What type of massage is best for you? (Part II)

  • pexels-photo-2757661You’ve decided you need a massage, now what kind do you want? It really depends on your goals. Most people either want to reduce pain or stress and frequently both.  It can get a little confusing when you look at a menu of services (and prices) or google “massage” and get everything from sports therapy to facials.  Most places will describe their services and you can always ask in advance. If you know someone who has been to a therapist, ask about the options that person offers.
  1. Primary goal: Pain relief – If you primary goal is to relieve pain, you Continue reading

What type of massage is best for you? (Part I)

I like to say that massage is like ice cream: there are many flavors and it just depends what flavor you’re in the mood for today. Types of massage run the gamut from spa-like treatments to energy work to clinical sessions that are almost like physical therapy. When you are considering what type of massage to get, ask yourself three questions:

  • Why are you seeking massage?
  • How do you expect to feel afterwards?
  • What are your preferences?

Why are you seeking massage? Sometimes people are given a gift certificate or a friend has recommended they try massage so they are simply testing the waters. More often they have had some past experience, such as a chair massage, and want a more in-depth experience. I am having more people being referred to me by other health professionals like physical therapists or chiropractors who want their patient to either extend or enhance treatment through massage.

How do you want to feel afterwards?  As a massage therapist I generally have people come to me for one of two reasons – either to relieve stress or relieve pain. There is a connection between physical and emotional pain and massage can help both. You may want to feel less stressed and more encouraged and having someone focus entirely on you for a whole hour is bliss. You may have a physical condition (such as plantar faciitis) or recovering from surgery (rotator cuff, for example) and want to feel less pain and have a greater range of motion.  Massage can address both the physical and emotional at the same time.


What are your preferences? First-time massage clients may want to consider what they prefer or expect from their experience. Do you prefer to remain clothed or are you ok being covered in a drape? Would you rather have light or firm touch? Do you have any allergies to scents, either in lotions or laundry soap? The answers to the first two questions will help you with this one. Your therapist will adjust to make you feel comfortable.  I have had clients who simply sat in a chair while I worked on them due to broken arms or Parkinson’s Disease. Others leave their socks on as a reminder that they don’t like their feet being touched.

Whatever your “flavor,” this is your time and your dime. Don’t feel locked into what your therapist thinks is best for you if you don’t like it. Each therapist has his or her own technique and specialties and can probably refer you to someone that is a better fit for you if needed.


What is Neural Reset Therapy?

Do your shoulders achimg_20150919_171951550e from driving or working at the computer? Maybe you’re a runner and no matter what, your hamstrings just won’t loosen up and you’ve got a big run ahead of you. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have your pain greatly reduced or even eliminated in minutes? Neural Reset Therapy has done that for many people. In this article I will explain what it is and how it is done.

Neural Reset Therapy, developed by Lawrence Woods,  is based on several neurological laws and works through the nervous system. (For a more information about the science behind this, read about Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Inhibition and Pfluger’s Law of Symmetry.) The nervous system is the “communication system” of your muscles, so to speak. In NRT (Neural Reset Therapy) the nervous system is stimulated in order to relax or “reset” the tight muscle.

These stimulations are done by the therapist gently rocking, shaking, moving or tapping specific areas, usually while the client offers slight resistance. For example, if your thigh is tight, the therapist may have you hold a certain position and give resistance while the therapist either taps a muscle with a reflex hammer or does some shaking or jiggling motions.  This sends a message through the mechanoreceptors (special nerve bundles which respond to stimuli) to reset the troublesome muscle.

This therapy is generally done fully clothed, although it can be worked into a regular massage. It is simple, easy, and effective and you should feel immediate improvement unless there are underlying conditions or other muscles that need attention.





Just as in any massage technique, NRT is not for everyone. A few people have conditions that don’t allow it or simply prefer other modalities. And as in other techniques, the benefits last until the muscle is tightened again. Just like cars require regular maintenance with use, so does your body.


The next time you bring yours in for a “tune-up” and the therapist suggests trying a little NRT, you will know what to expect.

For further reading: “Stimulus and Response” by Ralph Stephens from Massage Magazine, November 2014

