It’s called “Massage Is Weird,” and it’s about massage, communication, treating pain (and dealing with it yourself), and beating burnout. If that seems kind of broad… it is! This book is everything I know about being a massage therapist, with a special focus on living a life of quiet satisfaction. Click here to order (eBook and softcover versions available), or continue below to read some samples.
Who is this book for? It’s for new massage therapists who are still trying to find their place in the massage world. Do you need to work for someone and give up 75% of your income for the first 5 years, or can you skip to the part where you’re paid what you’re worth? Is wrist pain and thumb pain a necessary part of the process, or can you skip that too? Why is pain so mysterious, and why aren’t you producing all those massage miracles that you see the gurus talk about?... continue reading.
I know there’s been a movement to reduce thumb use in the massage world, but I think that there are a lot of effective ways to use them without risking injury. The secret? Follow your natural ergonomics rather than trying to force your thumbs to do movements they don’t want to do:
Find positions of power and stability and let those guide your tool use and body mechanics. In the video, I demonstrate ways to strip, compress, and petrissage that should feel fairly easy and intuitive. Reduce or eliminate the effortful circular movements that seem to find their way into a lot of Swedish routines, and instead rely on stacked joints and body weight.
Something that I neglected to say in the video: Switch tools early and often. Don’t wait until you’re feeling fatigue in your thumbs or wrists before you switch. Instead, anticipate your limits and change things up frequently enough that your muscles never tire. By doing this, the only part of your body that should be tired at the end of the day are your feet 🙂 And that reminds me, I need to make a video on how to sit more during a session…... continue reading.
Do you deal with self-doubt as a massage therapist? When you work with a new client, do you spend the whole time convinced that it’s the worst massage ever? Then this video is for you:
This is an edited version of a previous livestream, now with 75% fewer tangents and pauses. There’s also a nice guided meditation at the end, now with soothing music
I give tips on getting out of negative head loops in this video, but there’s something that I don’t really address: “What if my massage actually sucks? Like, what if I’m a legitimately bad massage therapist?” You know why I don’t address that? Because it’s not true. In fact, it’s damn near impossible.
Massage can be exceptional for a lot of reasons, many of them having to do with experience and intuition. But for a massage to just be “really good,” all you need are a few simple ingredients:... continue reading.
Here’s a new video about how I work with postsurgical shoulder pain. I talk about my strategy, and I demonstrate specific techniques for working gently from a myofascial perspective:
I’d like to highlight something that’s changed for me in my practice: While I do explore the client’s range of motion, I do my best to avoid those painful end-points. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that mobilization can work just as well (or better!) when it’s done painlessly. If done patiently and with good communication, it can be a way of demonstrating to the client that safe movement is possible. I’ve frequently had clients stand up with a greater comfortable range of motion despite the fact that I didn’t try to increase that ROM on the table!
I’ve also started erring on the side of less specific work during that first session, especially in areas that are prone to guarding or spasm. That specific stripping and trigger point work can still be incorporated in future sessions, but by working broadly at first, I can help the client gradually get used to movement and contact without provoking spasm or next-day tightness.
Let me know what you think! Is there anything that you’d add or do differently? Did I finally drone on for too long during a video? 🙂
Thanks to my 124 Patreon supporters! You may have noticed that I’ve been posting videos more frequently, and your monthly support makes that possible. My goal is 500 patrons by the end of the year—if you’d like to join in, check out https://www.patreon.com/MassageSloth.
In a previous rant, I said that massage therapists causing pain—and making their clients think it was necessary—was one of the only massage-related phenomena that truly made me angry. Well, this counts as causing pain. If someone comes to me with a unique human body, anything that I say or do to stigmatize that person for their shape, or size, or sounds, or smell, is causing harm. They’ll leave that experience thinking, “I was wrong for putting myself in that vulnerable position.” In other words, they trusted us with their body, and we breached that trust.
Maybe you would never think of commenting directly on someone’s weight, which is great! With that as a given, I’d like to direct your attention to something that we’ve learned from psychological and medical studies: The power of words, and the power of symbols in general. How we speak, and even the signs and pictures in our offices, can communicate a powerful message of brokenness or wholeness to our clients.
Consider the client with back pain who walks into a doctor’s office and sees one of those “3 kinds of spinal dysfunction” infographic posters that doctors like to decorate their offices with. Cheery. As they’re sitting there waiting for their doctor to arrive, that vulnerable human is seeing a herniated nucleus pulposus pressing on a nerve, and an osteoporotic lumbar vertebra crumbling to dust. That doctor could be as reassuring and encouraging as Mr. Rogers, but the damage has been done. Is there any chance they’ll leave that environment thinking, “this is something that my body can handle”?
In the same way, think about what happens when we talk about a client’s “bad back.” Maybe they said it first and we’re just picking up on the language, but it’s not something that we have to buy into. We can choose not to pick the client apart, or to pathologize a relatively normal ache or pain. Instead, we can talk about that person’s back in the context of their return to pain-free living. We can discuss the pain without bad-mouthing the part.
We can apply that same “language of wholeness” to all aspects of our professional presentation. Most, if not all, of our clients are self-conscious about part of their body. How many of your clients have apologized to you about leg hair, or their “back fat,” or cellulite? These are all perfectly normal features for a body to have, but they feel ashamed. There are some things that we can do verbally in that situation to help them feel accepted (I’d love to hear some of your reassuring responses in the comments!), as well as through kind, accepting contact.
But, what about the other symbols in our professional environment? Think about what it communicates when a client is perusing our menu of services and sees “Lypossage: Recontour your cellulite through non-invasive massage” or “Face-lift massage: Look years younger with just 5 treatments.” What about facial treatments that offer to make fine lines disappear, and tighten up sagging skin? Or, like the massage therapist in the article, you’re advertising shakes that can supposedly help clients lose weight?
“You deserve to be pain free. You also might have saggy skin, and have you considered how unsightly your cellulite is? And isn’t it about time to lose that spare tire around your midsection?”
These are things that we’d never say out loud, but we can sure as heck say them with the products and services that we offer. We can accidentally imply them when we comment on clients’ physical appearance, even if it’s just to praise them for losing weight. Maybe that’s not something they consider praiseworthy. Maybe we could stick to wholeness and kindness, and leave all the picking apart and judgment to insensitive Facebook posts and YouTube ads.
I don’t mean to make any massage therapists feel put on the spot by this post. I know that we’re all well-meaning. I know that some of you offer those “slimming/contouring” services because you find them valuable, and they help your business. Still, I want you to consider the symbology of your words and your professional environment. We can create safe spaces where human bodies can just be human bodies. Humans have hair, and zits, and subcutaneous fat. I’ve got super flat feet and a sunken chest, and I’d love for a massage therapist to help me accept them, rather than trying to change them (and, by extension, me).
Let me know what you think about this. How do you communicate acceptance of your clients in their myriad shapes and sizes? Has a massage therapist ever made you feel ashamed of your body or mind, whether accidentally or on purpose? I’d like to hear your story.