Say hello to my little friends
Every time I waddle into work with my big red bag filled with massage tools, I swear I can hear my co-workers asking themselves, "Why does she need tools? She’s a registered massage therapist, all she needs is her hands.” Indeed my hands (and forearms and elbows) are very effective tools, but they have limits. It is because of these limits that I have found my tools and why I love them so much. A tooI is simply "a device or implement, especially one that is handheld, used to carry out a particular function". My tools let me work more efficiently and smarter, while giving my clients longer lasting relief from their pain. I feel there is this perception that if a massage therapist uses a tool(s) they are lazy. I want to touch on this a little more. Massage therapy DOES NOT require the therapist to wreck themselves for the sake of their clients. Yet I feel like this is silently expected from both client and therapist. I will admit, when I first started my carrier I fell victim to this. I would give everything I had to each client, and by the end of the day, I was utterly spent. Instead of working smarter, I worked harder, and my clients were no better for it. Now I have learnt that it is okay to use tools, it is okay to work smarter not harder. (That is not to say that I am not 100% invested in my clients). I still have to tell myself sometimes that it's okay not to be completely exhausted after every treatment and that what I am offering is better for my clients and myself. Part of what has inspired me to start blogging is to help other therapists come to this same realization and to find the right tools for them. I also want to educate clients and potential clients to have an open mind when it comes to receiving treatment from a massage therapist. Please trust us to provide you with the best treatment plan possible. With informed consent we always have the clients best interest at heart. Starting off slow, proper communication and working with a pain scale are all imperative to a successful treatment. I have put in a lot of time researching and perfecting my skills with each and every one of my tools. So having said that let me introduce you to my little friends.
Suffering from aching muscles? Let me tell you about my hardest working, most reliable and all-time favourite tool. My Thermophore /Theratherm moist heating pad. If you like heat, then this will be your best friend. This is not your regular heating pad. Moist heating pads penetrate the skin faster and deeper providing muscular relief in less time then a dry heating pad. The heat helps my clients relax and warms up the tissue so that I can go right to town on the issue at hand (pun intended.) I also love to throw some silicone cups under the heating pad to warm them up before I perform moving cupping.
Upper traps of steel? Hypertonic hamstrings? Meet my warm bamboo stick buddies. They are hard yet light and flexible. These sticks literally melt your muscle tension. By kneading your tissue like bread dough these sticks help lengthen the muscles, increase blood flow, and break up fascial adhesions. It can also help restore the body’s electromagnetic field. This is due to the silica found in the outer cell walls of the bamboo, creating a crystalline -like matrix similar to that of quartz crystal and our connective tissue. Pyroelectricity and piezoelectricity are the magic makers of these sticks. Pyroelectricity is the ability of certain materials to generate an electrical potential when heated or cooled. This is also found within our bones and tendons. Piezoelectricity is the ability of some materials to generate an electrical potential in response to pressure being applied along the crystal lattice. Our fascia is also a crystalline like matrix. So what I'm really trying to say is these sticks are the bomb.
Got a stiff neck? Getting headaches that just won’t go away? My gua sha tools got you covered. These bad boys were one (if not the first) tools used for instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization. Gua sha is a press and stroke technique used to break up stagnant blood and Chi. Think of stagnation as you would a body of water that has no access to free flowing water. This stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. The same can be said for the body, leading to pain and other illness. Sha is the name of the pebble like rash that appears along the stroke line in unhealthy tissue and usually takes 2-7 days to go away. I can work on an area repeatedly, but if there is no blockage/stagnation then there will not be any sha. This alone makes this modality a useful diagnostic tool for the therapist. The sha does not lie. As a massage therapist, much of the inner finesse of gua sha (and cupping) is lost on me as I am not well versed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to explain things such as what causes blood stagnation and blocked Chi. In my world, an injury to the tissue could cause this and or an accumulation of micro trauma from repetitive stress. But if you look further into this from a TCM perspective there are many more reasons (not to mention they can explain things like dampness, coldness, latent heat, and so much more.) Not many people are aware of this East Asian modality but the way I explain it is gua sha is cupping's little sister. Now you might be asking yourself “Why do I need gua sha if I already get cupping done?” Well, let me take a minute to break it down for you. Gua sha is great for acute issues, even injuries that cannot be worked on directly but distal work is very effective for this situation. Cupping is better for chronic issues and joint pain as cupping can penetrate the tissue up to four inches. Gua sha is also very useful in reducing the common cold. This is due to the increased activity of immune system cells. These cells secrete a substance called cytokines, which help jump-start our immune system to fight off viruses and infection. Gua sha like cupping also feels amazing on the face. Now this modality is not for everyone. What I will say is that if you can get used to the odd sensation of the tools scrapping the skin (which over time people come to love) and can get over the look of the sha that comes out then these little tools will quickly become your best friends.
