The Magic Number

What’s your magic number?

How many massages can you do in a day?

This is a popular question posited to me by many a new and regular client. You can never be fully honest for obvious reasons. You don’t want to seem tired and overworked, even if you are, because now the client is thinking they will get a shitty massage or feel guilty that they are number (insert double digit) of the day. If I am in the spa setting, I usually make a joke and say that I am “strong like bull” in a mock Eastern European accent and tell them not to worry. If I am in a clinical setting, I distract them back to the matter at hand – their condition, thus dismissing the question altogether. If they bring it up again, I then tell them these clinical massages are shorter and more focused, so don’t worry about me. Let’s focus on you!

The only thing a client should be focused on…

Truthfully, there is a magic number of massages a therapist can perform consecutively before burn out happens. Of course, this number is different for all of us. I weight train and exercise at least three times a week; therefore I am “strong like bull.” Despite this strength and stamina, I know that if I do 5.5 hours of consecutive massage, I am at my body’s limit for the day. I learned this from the rare times I had done 7 or even 8 hours of consecutive massages. The next day, I could barely make my hands into fists coupled with the ache in my forearms and shoulders. Now, for those of you who may say, “You work a 6 hour shift? That’s so part time.” Let me take a moment here and define what consecutive means in this context. These massages are occurring literally back to back. Once the one client is off the table, there are between 5 to 7 minutes to get the room changed over, grab a sip of water, then run to get the next guest without looking like you ran to get them. This is usually what happens in a spa setting, as the booking is done to maximize profitability; not to consider the physical demands made on the therapist. So, you see how 5.5 hours of continuous physical work plus the added cardio of running up and down stairs for guest pick up, drop off and supplies is enough of a full work day for me. You cannot compare it to a 9-5 p.m. desk job, which exhausts many in a different manner (i.e. from holding their bodies in poor sedentary posture and mentally focusing on a screen with few breaks).

Burnout of a different kind…

I recall working an event where another therapist boasted at the amount of clients they could take on in a day. Observing their body mechanics, I assessed that within a few years this therapist would surely burn out. Chronic Tendonitis is a common occurrence in any profession that requires repetitive movements over long periods of time. Taking breaks to stretch, hydrate and regroup mentally and physically allow this career to last beyond the statistical death knell of 3-5 years. I’m not ashamed or scared to say NO when asked to go above and beyond my limit at this 3 year mark of my professional career. After all, I want to be able to straddle both physical worlds – the demands of my fitness regimen with those of my profession. I feel blessed that I know what my magic number feels like, as it makes me a better practitioner for my current and future clients. As for the rest of my fellow LMT’s, may yours pop up sooner than later.

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That’s Rolfed Up

Realigning your internal framework a la Rolf!

During the mid-point of my massage education, one of my professors described a technique known as Structural Integration. Falling under the alternative medicine umbrella, structural integration aims to put the body back into proper alignment by manipulating connective tissue (i.e. fascia) to release areas of restriction based on how the client has been moving and holding their body in space. This manipulation is done to affect the deepest level of the musculo-skeletal system (we are talking right down to the nerves) which might feel quite intense in the moment, but over time can reduce pain caused by improper movement patterns. In tandem with the work, the client is re-educated in how to move properly in order to maintain the results of the treatment.

One of the most popular modalities of structural integration is Rolfing. I was familiarized with this when a close friend, who suffered traumatic injuries from an accident, received this bodywork along with her physical therapy. She went from being unable to walk all the way to full on modern dancing within a year. I recall her saying it hurt – A LOT. Intrigued, I did some research to see what it entailed. Created by biochemist Dr. Ida P. Rolf, who recognized that the body’s systems were all interconnected through a seamless network of connective tissues, it was originally meant for the chronically disabled to help improve their mobility. However, she soon learned that her method of postural release also applied to people with chronic pain, stress and/or who put intense physical demand on their bodies. Hmm…sounds like somebody familiar, e?

Like any effective form of bodywork, Rolfing is a holistic approach, taking into consideration the individual and what their needs might be to adjust the treatment accordingly. Adjustment is key also in the depth of manipulation of their connective tissues as well as the mobilization of their joints. Some of us, although mentally psyched for it, find that our bodies will fight back. As a therapist, you have to know how to knock on the door in order to be invited into a particular area of the body. The client needs to feel safe, comfortable and trusting of your touch, especially when the work will be painful. The end goal is free and fluid movement. Usually this will be done in 10 sessions; however some people feel very dramatic changes to their posture and movement right after their first session. (See the diagram I posted in the header for an idea of what happens)

Now that the benefits and technique have been laid out for you, there is the task of finding and working with the right Rolfer. A therapist cannot claim they Rolf unless they have been Certified by The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, the only organization worldwide that educates and certifies Rolfers. You can search for and check a therapist’s credentials via the Institute’s website Verification link. Certification aside, a therapist’s approach can and will vary. It is important to find a practitioner that communicates effectively and listens to your feedback in a constructive manner. Another friend of mine received the technique and found that her therapist would not ask her questions or address her comments regarding the work. She left the experience feeling she was treated like a body, not a whole person. That is never a good thing in any form of bodywork and usually does not produce results. If you are open to being Rolfed, take the time to research your practitioner and/or get referrals from those who have been privy to this treatment. Dramatic change is priceless.

