February 24, 2014

What We Massage Therapists Know…

Recently in looking for an associate to assist in my practice, I interviewed a bunch of massage therapists with ample experience. I thought I would offer a good step-up to private practice to people who wanted to move in that direction. I looked for experience because I wanted people who understood the economics and challenges of massage practice. The resumes were pretty interesting. 

One resume listed athletes the person had massaged. That’s it. 

I did ask for credentials. People told me they were licensed in my state. We don’t have a state license.

Or they could get it if required, along with insurance. Tell me, how had they worked in the field thus far without the basics?

As I weeded through the applicants, I tried interviewing a few by phone. One hung up when I explained that I would pay minimum wage//click//plus piece-work for massages performed.

I was getting a little bummed out. Then I found someone who I thought was great in person, on the phone and in resume. There was only one problem. She did not want to work on any of the days/shifts I could make available. Turns out she was burned out on her spa job and did not want to take on any more massage time. 

Why was she answering my ad, I thought.


Back to the drawing board.

December 30, 2013

Tidy Time

With each year end, I like to do two things: tidy up the loose ends of my massage therapy practice and set my sights on the coming year.

Tidy time is important in the visceral sense: make sure my tax stuff and books are at least all in one box, if not organized, all set for the tax man. I also like to get some statistics: How many massages have I done, daily and weekly averages, etc.

An important part of this look-back is to check and see when I have been feeling good or overworked. I can often see some times when I should have done a little less or spread my duties out more.

Gone are the days when I could work straight through an 8-hour spa shift and then see two private clients after hours. I don’t miss that a bit. But when I was foolish enough to have done those things, I learned, as I laid prostrate on my bed the next day, not to do so much in one day. Days off are no fun if they are spent flat out zombie-fied.

Days off for a massage therapist are for stretching, tai-chi, family, errands, the beach, all the things that days off are for. I learned not to work so much that I felt drained.

Another lesson is to not drown in paperwork. If, like my therapist friend, you use a bookkeeping program, you still have to plunk the numbers in. Amazing how many other things you can find to do before doing the books. To save myself some angst, I found a good bookkeeper.

Outsourcing is great for the things you do not want to do. For me, it is the bookkeeping. For others, it might be the laundry. The key is figuring out what you do not want to do, or what you are truly bad at doing, and if you are willing to pay for it.

In hindsight, “outsourcing” is what many of us do when we work for employers. We take a pay cut because we don’t want to book clients, make re-appointments, keep track of permits, negotiate leases. There is nothing wrong in that, by the way. Some therapists enjoy being able to leave work at their appointed time and not keep a to-do list. A lot of us have to pick up kids, make dinner and a host of other things for family.

When I’ve looked back at my year, I then look forward. More about that next blog.

December 21, 2013

Care and Greeting of Clients

What are you doing?

My therapist friend said that phrase in a tone of voice that implied I was sculpting a stone wheel from a boulder.

I’m writing holiday cards to my clients, I replied.

Ohh, no, no, no you will get carpal! she said. Let me show you my toys.

 Out whipped the tablet. With its apps. This one sends appointment reminders automatically, along with holiday greetings and birthday offers. Au-to-ma-tic, she said, as if it were a word I have never heard before.

Yup, that’s me sitting there with my stones knives and bear clubs, sending out cards to people whom I have been seeing for massages for so long they are like family. But no, I am modern. My stamps are self-sticking.

I swear it is not age. We are about the same age, my massage therapist friend and I, and we have come up through the ranks into developing our own independent practices.

And I still have an appointment book and pencil. And I send holiday cards. Handwritten.

As my software engineer client told me one day, those apps. are great. Until all your data gets stuck somewhere in the cloud.

Bah Humbug!

December 7, 2013

Massage with an Historic Difference

It is an old law school question: Would you be Hitler’s lawyer?

It is a tough one. All people regardless of their crimes are due a spirited defense, law students are taught. Yet what about the worst criminal in recent history? Would you be the one? Could you?

Here’s how the question could be posed to a massage therapist: Could you be Hitler’s massage therapist? Would you? Would it make Hitler more human? Or make him a more efficient Hitler?

Some thoughts to ponder. I have not found any evidence that Hitler ever got a massage, although the treatment was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century for many ills.

But I did find some history about a “doctor” of massage in western Europe who was tapped to be the therapist for Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi SS, the elite and brutal militia that perpetrated many atrocities against Jews and others on the hit list in the Nazi era.

Felix Kersten was a gifted therapist popular with the European elite who was “asked” to be Himmler’s personal masseur. He took the job, perhaps because it was an offer he could not refuse, and used his relationship with Himmler to spare some of the intended victims of the Third Reich.

The breadth of his exact contribution to saving lives is debatable. He got his client, who suffered from severe gastric problems relieved by massage, to sign documents sparing people from death. He also claimed to have softened the SS’s plans to kill subjugated civilians in Denmark and Finland.

