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Posted by Una Tucker, Aug 12 2014 4:26PM

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Using supplemental tools in massage - a sensible move or just cheating?

HI Everbybody

I'm a registered massage therapist who designed a supplemental massage tool called 'the Kneader' that therapists can use in their treatments to save their hands from strain during deep and/or repetitive movements. Initially, I designed the tool for my clients to use in-between their treatments with me; but when I began to trial the tool with fellow therapists prior to manufacture, I realised how much the professionals wanted such a product.

The upside of our industry's continual growth is that massage therapists are doing more massage treatments. The downside is this means that RSI-related injuries are on the increase. Some studies reckon that a therapist's career is, on average, about 5yrs at best, which is a rather depressing statistic. Whenever I take the Kneader to a tradeshow, I am innundated with therapists complaining of sore fingers, thumbs and wrists. The therapists come in all shapes, ages, sizes and levels of experience - the only common denominator is that they are working longer hours and they are feeling the strain, especially their thumbs (and once a thumb is busted, so is your career).

I would therefore like my fellow therapists' thoughts on the use of tools in massage: to explore why tool-use is not part of the general teaching curriculum, what therapists need (i.e. tool-use vs 'hands-free'), do therapists consider themselves 'cheating' when using a supplmental massage tool in treatments, is there a need for supplmental tools vs tool therapies such as 'Hot Stones' and, overall, where the industry is going with regard to tool use.

I look forward to your replies. All the very best! Una, Kneads Must www.kneadsmust.com
Janice Hamilton
Aug 13 2014 3:18PM
Dear Una

Very interesting and thought provoking post. My own experience has been that after a couple of years as a full-time massage therapist I started to have painful wrists and thumbs. At that point I decided to invest in some other type of training to deal with the majority of my clients who were looking for deep massage. I trained in Hands Free Massage and looked at the way I was practicing - I now do a warm up and warm down before and after every massage, I organize my week so that I only do a certain amount of deep massage; I have a monthly massage that includes hands and arms; another thing I noticed is that, in common with many other therapists, I was giving "too much" to my clients - if a client comes to me with chronic pain, 1 massage isn't going to cure things - I also give clients some tips about stretches, exercises, posture etc., with a view to educating my clients that they can help themselves in between visits. My own view on tools is that anything that helps a therapist do their job more effectively and help themselves as well (something that therapists aren't good at as a whole) is a good idea. I personally don't use them because I see, hear and feel with my hands and I've realized it's what I'm good at, so for the foreseeable future I'll stick with this format - I'm 56 nearly 57 and I think that provided I look after myself I can massage into my 60s.

My view on the education that we receive as students, is that there is a great deal missing - I'm not complaining about the quality of training I had, it was excellent, but there is very little about the pros and cons of running your own business, which is very different from being employed, and absolutely nothing about looking after yourselves and maintenance of your greatest tool your body - nothing about having a plan about how you intend to use your qualifications, either on a full-time or part-time basis and how long you intend to stay in the business - massage is still seen as something that is a luxury and not essential maintenance of your body and that is reflected in the courses that train therapists - if I look back at the countless courses I've attended, how many of the other people that trained with me are now using their qualifications in their every day life? - none. We regularly have students who are newly qualified come into the Consulting Rooms asking for a job and I really feel for them - they are enthusiastic and full of energy until you tell them that the majority of therapists are self-employed and jobs are few and far between - students of the past and the present have a rosy tinged view of a massage therapist's every day work life - I started off wanting to help and make people feel better physically and mentally and that hasn't changed, but it's now balanced by how difficult and demanding a job it can be. Hope this helps and sorry if it has turned into a bit of a rant - keep up the good work, I'm really impressed that you designed a tool to help your clients and here's hoping it can help countless other therapists.

Regards
Janice
Angela Rawlins
Aug 13 2014 5:06PM
Hi Janice

I am not a masseuse, Reflexologits since 1997. You are right about what you say. We we never taught how to look after yourself first with regard to RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome. This of course terminates your work as you cannot perform.

I feel the emphasis in schools are only on teaching you the therapy, some business requirement. I too, have had a few applications sent to me asking if I have any positions and unfortunately have to say that I am an independent therapist and not an employer. I also had a lady asking for advice, wanting to give up her office job to concentrate on therapy work. I had to give her a realistic view. I am lucky to be in a position where my husbands job is the real foundation of our life and so, I can concentrate on my therapies without a worry.

Reflexology probably comes lower down on the need list than massage because if people have a bad back etc, they will use massage therapist. Reflexology sadly is still thought of as a feel good foot massage and it is offered in many spas. There are some therapies which should not really be done in a spa and reflexology is one.

I do have a reflexology tool, a small smooth plastic stick with rounded ends, which I use occasionally to get to difficult areas on the foot, I use it with caution and care. I have not had any negative responses to it, in fact quiet the opposite.

If I were a client for massage, I would not object to massage tools at all, suppose it's because I understand the problems. I have a massaging tool,at home for family use, it helps when I need it and I do consult a masseuse when needed.
Una Tucker
Aug 13 2014 9:50PM
Hi Janice and Hi Angela - thank you both for your replies.

Janice, I think you hit the mark on so many levels: protecting yourself with warm-ups/cool-downs, getting massage yourself and restricting the time you spend on massaging and what you give to your clients (most therapists would agree that we all 'give too much' in our desire to help!). You also give your clients home maintenance advice and this is another subject that I am very committed to. If we don't give our clients ways of maintaining the good work we are doing with them, by the time the come back to us, it is a case of 'back to the beginning' - it's the main reason I designed the Kneader in the first place!

Angela I completely agree with you on Reflexology as I too am a Reflexologist and get frustrated that it is not offered enough in Spas and Salons - the more people who are exposed to it, the more people will get turned onto the benefits of Reflexology. It's so fabulous that it is only a matter of time, hopefully...

Both of you are open to tool-use in treatments and that is pretty much what I find with most experienced therapists, because they have been around long enough to want to explore all options. Sadly, the educating bodies don't agree. So many of the younger students are still not be given enough training options during their studies - modules on tool-use/how to protect yourself and how to run your own business would be part of a more comprehensive overall education but these are not forthcoming. I share your frustrations with the overall lack of practical application in so much of the courses out there, and I continue to shout about this to anyone who will listen! I too enjoyed my massage training and had both wonderful Swedish massage and Reflexology tutors but the courses were very insular - it was like being in a protective bubble and the only 'clients' we saw were our case studies (i.e. friends and family) and the volunteers who came in for practice treatments prior to our exams. We had no build-up of experience in our course and I think a good way forward would be for students to spend the latter 3-6 months of their training massaging clients for a much-reduced fee that could go towards the college. The student services could be advertised (by the students?) to care homes, hospices, local residents, carer associations etc. The students would also have to log their income and do mock accounts, including VAT and overheads, to give them a flavour of what is to come. By 'working' for so many hours per week, students would experience the realities of massaging every day, several hours a day (which some graduates end up doing in spas and hotels). They would learn their physical limitations and how to use tools or hands-free techniques to compensate for the wear and tear, which is much better to do when you're a student than when you are relying on it as your full-time job.

Thank you both and all the very best! Una, Kneads Must
Una Tucker
Aug 13 2014 9:51PM
By the way, Angela, Kneads Must has also designed a Reflexology Hand and Foot tool which it hopes to bring out sometime next year! Good to hear that the tool your using is so effective! All the best, Una

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