When muscles throw a tantrum

One common client myth our therapists would love to bust is the belief that massage has to hurt to work.  Despite over 1000 hours of training and continuing education and years of experience, we regularly have discussions that go kind of like this: “Well, I know you say it is best to NOT beat the snot out of my shoulders, but my cousin’s daycare provider says you are wrong so I want to feel like you just beat me up when I’m done!”

Many clients think hallmark of a good massage therapist is how much pressure they can use.  I’d argue that the hallmark of a good massage therapist is how well they can assess and observe your tissue to determine the precise amount of pressure needed to create change.  Anyone can use heavy pressure.  It is not hard to place a bony elbow on a sensitive muscle group and lean in, or use the edge of a warm stone to strip a tender muscle.   Sure those things can trigger a pain sensation, but that doesn’t mean they’ll do you any good.  A gifted therapist knows WHEN to use heavy pressure and when a lighter touch is more beneficial.

What takes skill is finding source of the pain and paying close attention to how muscles respond to different techniques, speeds, and pressures to determine what to try for the best result.  And a therapist who has lots of techniques to try if their first attempt isn’t working.

Think of a trigger point or “angry” spot in a muscle like a toddler who is throwing a tantrum.  You can yell back all you want, but usually you’ll just exacerbate the tantrum.   Same with “beating up” an already inflamed or tense muscle.  Applying heavy pressure for the sake of applying heavy pressure may just further inflame the tissue which with most techniques, isn’t the goal.tantrumThe best approach to a tantrum (or trigger point) is to stay calm.  Instead of meeting aggression with aggression, a good therapist will calmly try to get to the root of the problem.  It might take a bit of exploration from what seems obvious.  For example, a tantrum in a grocery store might seem like it is about not getting a candy bar, but the root of the tantrum might be a missed nap.  Just like a painful muscle in your calf might be caused by a tight muscle in your gluts.

You never know if your first approach to calm a tantrum will work.  Your massage therapist needs to make an educated assumption at the speed, pressure, or technique to try to relax a muscle or trigger point.   If the muscle isn’t responding to one approach, a therapist will use his or her “listening skills” to gauge if the muscle needs a firmer OR lighter touch, a different position, or even a heat or cold application to encourage the desired response. Sometimes a heavy pressure is the answer, but not always.  One reason people feel like a really painful massage is helpful is because the pain sensation can trigger an endorphin release.  This can mask the pain in the short term, but won’t get to the root of the problem and the pain will most likely return.

Image courtesy of ABMP
Image courtesy of ABMP

Like in a tantrum, sometimes moving away from the situation that has triggered the tantrum will help.  In massage, sometimes moving the body to a new position on the table or incorporating a stretch or movement during treatment will coax the muscle into relaxing.

I took a course from massage therapy pioneer and hall-of-famer, Ralph Stephens and he nailed it with the saying “You cannot inflict relaxation on a muscle.”  Muscles need coaxing, not bullying.  If you have questions about why your massage therapist is using the pressure they are using or whether more or less would be beneficial, please do speak up!  Your feedback is important to help us work with you for the best result, but do understand that if you allow your therapist to do what they are trained to do, really “listen” to the muscle to find the approach that will work best in each situation, you will most likely have a better, longer lasting result.

A manicure to remember

I received the sweetest phone call from a client recently.  She brought one of her family members who is living with Alzheimer’s disease to visit us for several services.  Her family member was a lovely woman and she smiled throughout her services.  The client called us later to say that while her loved one didn’t remember the massage afterward, she enjoyed it in the moment and that is what counted.

She did say though, that the manicure was especially nice for her loved one because of the compliments she received afterward at church and from friends who noted how pretty her hands looked.  She also said that while her loved one didn’t remember receiving the manicure, every time she looked at her beautifully polished nails, she knew something special had happened and was happy.bloghand

This call brightened my day.  Remember to enjoy pleasant moments as they happen and I wish you a week full of happy surprises and moments that make you smile.

“Cheap” nail services may come at a high price

I typically try to keep this blog focused on lighter topics, but the issue of human trafficking in the spa and nail industry lately has been bubbling up again on my radar.  Often people think of sham “massage” businesses when they think of human trafficking, but over the years criminals are getting more creative in hiding victims.

We know we are not the “cheapest” place to go for a manicure or pedicure.  We don’t compete on price.  We hire experienced, licensed, and just super nice nail technicians and cosmetologists to provide our services, use high quality products including many we send home with you, and our polishes are widely regarded as some of the best in the industry in their categories.  We love our employees and know if we treat them well, they will treat our clients well.  Providing manicures and pedicures is a great job, one that our employees thoroughly enjoy.  They get to be artistic, nurturing, and spend time getting to know their clients.  Their regular clients are like their family to them!  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all people working nail salons in the United States.

We know how expensive it is to provide great nail care (the spa cost of one teeny tiny bottle of CND Shellac is $18.95!), which is why I’m always shocked at the ridiculously low price of some manicure and pedicure services, especially in big cities that have a much higher cost of living.   To compete on price alone, salons have to cut costs elsewhere.  Typically this is done by using lower quality products.  Unfortunately “cheap” salons frequently cut corners on sanitation because they depend on high volume to make rent and proper sanitation takes time (it takes more than 10 minutes to disinfect a whirlpool tub in a pedicure lounge, but rarely would you see that happen in a high volume salon).

The most alarming reason for “cheap” nail services is that costs are being cut with labor.  It might be that employees are not being paid a fair living wage, but sadly,  some nail salons are being used as human trafficking fronts and raids and arrests in other areas of the United States are shedding light on this.  In recent years, nail salons were found operating as a front for human trafficking in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, and California.  Nails Magazine published one of the best articles on this problem specific to nail salons.    Click here to read it.  Just last month, a popular DC spa came under scrutiny for suspected willful refusal to pay wages and abduction.

Fortunately, the  majority of nail salons are like ours in that they strive to build nurturing relationships with clients to help them look and feel great while providing a supportive work environment.  The unfortunate reality is that unethical and shady business practices are more common in the industry than people realize so consumers need to be vigilant.  The Polaris Project works to educate the public and rescue victims of human trafficking.  These are the warning signs they recommend looking for.

It was never my intent to learn as much about nail salons and nail care as I do (I’m a nursing home activity director turned massage therapist!) but I’m glad I know what to look for and I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with the bright, enthusiastic, and creative women providing the nail services at our spa.  I appreciate them and I know for a fact, they appreciate all of you!

happyCassandra, Camille, and Leah posing for our New Year card!