Massage Therapist Insider Series: How much pressure is too much pressure?

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Posted by Alicia McCarthy

When I used to work at spas, I would get a lot of male clients who would size me up, and say, “Give me as much pressure as you can muster, lil’ lady…”( okay it wasn’t as John Wayne as all that). I think that they had the impression that tons of pressure meant that they were getting their money’s worth. Or that if I gave them all of the pressure I could, they would be “cured”.

Don’t get me wrong, I, myself, am a fan of pressure when it is needed and appropriate. However, if the body is not accustomed to deep pressure, it can be sent into a “fight or flight” mode of survival thereby contradicting the relaxation aspect of massage.

The body’s autonomic nervous system is divided into three parts. The enteric, which operates unconsciously and controls the function of organs, The parasympathetic, which is responsible for the body’s resting functions like digestion or salivation. The sympathetic nervous system responds when the body senses danger, and kicks in as a means for survival. Sounds relaxing, right?

That same part of the nervous system can be triggered if the body perceives the act of getting a DEEP tissue massage as extremely painful.

Pain perception is very interesting. What we think we can endure as far as physical pain is concerned can be vastly different to what is actual necessary to receiving a good deep tissue massage. Deep tissue doesn’t actually have to mean that the receiver is gasping in pain, and that their role is to just “get through it”. The technique of deep tissue massage refers to the slow application of sustained pressure across the fibers of the muscle belly. And yes, the end result is technically muscle damage. The idea is to eradicate holding patterns that exist in the body in order to allow healthy, new patterns to develop. Patterns that can come about with the help of massage therapy.

If the receiver has been a long time receiver of deeper work, then their response to extreme pressure is something that their body understands. That “hurts so good” concept is something that can be very real to their individual pain perception. Communication is key for both the massage therapist and the client. When that balance of deep pressure and soothing relaxation is struck, then true healing can begin!

Sources: The Principles of Anatomy and Physiology 11th edition by Gerard Tortora and Bryan Derrikson


Happy Winter! Paperwhites

Image MapPosted by Gwyn MacDonald

Winter is here and I for one am happy about it. I love the cold and especially snow but I should come clean and admit that more than anything I enjoy hibernating (as much as we humans can manage), large mugs of hot chocolate (with a splash of Frangelica!) and using a hot water bottle to warm my chilly toes!

All that said, I am also a gardener, so while I appreciate the break from my plot of land I still yearn to have a few plants to keep an eye on and wait and watch as they suddenly come in to bloom

Enter the fabulous Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus papyreceus)! Nothing new under the sun here folks, but they are so wonderful on a grey winter day or surrounded by candles in the evening. Crazy easy to grow (loads of info and how to’s on the web) and found in many flower shops and garden centers at this time of year, Paperwhites do a great job of reminding us that spring is around the corner…even if it’s a really long corner.

Plant many pots of them with a few weeks in between each planting and you could get through till late February and probably March. Unfortunately for us in Philadelphia, Paperwhites don’t rebloom if planted outdoors (unless you happen to live in zones 8-11), so once they are finished toss them in your compost pile.. or a kind friends’ or neighbors’ pile.

Judy keeps them in our office from late fall into late winter and they are much appreciated and loved.  I always have a few pots in the bedroom to greet me in the morning…something sweet and bright to start my day. Happy Winter!

Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful!

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Posted by Judy Moon

But hot stones are so delightful!

I frequently am asked – “what’s your favorite massage?” That’s a tough question to answer.

Anytime someone is placing healing hands on my body – it’s a good thing!

I do have a soft spot though for a hot stone massage – warm basalt stones gliding over your skin, melting tension and aches and pains out of tired over worked muscles – what’s not to like?

I think hot stone massage is sometimes perceived as kind of a “fluffy” treatment or something you do strictly for pampering. I beg to differ.

Don’t be fooled – there are many healing properties and benefits to hot stone massage.

Combining the thermotherapy of the warm stones with massage techniques, using the stone as a massage tool is the perfect duo for allowing greater tissue manipulation and releasing tight muscles with ease and less discomfort for the person on the table.

The natural energy properties of the stones and the geomagnetism have balancing effects of the systems of the body and better opens energy pathways.

Hot stones can also be alternated with cold marble stones to increase circulation and speed injury recovery.

