Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Massage and Pain

One of the things I find most inspiring about the simple power of Touch is the incredible range of benefits clients report - because each client takes the Touch and uses it in the way they need on that day, at that time. It's particularly exciting when a client finds themselves experiencing a benefit they had never associated with Massage previously - like the person who usually comes for Massage to loosen their muscles but walks away with a clear head, or vice versa!

I see my role as a Massage therapist not to "fix" or "treat" problems, but it's simply to deliver the Massage and leave the healing to the client. However, I'm also fascinated by the increasing body of evidence about the effects Massage and Touch therapies. The effect for one person may not be the same for the next (which is why if you book in for a Massage with me I won't promise to create any particular effect but instead will work with you to come up with a treatment which feels right for you so you can focus entirely on taking what you need from it) but where a significant majority of a trial group experience a benefit I find it takes my own experiences with individual clients to a much broader scale - as well as reinforcing the potency of Massage.

So, taking a look at just one of these areas that has had a range of studies looking into it...Massage and Pain.

The old adage of "rubbing it better" is one example of the truth of the power of Touch being deeply embedded - in fact, "rubbing it better" was quite possibly the first therapy on the planet. People have done this for millennia because it actually releases chemicals that help reduce pain. And this 2008 study explores just that:

A randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a single session of nurse administered Massage for short term relief of chronic non-malignant pain. Seers K, Crichton N, Martin J, Coulson K, Carroll D. BMC Nursing July 2008

At the RCN Research Institute, School of Health & Social Studies, University of Warwick, a simple but effective trial took place which proves very effectively that Massage provides pain relief potential. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a single session of nurse-administered Massage for the short term relief of chronic non-malignant pain and anxiety.

METHOD: A randomised controlled trial design was used, in which the patients were assigned to a
Massage or control group. The Massage group received a 15 minute manual Massage and the
control group a 15 minute visit to talk about their pain. Adult patients attending a pain relief unit with a diagnosis of chronic pain whose pain was described as moderate or severe were eligible for the study. An observer blind to the patients' treatment group carried out assessments immediately before (baseline), after treatment and 1, 2, 3 and 4 hours later.

ASSESSMENT: Pain was assessed using 100 mm visual analogue scale and the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Pain Relief was assessed using a five point verbal rating scale. Anxiety was assessed with the Spielberger short form State-Trait Anxiety Inventory.

RESULTS: 101 patients were randomised and evaluated, 50 in the Massage and 51 in the control group. There were no statistically significant differences between the groups at baseline interview.
Patients in the Massage but not the control group had significantly less pain compared to baseline immediately after and one hour post treatment. The difference in mean pain reduction at one
hour post treatment between the Massage and control groups is 5.47 mm to 24.70 mm. Patients in the Massage but not the control group also had a statistically significant reduction in anxiety compared to baseline immediately after and at 1 hour post treatment.

CONCLUSION: Massage is effective in the short term for chronic pain of moderate to severe intensity.


Looking more broadly, the UK's NHS National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued guidelines in 2009 identifying that it considers a course of manual therapy, including Massage, to be an effective treatment of non-specific back pain. This view of Massage and pain relief is backed up by an independent survey carried out for the American Massage Therapy Association which found that 28% of people who had had a Massage in the past year felt it gave them the "greatest relief from pain" - the same proportion (28%) as those who believed medication offered the greatest relief.


Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Hawkes RJ, et al. Randomized trial of therapeutic Massage for chronic neck pain. Clinical Journal of Pain. 2009;25(3):233–238.

In a study from the US, 64 adults with neck pain persisting for at least 12 weeks were randomly assigned to receive either Massage or a self-care book. The Massage group had up to 10 treatments over a 10-week period, provided by licensed practitioners who used a variety of common clinical
Massage techniques and also made typical self-care suggestions. The participants were interviewed to assess function (using the Neck Disability Index), symptom bothersomeness and other measures at 4, 10, and 26 weeks.

After 10 weeks, the Massage group was more likely than the self-care-book group to have clinically significant improvement in function and symptoms. At 26 weeks, the Massage group tended to be more likely to report improvement in function but not in specific symptoms. For both function and symptoms,
mean differences between the two groups were strongest at 4 weeks and not evident by 26 weeks. At all followup points, the Massage group was more likely than the self-care-book group to report global improvement ratings of "better" or "much better." At 26 weeks, medication use had increased 14 percent for the self-care-book group but had not changed for the Massage group. There were no serious
adverse experiences reported.

