Get comfy because I’m a bit wordy here.
After a few moments of listening to me speak, it’s quite evident I’m a transplant from south Louisiana. The southern drawl is real. I grew up and went to school there (Geaux Tigers!) but have been in Oregon since 2011. People frequently ask what brought me out here. Simply stated, I just needed to experience something different. In 2006, I vacationed in the Mt. Hood area and rented a cabin in Welches that backed up to the Sandy River. I fell in love and knew I needed to call that place home. My dream was always to live as a recluse, preferably among the trees, and away from everything. I envisioned my future as living off the grid and writing about social justice and political rhetoric. All I need are my dogs and a WIFI connection…. But I moved to the Portland area and have been here since.
Fun facts about me: I’m an Aries. I love to kayak. My Zen is found out on the water. I am a fair-weather paddler, so if the water temp dictates a dry suit, I hike or go wine tasting. I self-identify as a runner. I joined my school’s track team in the 6th grade and have been running since. It’s what I do to stay sane, so I don’t do a lot of racing. I like to think I’m not competitive but I know that totally changes when I step up to a starting line. Before the start, I’m discretely hanging out near the port-a-potties, but when that gun goes off, I’m all elbows, mowing people down. It’s a weird juxtaposition for me, so I just avoid it most of the time.
A question I am frequently asked is about the type of massage I give. The short answer is client-centered evidence-informed massage therapy. The response I usually get when I try to explain this is, “So…you do or don’t do deep tissue?”. But I feel that technique or a particular modality doesn’t really matter that much. What’s more important is having an understanding of the biopsychosocial model when working with chronic pain and a firm grasp on neuroanatomy and how it relates to massage. So, I’d thought I’d break it down for you and hope that it answers some of your questions. I know this may not be what you expect when you think of massage, but there is a method to the madness.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Like every single healthcare provider is, or should be, patient or client-centered. But I think we’ve all been to a provider who doesn’t look at us when they come in the room or give us enough time to explain all of our symptoms. Well, some massage therapists can be much the same. I know I’ve experienced it and I know how that disconnect has made me feel. There is a reason why being client-centered is important. People looking for relief from chronic pain, stress, or tension have a story. When you live years with that pain and stress, that story can become your identity. Allowing someone to share their story is part of their healing process. So, I give them that space to share their story.
When someone comes to me for a massage, we discuss everything- what areas of the body will be touched, pressure, their goals, expectations, how to give feedback, how to lie on the table, and how to dress or undress, among many other things. The massage session is a collaborative process where the client is in complete control. The idea is to create a therapeutic partnership with my expertise and training and the client’s perspectives and expectations. While I may be the expert on massage, you are the expert on you. If you don’t feel something is therapeutic, then the outcome is affected. That’s because sensory nerves in the skin take in information about touch, pressure, and temperature and sends those impulses to the brain, which in turn responds by making any changes in the body. The result is feeling less pain, tension, and stress. In other words, pushing on your sore back isn’t creating any change. It’s the brain doing the work. You have to be able to relax so that your brain gets the message that you are safe.
My approach to client-centered care is based on informed consent. I get a lot of odd looks from clients when I start telling them of their rights before a massage. It’s a soapbox of mine that I hope will become the norm in massage therapy. Having informed consent goes right along with being able to relax. Don’t believe me? Think about how you would describe massage to someone who has never heard of it:
So, you go on Google and pick a massage therapist in your area who doesn’t look like a complete wackadoo. You enter a dimly lit room with soft music playing and a bed in the center. You briefly explain the reason you are there. The massage therapist tells you to undress to your level of comfort, to get on the table, and then she walks out of the room. When she returns, she spreads lotion on your body and rubs it in.
This scenario happens often. There is so much information missing, from both the client and the therapist. Without all of the facts, a person has no idea what is going to be done to them and cannot give informed consent. How can anyone relax when they are concerned about their safety or wonder what’s about to happen? Think about this through the lens of someone who has lived years with chronic pain. They might be thinking, “Where is she going to touch me? What if it hurts? What if I end up worse?”. Or, think about it through the lens of a trauma survivor. They might wonder why the room is so dark, why they need to undress, and how and where they will be touched. If there is any discipline that absolutely requires informed consent, it’s massage therapy.
There are a lot of outdated beliefs about massage still in use. Being evidence-informed means that I use information, terminology, and verbiage that is current, properly researched and based on science. For example, I don’t use harmful and inaccurate terms like muscle knot. I don’t talk to people in terms of how tight they are. I don’t shove my elbow into someone’s painful back. Because I know the term knot is a misnomer, that tightness is a feeling, and that the central nervous system is running the show, there is no reason to go jabbing people with my pointy elbow.
So, what kind of massage do I give? The regular kind. No fancy tricks or tools. If I were forced to explain it in terms of a modality, I would say it’s a fusion of Swedish, Lomi Lomi, and Orthopedic massage. Weird combo, right? Let’s say one person wants a massage to relax and another wants to improve range of motion on a frozen shoulder. The goal is the same for both situations- to relax the nervous system. So, I use techniques that are soothing, like those long, flowing, effleurage-type strokes. For the frozen shoulder, I still use those soothing techniques. I just use them first, then move on to more orthopedic-type work. Orthopedic techniques involve moving a joint while doing those regular kinds of massage strokes. Here’s an example: You feel like your hamstrings are tight and it’s affecting movement. I would massage the hamstrings while also moving your leg so that your knee bends and straightens. Then I might have you bend and straighten your knee while I massage the hamstrings. Then I might have you move through the motion with a little bit of resistance, still while I massage the leg.
That about sums up me and my approach to massage. My goal is to be as transparent as possible, so I always welcome your feedback and questions. I can be rather direct (and like to flavor conversation with certain naughty words) and I encourage my clients to be the same with me. I know it’s hard to speak up for yourself while you’re on a massage table, but I try to convince people that they cannot offend me. I was a middle child raised by a single mother and taught in a school run by nuns, so I have a thick skin. Though I am tender-hearted by nature, I recognize that using your voice is the ultimate form of self-care.