According to Pat Mayrhofer, founder of Nature’s Stones Inc., “both verbal and written history confirm that the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs. Stones were also used for healing work in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt, and India. These traditions included laying stones in patterns on the body, carrying or wearing stones for health and protection, using stones for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and for ceremonial uses, such as sweat lodges and medicine wheels.

I will say to be sure that you find someone who has had good training in hot stone massage. I have purposely featured a photo of someone with stones all along their bareback. That shouldn’t happen! Stones on skin should be in motion. Stones placed on the body need a barrier, such as a towel under them to prevent burning the skin.

So next time you are scheduling a massage, think about a hot stone massage.

It’s especially lovely this time of year when there is a little nip in the air. Your muscles will thank you.


Photo Credits // 1 Earth System Resource Laboratory // 2 The Malton

It’s Essential: Aromatherapy

Image Map Posted by: Debi Phillpotts

Years ago I stumbled upon The Aromatherapy Book: Applications and Inhalations, by Jeanne Rose while browsing in my local bookstore. I honestly can’t remember what drew me to aromatherapy in the first place other than the fact that I’ve always had thing for beautiful scents. Nevertheless, this book has been and still is a treasured gem in my personal library and has taught me the proper handling along with some great uses for essential oils. I have concocted everything from my own signature scents to healing potions in times of illness or injuries for the whole family. Plants and their essences are truly magical and powerful, but more important they are natural. I even have a special cabinet that houses these beauties, which I refer to as “our medicine cabinet”.

If someone were to ask me what were my top three oils I use most I would say:

  • Lavender oil used in perfumes for centuries other uses include soothing anxiety, antiseptic and pain reliever.
  • Eucalyptus oil is widely used in pharmaceutical preparations for treating cold symptoms, and is a natural antibacterial and antimicrobial. Its many uses include decongestant, miticide, and cleaning solution.
  • Tea Tree oil is a powerful antiseptic with many uses such as treating athletes foot, minor cuts, and scrapes, pimples, cold sores, lice and ringworm.

Every Day Uses
Put 6-10 drops each of essential lavender and eucalyptus oil in a spray bottle with water to keep on hand to freshen up bed linens, throw pillows or use as air freshener. Also, add oils to any unscented lotions or detergents to customize your own scent.

Make a sea salt foot bath and add lavender, tea tree or peppermint oil and soak; great for tired or athletes feet and nail fungus.

Add 3-5 drops of Eucalyptus oil to a hot shower for an instant steam treatment; helps clear congestion in sinuses and lungs.

Bonus Blend
Thieves or Medieval oil is a blend that comes in handy during cold and flu season. Legend has it, during the dark ages physicians and grave robbers alike protected themselves from the Black Death with aromatic herbs of lavender, thyme, and rosemary. Some blends also include lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon, clove and tea tree essential oils.

*Please be advised: Always consider contraindications and take precautions when using essential oils.

Sources The Aromatherapy Book: Applications and Inhalations

Photo credits: Photos 1 and 2 by Debi Phillpotts

Massage Therapist Insider Series: How Often Should I Have a Massage?

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Posted by Alicia McCarthy

How often should I come for a massage?
This question is the most common by far. Sometimes I joke and say, “Everyday!” What I really mean is that every body should experience positive touch everyday in some way, but the real answer varies from body to body. I, personally try to get some form of bodywork at least once a week. I used to feel spoiled saying that, but if it’s within your means, I’d say the results for caring for yourself on that level, are dramatic.

What are your goals?
That’s usually how I try to respond to the question of how frequently massage is needed. If you aim to alleviate a specific area of pain due to injury or years of repetitive stress, one massage is not going to give you an immediate ”fix”. The effects of massage are cumulative, and healing is something that happens gradually. When targeting specific areas you want to correct, I would say try coming in for a massage every week until the pain transforms, then you should try to make massage more of a regular routine to maintain a healthy balance in your body, mind, spirit.

Imagine if you had a dream to have six pack abs, and you thought doing 100 sit ups in one day would make that dream a reality. That sounds silly, right? Receiving one massage in order to “fix” an issue in your body that’s screaming for attention seems equally silly.

One of the great things about massage is that it teaches you about yourself. After that first session that you’ve had in order to stop your back from spasm, you might feel great, better than you did before you had a massage. The next day you might feel sore in a different part of your body or worse in that one spot in your back. Sometimes you experience pain before the real healing takes place.

Your body is different everyday. My goal as a receiver of massage is finding a harmonious state within myself. My goal as a giver of massage is to assist you in getting to your own personal state of harmony.