The researchers concluded that therapeutic Massage is safe and may have benefits for treating chronic neck pain, at least in the short term. They recommended studies to determine optimal Massage treatment, as well as larger, more comprehensive studies to follow patients for at least 1 year.


This is but a brief taste of the research that has already been carried out into Massage and Pain and, as with any research, carries with it limitations. But for a therapy which can often be considered simply "skin polishing" I'm so grateful to the people out there dedicating their lives to carrying out these studies. My own personal experience as a therapist and client tells me the power of Massage to provide pain relief is very real, but I so value the validation from outside my own little treatment room, because if a study provides a doorway for a Massage & Touch Sceptic to give a treatment a try, all the better!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Massage is just another word for Sex, right?

Ah, that old chestnut.

"Oh, you're a Massage Therapist, eh? Do you do happy endings?!"

Often said in jest - but the point is, it's often said. How many other professions do you know where people feel it's socially appropriate to insinuate you're actually a sex worker? Here in the UK the term Massage Parlour usually refers to an establishment offering something sexual rather than strictly therapeutic. People who are offering sexual services often advertise under the heading of Massage. Sex is rarely spoken about in anything but euphemisms and Touch is increasingly sexualised. It's hardly surprising the term Massage could seem synonymous with sex.

But it's not!

I'm a Massage therapist. I don't have sex with my clients. I'm a Massage client. I don't have sex with my therapist. And that's the way I want to keep it.

Massage is so many things and yes, you can seek out a specifically sensual or sexual Massage. But what a waste to disregard all the incredible qualities of Massage and Touch which have nothing to do with sex.

What a waste to disregard the thousands of scientific research papers finding Massage can help the immune system, reduce pain, depression and anxiety, reduce stress, enhance the development of premature babies - and so much more.

What a waste to disregard the feedback from millions of clients the world over of the change to their emotions, their muscles, their mental state, their whole being.

And what an insult to the therapists who have dedicated their lives to training and offering powerful healing Touch.

So no, in case you were still in any doubt, Massage isn't just another word for sex. If you're looking for sex, ask for sex. And if you're looking for Massage I wish you the very best in finding a practitioner who lets the simple power of Touch do the work.

Massage. What's it all about, anyway?

I think Massage is awesome. Although it's taken me a while, over several years of training as a Massage therapist (in particular with the NO HANDS Massage Company), I'm beginning to understand the incredibly broad scope of what Massage can do. And part of that is knowing it's not just an incredible tool to recover from injury, illness and emotional turbulence, but that regular Massage can help me (as a client) stay in optimum health.

I also have fabulous regular clients who understood the power of Massage before we met - and at the time of finding me were simply searching for the right therapist to book in with.

Yet thinking back to my Life Before Massage, it was something that didn't even enter my field of vision. Massage wasn't something my family, friends or other associates did. It was completely off my radar. And without having any connection or knowledge of Massage, why on earth would I spend £40 or upwards going to see a stranger, into whose hands I would put myself for an hour in an incredibly vulnerable position (naked or close to it) on the off-chance this thing called Massage was any good?

With that in mind, I find myself desperately wanting to share this incredible therapy but struggling against prejudices, misplaced assumptions and plain misinformation about what Massage is and what it can do.

So I'm doing what I can - offering new clients at my practice in Morecambe a really low priced introductory offer to try NO HANDS Massage. And for those who aren't ready to book a session, writing a series of short blogs about some of the misconceptions about Massage I come across on a regular basis.

Every therapist has their own take and this is mine. If any of the posts I write over the next few weeks spark further questions for you, or you've got an idea about Massage which is a barrier to you giving it a try, please do let me know. I certainly don't have all the answers but if having a chat about it might bring you one step closer to trying Massage I'm game if you are.

And in the mean time, f you want to get stuck into a great novel that'll take you on a journey through so many possibilities with Massage, Mavis and I... by Gerry Pyves comes highly recommended. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

From the Massage Couch into the Big Wide World

My ongoing journey of discovery with Massage, both as a client and a therapist, is often brought home to me most vividly at the most unexpected moments. This evening was one of them.