Others disputed his claims to saving civilian populations, but his ability to entice Himmler spare some individuals is not in doubt.

If you would like to read more about Kersten and his times, I suggest:

The Kersten Memoirs, by Felix Kersten.

The Man with the Miraculous Hands, by Joseph Kessel.

Massages’Greatest Humanitarian, excerpt in Massage Magazine by Robert Noah Calvert, from The History of Massage.

The Devil’s Doctor, by John H. Waller.


December 2, 2013

Whys and What Knots

Knots have the element of surprise. Massage clients are often very perturbed that they have a knot, and then the inevitable question…why is that knot there?

I try to offer some explanations – to much time using a mouse, too many repeat micro-movements of muscles in a static hold, etc. Working under too much deadline pressure is a very common circumstance.

But why do knots occur and stick around for so long?

Massage therapists see thousands of knots over the years, and yes, I think they each have their own unique origins.

For reasons I cannot easily explain, I can feel when knots are old – from a long-gone by car accident for example – these older knots are more established and habituated to the body’s daily existence. They need some extra attention and therapeutic touch to loosen and return their host tissues to normal.

That said these older knots seem to be more than simply forgotten dysfunctional areas of muscle. Something has happened along with the formation of the knot to make it last. Perhaps, if knots form like memories, they become more robust when a person is excited or energized.

Having read and seen many interviews of people who remember what they were doing 50 years ago when they heard President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I suspect the major knots also had a sudden, sharp focus of attention.

Perhaps the chemicals of surprise or fear also help muscles retain knots, as people retain memories of the JFK assassination in more vivid detail than any other days in 1964 or beyond.

Could some knots have a date-and-time stamp?

Sometimes I wonder. I know my massage clients do.

November 16, 2013

Too Big for Massage or Too Dark?

The question comes up. A caller on the phone, looking for a massage. I had no openings. Let this massage therapist say for the record that I really had no openings.

We talked for a while, a male voice on the phone, pretty husky voice. A Carolina accent.

Sometimes you wonder, the caller said. You wonder if when I call and there’s no openings, if someone calls later who sounds white and there are plenty of openings. I’ve heard it happens.

I’m not like that, I said. But I have heard it from another client, a large, deep-voiced African-American actor. It just might happen. He told me he had a hard time finding someone who would do a good massage on him, you know, the kind of massage that makes you want to come back.

Oh yeah, I’ve had those, too, he said. Massages so bad they feel like an oil slick. Terrible. You wonder if the massage is bad because they don’t want to see you again.

That’s not me, nor my practice. But I do wonder. Are men, particularly ethnic-sounding or looking men, on an avoid list because of the difficulty of the massage - or therapists’ unfamiliarity with them?

Hope not. Massage therapists are free, of course, to choose their clients. It is a skill. But a professional therapist cannot discourage a client for a discriminatory reason – sex, race or religion. Even if those things might imply that a person might be harder to work on.

Yeah, my caller said. One time a lady told me to change my voice because it was probably scaring some massage therapists. I just sound like I sound, he said. That’s me.

November 8, 2013

What Good Would Massage Do?

A friend shared an experience with me. His stiff back had become worse recently. After sitting for a while at his desk, if he turned the wrong way when getting up or reached too far, ZAP! A pain would
shoot down his leg from the low back to the knee.

“It just takes my breath away,” he said. “It really gets my attention.”

This gentleman has played football, fought in the war, and built suburbs. If the pain is bad enough to rob his breath, I am on alert.

A few trips to the doctor and he was diagnosed with foramen stenosis, a term that means osteoarthritis – calcifications and inflammation - were taking up residence in the area where spinal nerves exit L4-L5. The osteoarthritis pushed against the nerve bundle as he tried to move. Hence the ZAP!

I inquired about the plan.

“Well, I went to p.t. and at first the stretches seemed to help, but then they made things worse. It’s not bad enough to operate on yet. I am just trying to move my back as little as possible.”

Good heavens. I had to speak.

“Have you considered doing some massage?”

“What good would massage do?”

Oh yes, sometimes this question comes up. I happily urge all massage therapists to answer it when it does.

Too often people think inflammation and calcifications of osteoarthritis are set in stone. They move less and less, giving the condition a wide-open opportunity to get much, much, worse.

Well, massage therapy alleviates back pain, inflammation and swelling. It is why we train to do what we do. I mentioned a recent study that found general, non-specific massage helped reduce stenosis pain.

He asked if massage could fix the problem.

The study didn’t go long enough to figure that out, I explained. The big result is that people felt better and thus did more and felt healthier.

Do massage therapists think gentle rubbing can reduce osteoarthritis? Or “just“relieve it? I think we know the answer, don’t we?