Next up, meet my cupping crew. Are your rhomboids and mid traps plagued with trigger points? These plastic and silicone cups create a negative pressure with their suction (as opposed to the positive pressure created with massage) that will flush out blood, lymph fluid, cellular waste and bring in fresh oxygenated blood to the area. These cups are designed to break up stagnant blood and Chi. Cupping also affects the parasympathetic nervous system, the one that chills you out. For a registered massage therapist, fire cupping is out of our scope of practice, so you will have to see an acupuncturist or practitioner of TCM for this type of cupping. I perform both static cupping (stationary) and moving cupping (dynamic cupping). Moving cupping is similar to gua sha in terms of releasing sha and in my clinical experience, and most people tolerate this better then gua sha. My favourite place to cup by the way is my face. It is amazing how much tension we can hold in our face (which also makes it an excellent choice for treating TMJ and other jaw issues, sinus congestion, decreasing facial paralysis from certain conditions, diminishes and aligns scar tissue, and can make the skin healthier in general.
Laying on the massage table with a million thoughts running through your mind and you just cannot relax. Let me activate my tuning forks and place them on your body to evoke a state of relaxation in seconds that could otherwise take 45 minutes. These forks are calibrated metal tools that resonate specific vibrations to different parts of the body. Because our bodies are made up of water, the body resonates sound extremely well. Sound resonates four times faster in water. Tuning forks can release tension in the body, relieve pain and stasis, increase the flow of Chi and promote emotional balance. I will be honest I have only dipped my toes into the world of sound therapy, but I find it fascinating on so many levels. Pythagoras described music as the phenomena of numbers in time, reflecting structures of
nature and has the ability to restore balance in an organism. Studies have shown that cancer cells when hit with specific sound waves cannot adapt and stabilize themselves and die by exploding and disintegrating. Some even believe that our fascia can carry toned frequencies throughout the body. Clients and even children with high sensitivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD) report having better sleep, improved mental focus and better self - regulation skills when treated with tuning forks. They even have tuning forks that can be used to clear the energy in a treatment room after a session. I really resonate with this (another intended pun sorry ) because I'm a big fan of energy. In between clients we always make sure there are new linens and surfaces have been properly cleaned/disinfected so why wouldn’t we want to make sure that there is no residual energy left from our last client. There is a lot that happens in a treatment room in regards to decompressing and releasing tension so where does this energy go? These forks make sense to me.
Persistent heel pain? When I cannot use my cups or gua sha, my backup is my fasciablasters. I've had such success in treating plantar fasciitis with these tools. Imagine a comb for the body that helps realign muscle fibres and breaks up adhesions. They also feel amazing on the skull. They can be quiet intense so be sure to start off slow and superficial. These tools are marketed for riding the body of cellulite as this is considered distorted fascia (as per Ashley Black the founder) but fascia is fascia. There is a wide variety of people who use these tools for self care, recovery from injury and even peak performance for athletes and other professionals. These tools are somewhat controversial but the research is there and it is easy to find. They also look a little weird but definitely worth the investment to add to the family.
In closing, I would like to add that this post is merely a reflection of MY opinions and MY experiences. What I love about massage therapy is that I continue to grow as a therapist. Is it daunting to leave my comfort zone to learn something new? Absolutely. But growth is important to me in all areas of my life and my carrier is no exception. Every therapist has their own way to navigate through their practice and these tools help me navigate through mine.