Living by the sea in Morecambe I often walk across the beach (rather than along the Prom) on my way to or from work. The quality of the journey is so different on the sand - especially bare foot and enjoying the constantly changing textures of sand and the undulations created by the waves. But it's taken to a completely different level when I do my favourite "Taking Time Out" - walking the tide line.

The bay bordered by the Stone Jetty to the North and The Battery to the South sees the tide come in on a wonderful curve. And it's this curve that I walked this evening and gained, well, so much. Walking ankle deep in water has the most wonderful effect - it slows me down. One of the most exciting principles of NO HANDS Massage for me has been that of Going Slow. I tend to live my life at Quick-Quick-Quick pace so allowing myself to go slow as a therapist, and to receive slow Touch as a client, has been an incredible eye opener. And something like walking the tide line, which invites me to go slow on so many levels, is fabulous.

By slowing down I find myself more aware of the important things - breathing deep down into my belly. Feeling the sand shifting under the soles of my feet, the flow of the water, letting myself sink into the moment with one simple focus: following the tide line. All with the humility of knowing I am but a speck in this amazing body of water. And with that the chatter of the day fades to nothing and a clarity comes.

Elementally it's all there - the water, the earth (in this case, sand), the wind (oh, the wind! Nothing quite like it) and the fire of the sun following its arc towards the horizon. How rare it is I find myself really appreciating each of the elements - and yet they are all there for the taking, if I just choose to partake.

As I started my walk I was sharing the bay with several others - some playing in the water, a fisherman and a kite surfer. By the end it was me and the kite surfer - I had a sense of a friendly companionship, and an amazement that no-one else seemed to be making the most of this stunning opportunity on a glorious summer's evening. And as I reached the rocks at the end of the Battery and stepped out of the water I thought I was walking on the moon - the difference between the consistency of the water and this "normal" walking through air was bizarre. Good bizarre, but very unexpectedly so.

And what has any of this to do with Massage? Everything. What Massage has taught me, through exploring my own body movements and through really feeling the sensations in my own body, is how to experience Being In My Body. I certainly feel like I spend a lot of my life "in my head" - but it's still my gut instinct I rely on in moments of crisis. It's still my physical being that keeps me healthy and active (or not if I disregard it too badly!)

The art of really connecting with myself on every level is how this evening's walk relates to Massage - because it's through Massage that I have been able to explore this art of connecting with myself, often without even realising it.

And I can't recommend it (the Massage or this particular tide line walk) enough!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Science and The Touch

As a Massage therapist, every time I read a Massage magazine two voices in my head chirp up. One says "Oooh, you should know all these muscles and nerves and medical names.  You should know them inside out because they were in your A&P module. And if  you don't know them you must be a bad therapist." The other says "Wow! More stuff to learn! I should go out and buy myself medical text books and immerse myself in the cutting edge developments of medical science because the body is a fascinating thing!"

 And today, a third chirped up: "Medical science is fascinating. But I don't want to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a diagnostician. My intellectual interest has been piqued, but my passions on a day to day basis have meant thus far I have yet to translate this piquing into a doing. And I'm seeing some wonderful results with clients - using good old fashioned Touch."

I have a scientific background and coming to NO HANDS Massage was a real struggle for me on many levels. The only way I truly began to learn about NO HANDS as a client and as a practitioner was to put aside my "science head" and really feel NO HANDS in the whole of my being, letting go of any previous assumptions about what should or shouldn't happen. Inhaling the new experiences of what happens in the real world. As a client and as a practitioner.

I'm really saddened that Touch as a therapy in and of itself seems to have list the respect it deserves. These days it seems only to be taken seriously when applied under a complicated therapy title while talking about anatomy and physiology which often even the scientists are still beginning to understand fully. In fact, I feel for me to talk about the body in terms of "now I'm stretching this specific muscle" is an insult to those in the medical profession who have spent years studying the human body and are still learning. My knowledge barely scratches the surface.