For more information on the latest in Rolf techniques and research:

http://www.rolfresearchfoundation.org

Gouri, 2013

It’s a New Year and with that come the flood of resolutions, made with good intention, to have a fresh start of things. What often tops these lists are changes in diet and exercise. Gym memberships notoriously surge in the beginning of the year, while kitchens are cleaned out of their sundry contents to be replaced with all kinds of leafy greens and organic snacks. After a few weeks, the novelty of the fresh start wears off and for many, old habits die hard.

One of my New Year’s day clients joked that massage should be at the top of his list for 2013. In fact, all the clients I saw on that day expressed wanting to begin their year on a relaxed note. Many of them had received these massages as gifts. The Greeks call this gouri, a gesture or gift of good luck typically given to family members and friends for the New Year. Honestly, it’s a brilliant commitment to oneself to reduce stress and bring balance to the body on a regular basis. Think of all the cumulative affects of a chaotic lifestyle, rife with packed schedules, inhaled meals and little sleep and the investment of one massage per month becomes feasible. This is what I tell clients when they cannot fathom the cost of such a “luxury.” If you can spend $80 to $100 on frothy coffee drinks per month, then you can afford one massage. 

It’s pretty and smells delicious, but doesn’t last very long.

I could post heaps of statistical data supporting the benefits of regular massage on health, immunity, mobility, recovery and performance, but I won’t. What I want readers to keep in mind is a word I mentioned above – commitment. Many of us have a problem honoring commitments made to ourselves; moreover, the list of resolutions we make at the beginning of each year to change this, that or the other is a bit of a joke when we have no intention of doing anything. Why even make a list at all? If you can commit to just one thing at the start of each month, I am positive you will enact more self change then tackling an entire list in just January. Here are a few to pick and choose from:

  • Commit to one massage a month.
  • Commit to one session of strength training per week.
  • Commit to five minutes of deep breathing and/or stretching before bed every night.
  • Commit to taking the stairs at some point during your day.
  • Commit to 20 minutes in the steam room at the gym.
  • Commit to juicing one morning per week.
  • Commit to making your day off count for you!

Give like a Rubberband

Within the lyrics of my favorite Kate Bush song, “Rubberband Girl” is the following statement:

“If I could learn to give like a rubberband, I’d be back on my feet…”

While we can’t all be Gumbi, the flexibility that we are born with can be conditioned further through exercise and a wonderful thing called stretching. Your joints are designed to move through space with the help of your muscles, tendons and ligaments (we all have these parts). The ability to take your joints through their entire range of movement and maintaining this range is an important part of injury prevention. Measured in degrees, flexibility diminishes with the passage of time and the amount of wear and tear on our joints and tissues that comes with aging.

That being said, there are very right and very wrong ways to stretch. The best route to go is to have a stretching program designed for you, much like a fitness program, that is based on detailed analysis of the activity/sport/conditioning that you engage in, your medical history and your injury risk factors. As a licensed massage therapist, prescribing stretches to my clients as part of their aftercare is within my scope of practice, but to design a stretching program I would consult with a personal trainer and physical therapist for input in tailoring the stretches to my client’s needs. Ideally, it is amazing to be able to work with these fitness and medical professionals as a team, much like you see in any professional athlete’s training entourage, to improve the performance and recovery time of the client.

Professional that I am, I am guilty of stretching incorrectly. I realized my folly after an especially intense set of yoga classes. I felt incredibly long and leaned out after each class, partly because visualization is a key part of really settling into the practice. I pictured my limbs extending beyond me to the front and back walls of the room, pulling my extremities ever further from each other like a yogic “rack” of sorts. At the same time, I was also working with my trainer twice a week doing a combination of weight training and Thai kickboxing. I believed that my leg strength would improve with my yoga practice. Yes, I could definitely kick my leg up to my face, but what I felt was a surprising weakness in my quads. The plyometric squats that I once could do 3 sets of 20 holding 15 pounders in each hand became impossible. My thighs shivered after only ten reps. After consulting with one of my professors, I realized that by overstretching my Quad muscles, I had made it a lot harder for them to contract. The demand I made on these muscles to perform the way I was used to in training was too much in this over-lengthened state. Even scarier than weakness, muscle fibers that are over stretched can sometimes rip, also known as a strain or “pull” which thankfully did not happen to me. Usually PAIN when stretching beyond the limit will indicate something has gone awry in there. I took a couple weeks off of yoga and within 2 to 3 training sessions, was right back at the level I had been prior to the overstretching. The experience was a cautionary one.

When designing a stretching program there are two types of stretching techniques to take into consideration – static and dynamic. A static stretch is when you take the muscle being stretched to the point where you feel tension (not PAIN) and hold it there. After a certain period of time (under 30 seconds) the hold tricks the brain into telling your tendons to let go, thus lengthening the muscle further and increasing your flexibility. Holding the stretch for more than 30 seconds was noted by researchers to have a negative affect on athletic performance, as it undermined explosiveness and power. Dynamic stretches take the muscle through its range of movement slowly and deliberately, gradually increasing the speed of the movement over a period of time.  Therefore, a combination of short term static stretches and dynamic stretches that mimic the movements of my sport have proven to be the most effective way for me to prepare and repair my muscles. Coupled with massage, my stretching program has rendered me injury free for sometime now (knock on some wood, please). Learn to properly let your body give like a rubberband, as Ms. Bush sang, and not only will you be back on your feet, but ready for action!