How to Deal with Leg/Foot Cramps

There you are, enjoying your run or swim, relaxing after exercise or maybe just sleeping in your bed, and WHAM! A cramp hits you in the leg or foot. Often just moving around or walking it off will do the trick, but sometimes they are persistent, and never pleasant. Here is a brief overview of what they are, some home remedies, and how to avoid them.
Causes: A cramp is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. They may be caused by dehydration, overuse, holding the muscles in one position for a long time, or muscle strain. A cramp can be brought on because there is not enough blood being circulated and is cured by switching positions or changing the action. A lack of minerals (potassium, calcium, and magnesium) or nerve compression can also bring on muscle cramps. Exercising in extreme heat or not warming up sufficiently before exercise can cause cramps. Certain physical conditions such as torticollis and restless leg syndrome can also bring on muscle cramps.
Avoidance: Prevention is always preferable, so be sure you keep hydrated and are getting your vitamins and minerals. When you are training or exercising more, punch up your diet with nutrient rich foods such as baked potatoes, pumpkin seeds, and dairy products. Be sure you are warming up and stretching before rigorous activity.
Remedies: Our first response is usually to move around or rub the muscle, which often help. If not, here are a few more ideas:
• Ice
• Heat
• Warm bath with Epsom salts
• Press into the cramping muscle and hold for 10 seconds, and repeat as needed
• Massage with 1 part wintergreen oil to 4 parts carrier(vegetable) oil
• Massage with basil oil
Drink two ounces of pickle juice or eat a pickle slice
• Pinch your upper lip
For hamstring – put your weight on the affected leg and bend the knee
For quadriceps – do a quad stretch
• For bottom of foot – flex foot so the toes point toward your nose
• For anywhere in lower leg or foot – lie down, straighten leg, and have someone give a firm slap to the bottom of your foot
(For an interesting discussion on the pickle juice tip, go to Runnersconnect. )
Most of these “cures” are based on one of three theories, the first being that the body is low on electrolytes, hence the pickle juice trick. The second being that the nervous system needs to be disrupted or reset, which would account for the pinch-the-lip and slap-the-foot tips. Finally, the idea that the muscle needs to re-establish blood flow, so massage and movement help. No matter what theory you hold, when a cramp hits, try whatever works best for your body. And remember, eat healthy and warm up to prevent them in the first place!

When to Schedule your Sports Massage

IMG_20150831_100751886Fall – the perfect time for a run! The tree in the photo reflects this autumn weather in Iowa – temps in the 80’s one day, then in the 50’s the next. Fall also brings the Des Moines Marathon races. This year the 5K will be held on Saturday, October 17 and the marathon and half-marathon on Sunday, October 11, 2015 18. I will be at both of them doing massage for the athletes. (This year you can book your post-race Sunday massage in advance. Just contact me for the details.)

If you are a runner (or do any athletic competitions), you will want to schedule your massages appropriately. Deep tissue massages should be done no less than two weeks before a competition so that your body can adapt to the work. Muscles will be more relaxed and the body will need to get used to moving in a slightly different way and knowing where it is in space. This is called proprioception. If you are concerned with attaining your personal best and don’t have any major issues, I suggest staying away from deep massage work until after the competition. However, if your main focus is being able to compete or you are worried about pulling a muscle, you may want to risk altering your gait a bit.

Post-race massages are generally brief and light, with the emphasis on calming the nervous system and beginning the recovery stage. Sometimes athletes have specific issues that come up during the race that a quick massage can help. Muscle cramps, unless they are severe, can also be addressed. (Severe cramps may be due to serious dehydration and a visit to the aid station is warranted.)

It is best to schedule an hour or longer massage within 72 hours of your race, but any time during that week will feel good. This allows the body to cool down and any irritated tissues to begin to mend. If you have another competition coming along, the massage will speed up your recovery and allow you to better focus on the next event, making sure you are in your best physical form.
Whatever you choose to do this fall, get out there and enjoy it – and let massage help you do so.

Essential Oils: Five Commonly Asked Questions

Among the many items in my Massage Therapist’s bag of tricks are essential oils. I was as clueless as anyone when I first heard about them, but now I use them around the home and on myself as well as in my studio. Following are answers to five commonly asked questions about essential oils.
     1. What are they? Essential oils are derived from plants, generally by distillation or steam. While they have the fragrance of the plant, they are not perfume.
     2. How do they work? Essential oils can be applied to the skin or simply inhaled. Their chemical properties affect the limbic system of the brain which controls breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate among other things. It is also involved with memory and emotion. When applied topically, the oil can affect not only the skin, but tissues and bloodstream.
     3. How do I use them? Most people diffuse the oils by putting a drop or two in a diffuser which helps the aroma waft through the air. Often I put a couple drops on a cotton square or folded tissue for my client to inhale. Oils can also be put in a “carrier” or neutral oil (such as a plain massage oil or vitamin E oil) and put on the skin. Depending on the type and purity of the oil, it may be put directly on the skin. In my practice, I always ask a client before using them, either on the skin or in the air. What I use depends on the desires and needs of the client, such as stuffy sinuses, sore muscles, or simply the desire to relax.
     4. Where do I get them? Oils may be ordered online, through distributers, or purchased at health food stores. I’ve even seen them at grocery stores. However, you will want to be sure you get high quality oil, so do a little research before you buy.
     5. Which ones do you recommend? Most people benefit from three popular oils – lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus. These are typically gentle on the skin, easy to obtain, and address a variety of common issues. Lavender is known for its calming effect, but also is good for the skin. Peppermint is good for the digestive system, helps boost memory, and improves mood. Eucalyptus opens sinuses and eases breathing.
The subject of essential oils is a broad topic with a wide range of beliefs and this is just the very tip of the iceberg. Perhaps this basic “primer” will give you some understanding the next time your therapist asks if you would like “aromatherapy” added to your session.