I dream of the day when there is a Massage magazine, not just for professionals but for clients, which is filled with stories of client experiences. Of practitioner experiences of how they felt IN THEIR BODY after treatments - what is affecting the results they are getting with their clients. And overall a place to chew the cud about the amazing power of Touch. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The power of Gentle Touch

The thing I find most exciting about Massage and Touch is how many different ways it can go. Even remembering back to my days at uni when I was just beginning to discover the many "shades" of Touch I can recall one particular evening when someone gave me a shoulder rub - there's no doubt it was deep but, in truth, it was awful! It wasn't right, it wasn't sensitive and it wasn't what I needed at the time. I've loved receiving really deep, really strong Touch but have found myself on a rollercoaster of a journey exploring the power of really gentle touch.

Power in gentleness? I'm struggling to piece it together myself, to find the words, but these days I find my responses to treatments being much more powerful when there has been at least some light, gentle Touch during the treatment. And I've been wanting to write about it for weeks and now, as I sit down to give it a go, I realise finding the words is much harder than I'd anticipated!

Take Sunday. I was lucky enough to have a treatment from a good friend and wonderful Massage therapist and when she asked how I wanted the session to be I was very clear that I wanted to her to work "all over but very gently". I've been exhausted recently and within minutes I was slipping in and out of sleep in a way I don't normally do on the Massage table. I'd come to, and realise she'd moved to an entirely different part of my body - and I simply accepted it.

At the end of the session it took me a good time to come round, get myself dressed and emerge from the treatment room. The space this gentle Touch had created had allowed me to take some incredibly important time for myself and although my energy was still relatively low (for me) it had recharged enough such that the rest of the day was manageable. I honestly don't think I could have taken a "deeper" Touch on Sunday - although the depth of the treatment I took from this "light" touch was phenomenal.

Likewise, the previous week I had had a treatment and, again, it was the light, gentle Touch which I asked for and which did the trick for me. And yet I know my therapist can do very deep, very strong Touch. Light and gentle from her is not "skin polishing", it is powerful bodywork delivered very gently. There's something about knowing the therapist has the capacity to get deep down into my structure if I ask for it that helps me trust the power of the gentle work even more.

And amongst all this comes the fact that both these practitioners were absolutely respectful of what I asked for. Of the fact that this is my body and I'm the expert in it. Yes, I seek support and advice when it's really out of kilter, but in the main if I take a breath and really feel what's going on for me I'll discover what I need to do. Like leaving work promptly today as my energy for being there had dissipated entirely!

It's taken me over 5 years of training as a Massage Therapist and learning about being the best client I can be by getting regular treatments to begin my exploration of the world of gentle Touch. And all I can say is if you've never tried a lighter touch, Do. Ask your Therapist, the one who does the amazing deep work for you, if they can do a light session. You may still go back to the deeper work at your next session but what if there was a whole world of experiences from light Touch which you never even knew about?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Massage - the Great Unknown

The longer I'm around Massage, the more it seems like something which is one of those "best kept secrets" - it  has so much to offer and yet is so rarely recognised as such!

I was lucky enough to stumble across Massage at a party when I was about 17. Until then it hadn't really entered my sphere of knowledge and even then it was many years before it became anything other than something I did occasionally for friends. Likewise, I'd receive a shoulder rub here and there but the thought of booking in for a Massage, spending time and money on "Me Time", never even crossed my mind. Even as I was doing my first Massage course I didn't book in as a client with an existing, experienced therapist. I mean, why would I?

Looking back now I can't believe I didn't twig sooner that, actually, to be the best I could be as a Massage therapist I really needed to understand what it was like to be a client. Not just someone who had felt other therapists Massage during practicals on my course, but someone who valued herself enough to book in regular appointments and learn the full scope of what Massage could offer.

I'm still learning that full scope - and it's an amazing journey! I wish I could communicate just the things I have felt and witnessed Massage can do - that's my current challenge.

What is true is that I see my fortnightly Massages as an integral part of looking after myself - they're not optional, they're not indulgence, they're important for my health. A major challenge for me is the disconnect I get between what my body is physically capable of sustaining and what my mind thinks it should do. How's that as a recipe for burn out? But Massage is such a powerful tool to get back into touch with what, physically, I can do. And when it's time to give myself a break and get some rest, even if just for a couple of hours.