorphins with frictions for pain relief. Generally the massage movements all combined to stimulate all body systems and allow the body to work more efficiently as well as allowing the client to feel more relaxed and giving them a wonderful sense of wellbeing.
I found that most of my treatments were addressing lower back pain which 70% of the population appear to suffer from. Many clients having sciatic pain turned out to be much more muscular, which I could remedy and improve rather than being a functional skeletal issue.
My most common treatment was for the shoulders and neck with clients having referred tingling and numbness down the arms and I found that when I loosened the muscles the referred pain disappeared. With the introduction of computers and mobile telephones most people have solid muscles in the shoulder and neck. Posture is often the cause of chronic pain in this area particularly with office workers, where the neck seem to shorten and the client found it impossible to lengthen the neck muscles again
Many headaches seem to come from tight muscles in the neck and I found that with regular treatment headaches would either reduce or disappear altogether as long as a client had treatments on a maintenance level once of twice a month after an initial course. Migraine suffers as well reported less incidence if there stress levels were reduced and they had a regular massage.
One lady I treated could hardly walk or sit comfortably and her quality of life was hugely diminished. She had been diagnosed with arthritis but could not have a knee or hip replacement because of other health issues. Over a course of treatments to the lower back and legs her mobility improved enormously, she was able to sit comfortably again, cross her legs which she was delighted to be able to do and eventually ventured out and walked to the bus stop again. No doubt these treatment make a a huge difference to mobility issues.
The essence of a full body massage is so much aimed towards wellbeing and relaxation that many of my clients suffered mental health issues and found a massage very beneficial for leasing anxiety, stress and tension.
There is no treatment for arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis etc but I found over the years that because no one knows how much of the pain is arthritis and how much is due to the muscles in the area, that massage has helped enormously to reduce the amount of discomfort and improve the mobility in areas that have been put down to another diagnosis. Other conditions that have successfully responded to treatment have been Ankelosing spondilitis and fibromaylagia patients.
Many diagnosed disorders have stress related roots and I have found that many skin and digestive disorders can be normalised and improved by reducing the stress a client is experiencing and I think the massage helps people to remember what it is like to be relaxed which very often we forget when a state of tension is the norm. We also managed to notice, a lot quicker when problems where occurring in the body because we were in tune with the problems that were normal and noticed abnormal incidences quicker.
I really enjoy the fact there is so much variety to what I do. No two people are alike no two bodies are the same, everyone presents differently. All pain thresholds are personal and it amazed me to discover that adapting the pressure of your hands from one person to another is so important.
The power of touch
Much has been written about the power of touch and to have a career where you touch people all day is very relaxing. Massage has always been compared with “stroking a cat” for its benefit to give as well as receive. It is hard work though and most new therapists lose weight in the first year. Posture is vital as well as having a correct couch height. I was taught to lunge into different movements and have developed a dance around the body to make sure I used all of my body weight and not just my hands.
I found it vitally important to build a good relationship with the local GP’S and nurses in the area. I invited them to come and have a free demonstration of the treatments I was doing and offered any referrals they thought would benefit from a treatment a reduced price. As a consequence, I was invited to speak and do a workshop with 200 GP’s at a Conference. I discovered that maybe a third of Gp’s back in the 1980’s were all for working with complementary therapies. A third was never going to think it was anything more than quackery and a third were sitting on the fence and couldn’t decide. Many GP’s referred patients and many came and had their complementary treatments. I ended up working from a dr’s surgery at one time, giving many talks and demonstrations to hospital staff and consultants and generally worked closely with the NHS.
The whole massage experience is a very personal and intimate one and I learned that many situations can be avoided by being extremely professional. Wearing a clean and neat professional uniform is a must. Making sure boundaries are very clear between you and your client. The more professional you are the clearer the relationship between you. You need to look, act and speak professionally. The only time I have had any problems to deal with is when I have allowed myself to become familiar either in speech or manner. My advice when dealing with family or friends is to let them know that when you have your uniform on in the clinic environment, you are in professional mode.
When I qualified in 1986 there were only two of us in North Devon doing therapeutic massage. Training courses were few and far between and you needed to travel to London or Blackpool to find a reputable college course. Training was over 2 long weekends with practice in between; the treatment was 90 minutes long and extremely thorough including the back, legs. stomach; arms; head, neck and face and finally the feet. These days very few therapists massage the stomach and very few movements are taught for the head or neck if at all and the treatments are generally one hour.
Professor Arnould Taylor who founded ITEC – International Therapy Examination Council was my Anatomy and Physiology tutor and the training was over one weekend at Imperial College in London with a written essay format exam. These days the exam includes Pathologies and many more diseases and disorders for each body system.
You really do need to know all about the AP&P to be a successful therapist and clients are very impressed if you can name the muscles they are having problems in. Lay terminology is all very well but being able to hold you own with medical terminology is a must. You also feel such a fool if a client comes in with a disease or disorder that you haven’t heard of, so keeping abreast is vital.
Fitting around the family
I was a one parent family when I started my business and my treatments worked beautifully around first play group then school hours and holidays. Its is also not too difficult to cancel clients if a child is taken ill. I built up a steady clientele very quickly and soon working full time but always able to have a day off when I pleased and leave early when I wanted, so this is a very adaptable career to have.
Nowadays I am teaching and running my own training school and still keeping my hand in, doing treatment in between classes and other commitments. Even when I finish teaching in retirement I hope to always be able to top up my pension with a treatment or two. I have had a very successful and varied career and loved very minute of it and still do. I am hoping I have given you a little incite into what it is really like and of course I haven’t even mentioned all the other treatments you can add to your massage training.
Gail Lowe – Blog
Principal of Devon Academy of Complementary Therapies