Ways to Start a New Habit (Make Massage a Habit)

Habits. Why is it bad habits are so hard to break but good habits difficult to develop? I want to eat right, exercise, and finish those projects waiting to be crossed off my to-do list, but I find myself getting derailed. There seems to be an endless number of reasons to celebrate with sugary, carbohydrate-laden food and unfortunately, quite a few reasons to skip that work out. “This morning it rained, this afternoon I had to work late, tomorrow I’m just too busy…”
I find projects especially daunting. First, I need to set aside enough time – and there’s never enough time. Then, when I finally start, I’m overwhelmed. By now I’ve procrastinated long enough that it seems impossible to ever finish. Even when I enjoy the task and long to do it, I keep getting led astray. Regularly writing this blog is a good example. Getting regular massage is another. I know it’s good for me, I enjoy it, and yet it often gets put on the back burner. There seems to be a pattern: I start out with determination and good intentions, then I get distracted, and finally discouraged. I have come up with some ideas of how to break this cycle. I call it “Ways to Start a New Habit.”

A) Write it down. I love to cross things off my list, so first I have to write it down. If I don’t, I may forget to do it and keeping it in front of me reminds me of my new priority. My clients often get their calendars out when they pay for their massage so they can schedule their next one.
B) Set a goal. Goals need to be specific and achievable. My goal is to clean the bathrooms every Monday, eat 5 servings of fruits or veggies a day, and exercise five times a week. And to post a new blog by Tuesday! Many of my clients start coming to me on a weekly basis to get relief for a specific pain, then return at least monthly to maintain their health.
C) Have someone hold you accountable. I admit it, I’m a cheater. If no one checks my food log, I won’t write it down. And if I don’t write down that candy bar, it doesn’t count, does it? Find someone to keep you on track. I give my clients reminder calls just like the dentist does for me.
D) Align a new habit with something else already established. I have clients that schedule their massage the same day as their hair appointment or the same week they get paid. I stretch my upper body before I get out of bed and my lower body while I’m curling my hair.

What is a good habit you would like to start? Now is a good time to do so. Stop that procrastinating and make a plan. For a little more insight, read this short article by James Clear: http://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change.  Here is a good article from Body Sense Magazine on benefits of regular massage:


How to Take Care of Yourself During aCrisis

It’s spring in Iowa – at last! I probably shouldn’t say that too loud as we have had snowstorms in April. But we went from single digits to bikini weather in one month before dipping into more seasonal temps. I took advantage of the springtime weather to take my bike on a spin. It was great to hear the birds singing, the wind in the trees, and breathe in the aroma of growing things and BBQ grills. I needed that time to sweep the cobwebs out of my brain and circulate fresh air through my body.

You see, my elderly mother was ill and it was good to take a break from the sick room/hospital, good for my physical, mental, and emotional health. Physically it was good to move around after sitting for so long. Mentally it was a refreshing break, a chance to dwell on more positive things. Emotionally it brought back fond memories. My parents and I used to bike so this is a pleasant reminder of those happy times. The aroma of grills and growing things reminds me of summer camp and a song we used to sing: “Look up to the skies and open up your eyes and let your troubles fade away. Dream those dreams today and melt your cares away and open up your heart and sing. Live your life for every day, the old one’s gone, so don’t let this one slip away.”

When you (or someone you know) are going through a difficult time with illness in the family, you often hear people say, “You have to take care of yourself, too.” That time away from the crisis is important, but I know how difficult that can be to attain. Sometimes the crisis just won’t let up and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anyone else to step in. Sometimes when you finally have a few moments, they are spent doing tasks that eat up precious time that could be spent taking a breather instead. Having been in this position, I have a few suggestions based on what has helped me to get more therapeutic time during a family crisis:

