Massage is probably the most popular treatment on the menu whether you work in a spa or a salon. With clients working longer hours or taking work home with them, the wear and tear of everyday life or those with young children, everyone can benefit from massage.
Physically the therapist can work on knots, tensions and strains in the muscles. Leaving the client suppler, reduced aches and promote healing.
Mentally & emotionally it gives clients quiet time, away from gadgets and things they need to do and allows them to start to relax and unwind. Spiritually, massage can help; the music, the oils and dimmed lighting. The mind can wonder and renew the spirit.
This article though, is going to focus on the physical aspect of massage and give pointers to how to release the tensions, find knots and work on problem areas.
Benefits of massage
Whether you are fresh from college or have many years’ experience, a therapist knows that massage increases the circulation to the muscles and therefore brings nutrients to these areas much more quickly. It also stimulates the lymphatic system which aids in removal of toxins, which is why we always offer glass of water after treatment to assist the body in flushing this out. Thirdly, the client benefits from the ‘human touch’ promoting an overall sense of wellbeing.
Aroma therapists will know that essential oils absorb into the blood stream where; depending on your choice of oils can relax, detox, energise and so on… it takes approximately twenty minutes for oils get into the blood stream. Aromatherapy also stimulates the olfactory system which works through inhalation of oils and takes only seven minutes. Therefore aromatherapy or pre-blended oils can tailor make a massage session to giving the client enhancement of relaxation or invigoration.
What is a tension?
Tension is the result of continual muscle activity. This can be from repetitive, strenuous, or overworked muscle. A mother with little children could suffer with tension in her back. When leaning over to pick up a child the tension would be felt in the lower back. By carrying the child on for example her hip throughout the day both the dominate side that she is carrying or the opposite side which is over compensating will feel tense. Likewise, a business person constantly on the lap top could suffer around the neck area if the screen is not at eye level. Just as whiplash is caused by the head jolting forward, continual leaning forward of the head pulls on the neck causing tension as well as rounding of the base of the neck. As this position is prolonged the spine is stretched and eventually causes tension to form in the lower back.
Driving, desk work, heavy lifting and bad posture can all result in tension.
What is a knot?
Knots are nodules of tension, and are caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the muscle. When the muscle is working it needs energy, that energy comes from the blood which carries oxygen which the muscle needs to continue the activity. When there isn’t adequate oxygen for the muscle it then works ‘anaerobically’ (without oxygen), the body then produces lactic acid to continue the muscular activity but this creates an oxygen debt. When the activity ceases and oxygen levels increase this will oxidize the lactic acid turning it into carbon dioxide and water and will then be removed though the lymph. Occasionally tiny bits of lactic can remain in the muscle causing these knots. Over time this build up, into those clicky nodules that you feel when working on clients.
How to find knots?
Knots are usually found on the back during massages and tend to congregate around the scapula areas. Sometime aches and knots can be detected in the lower back too.
After checking for contra indications and selecting oil to be used a masseuse or therapist will start by distributing the oil evenly over the back with effleurage movement. Not only does this spread the oils, it sets the pace for the massage, slow and deep and usually a good time to gage / check pressure. It will also warm up the muscles and put nervous or new clients at ease.
After establishing the pressure and using effleurage movements to spread the oils. You can then begin the massage working on various areas establishing where knots are and relaxing the client. Different therapists have different techniques and routines for massage but when working around the scapula area I usually start with finger tips doing small circles around scapula then use thumbs, usually I can determine how the location and the volume of knots. Once I have found where the knots are I use a double handed figure of eight re warms the tissues and takes pressure off knotty tensions giving client chance to relax into the massage. Moving to another area to work on, like the lower back and check for tensions and knots. I then continue with various movements and techniques covering all areas and using petissage and wringing movements.
Half way through the massage, and once the muscles have warmed up a good movement which I learnt prior to joining the cruise ships is to proceed with forearms gliding up one side of the back and using elbows to finish off around the scapula. This firm pressure should be slow movement and careful. Occasionally some clients find this too firm so watch for reflexes and again check pressure. Bending clients arm behind them whilst working on their scapula with thumbs or side of hand will drain toxins.
Another movement standing at clients head and facing their feet you can do forearm circles around neck and then thumb drainage from side of spine out to scapula and ‘pop’ the knots. Going over tense areas with double thumbs. This popping or crunching feeling is breaking down what has built up, the body is then more able to flush out these toxins. Some clients may wince at this feeling others describe it as a ‘good pain’ and it instantly feels better once this has been done.
Working all over the body part and returning to knotty areas gives the client time to relax as focusing too much on the knots at one time can be a little tender. Erythema will occur on knotted areas that are worked on, just remember to do drainage movements to help the lymph remove the toxins at the end of the massage.
Stretching and rocking movements at the beginning and the end of massage is good too. Rocking loosens up tight muscles preparing them for massage and stretching at the end of the massage completes the relaxation of the client and feels really good to finish. Spinal stretches can be done with pressure finishing on the coccyx and occipital. This is the only time I do work directly on the spine. Avoid the spine when doing all other movements.
No one can remove all knots after one massage, if they had a full body massage and had neck and shoulder tension then give them the option of rebooking a back, neck and shoulder massage a couple of days after, this ensures repeat business but is better on their purse. They will benefit from having another massage a few days later and then a 3rd a week after that. So do speak of the benefits of more massages in the immediate future to ensure knot reduction and removal.
Also advise that if they feel achy the next day where they have knotted areas that it’s just the toxins coming out through the tissues and that continuing with water will flush out those toxins and they will feel looser and relaxed more quickly.
Offering water after massage is the standard practise in all spas and salons. Also you can use this time to recommend bath oils to retail and also to advice on posture, the benefits of taking regular 5 minute breaks when working at a desk all day.
Other advice could be yoga classes or swimming for increasing suppleness and reducing tightness in muscles. A dull ache in the muscles then the best remedy is heat; a hot water bottle on the area, hot bath or deep heat pads will help too.