1) Ask others to spread word for you. When you make the phone call to Aunt Millie or your good friend Jake to inform them of the situation, ask them to call others. This allows you to focus less on the stress at hand and use down time to recoup yourself.
2) Use CaringBridge, or a similar site. This is a place where you can create a site for your loved one and keep others up to date. You invite who you want to receive this information. The beauty of this is you can just send one email to tell everyone what the doctor said today or what progress has been made. You can even do this quietly while your loved one rests in the same room.
3) “What can I do to help?” Whether you are asking or being asked, think of what things might be helpful to someone in that situation. Have a list of things ready that you feel comfortable doing or asking others to do.
a.Cards, notes, visits are always nice.                                                                                                                                      b. Offers to do chores or help around the home, such as babysitting, mowing, pick up groceries, laundry, making phone calls. Sometimes something simple like bringing pens and notepaper is welcome or healthy snack food, such as nuts and fruit.
c. Gift cards for gasoline, especially if there is a lot of driving involved, or for restaurants and food stores.
d. takethemameal.com is a website that can be useful for people to sign up to take meals to people and can be a time saver. Home-cooked meals feed the soul as well as the body.
e. Massage also gives a good mental break. There are two specific times that massage felt especially wonderful to me, mentally and emotionally. Once after a two-week stretch of turmoil I booked an hour massage for myself and when asked what I wanted the therapist to do, I replied, “Take the world off my shoulders!” She knew just what to do! Another time I spent several weeks in the hospital with family and discovered a chair massage service there (aptly named “Oasis” and conveniently located near a coffee shop!). Those few minutes refreshed me enough to keep me going.

We will all face a crisis someday or know someone who is. Hopefully these tips will help you be encouraged and encourage others.

Congestion Relief a Stone’s Throw away



Well, it’s that time of year again…cold and flu season! I’ve done battle with a cold recently and put all my favorite remedies to use – extra vitamins, herbal tea with honey, zinc sprays, baths with Epsom salts and essential oils in the water, on my feet, and in the air. A new trick I’ve added is contrast therapy both in the shower and with stones.

Contrast Therapy is alternating hot and cold, usually with compresses or with a bath or shower. Think of the Scandinavian sauna followed by a dip in a snowbank or icy pond. Today we see it used with athletes taking ice baths to cool down or to ice a sore limb. Massage therapists may employ this technique using compresses, towels, or stones. An easy way to incorporate it is to alternate warm and cool water in the shower, which is called a contrast shower. Some of the key benefits of contrast therapy include reducing inflammation, improving circulation, easing pain, assisting the lymphatic system, and strengthening immunity. (For more details, check out the article “10 Benefits of Contrast Showers.”)

I have learned a routine using warm and cool stones on the face, neck, and chest to relieve congestion and practice it on myself as needed. The stones are rubbed with peppermint oil, which helps open sinuses, and strokes are designed to aid the lymphatic flow. Alternating warm and cool helps with the inflammation and feels so good. Warning: Only a trained massage therapist should do this! Working with hot stones is not to be taken lightly. Ask your massage therapist if he/she has training to use stones and specifically if they have learned the face massage routine for congestion relief. If you want to try a DIY version, simply alternate warm and cool wash cloths on your face or check out some of the links for sinus massage and contrast therapy.
When I have done this congestion relief massage on myself, I have felt better and it has become another staple in my arsenal to fight off colds. So whether you head for the chicken soup or medicine cabinet, consider giving contrast therapy a try.

What is Couples Massage?

Valentine’s Day has just passed, but that doesn’t mean massage for two is out of season. Generally a couples massage is two people receiving massage at the same time in the same room, each with their own therapist. While specials abound in February, this treat is available year-round.
Typical Couples Massage: The setting is a room large enough for two massage tables. This may be in a therapist’s office or in a spa. Some places have special accommodations such as a Couples Relaxation room with lounges, lemon water, and perhaps special treats for the couples before and/or afterwards. The therapists will chat with the couple upon arrival, getting any necessary information and determining what the client’s preferences are, such as light or deep pressure or special attention to shoulders, feet, etc. The therapists leave the room and the couple will undress to their comfort level before climbing on the table and under the sheet. When they are covered and ready, the therapists will enter the room and begin the massage. Oftentimes the therapists will time their massages so that the couples turn from front to back at the same time and always so that they end together. During the massage the couple may talk to each other or, if they choose, to remain quiet.
Benefits and drawbacks: The couples massage allows a special bonding time for the pair. While typically thought of as romantic getaway , a couples massage (also called “duet” massage) can be done for mother/daughter or simply with two friends, allowing time for people to relax together and connect, something the frantic pace of life seldom allows us to do. It makes for a good introduction to massage, especially if one person is a bit nervous about it.One drawback is if one person wants to talk while the other wishes to remain quiet. Not all amenities may be available for couples massage, such as hot stones or aromatherapy.
Variations: Being a massage therapist, I wanted to try a couples massage with my husband, but it took three tries to finally experience what I consider a typical massage for two which I have described here. In my first experience, one therapist had a family emergency so we had back-to-back single massages. The second time we were in adjacent rooms and told the door would be open between the rooms, but it wasn’t. The third time was the charm and is what I provide in my studio. Tables may be side-by-side or head-to-head, but always in the same room to foster togetherness. Aromatherapy, hot stones, sugar scrub, and various types of massage may be available.
Whether you want to spend extra time with a friend or your “special someone,” try a couples massage. It’s twice the fun!