As you know I am registered and insured with two professional bodies: The Federation of Holistic Therapists and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. Both have registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. One of the conditions of being in a professional body is that I commit to earning Continuing Professional Development points and the other condition is that I abide by their codes of conduct and professional practise, in particular ensuring I optimise your safety by going through a full consultation covering any medical concerns.
Were you to have a life-impacting medical condition, say diabetes or cancer, I am obliged to get the go-ahead from your doctor before massaging you. I have never yet had a doctor refuse permission for massage and have comfortably massaged clients with all sorts of conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, placenta praevia, multiple sclerosis to name a few. In these instances it is my promise to ensure my best understanding of your condition, however, I am also a firm believer that you know your condition better than anyone and that with the right questions, right conversation and feedback the massage can be safely adapted to suit your needs. May I stress here that massage should never be seen as an alternative to traditional medicine but can happily complement traditional treatments in providing emotional and physical support. For instance, I have one client with MS, whose condition is exacerbated by stress, and who tells me frequently that massage is her best pain relief and a sure route to a good night's sleep. If only I had the funds and means to run an empirical study!
This year my focus has been on a medical condition that massage therapists commonly feel wary of and untrained for: cancer. Firstly I am in on-going hospital training for inpatients undergoing treatment for leukaemia, lymphoma and blood diseases such as sickle cell disease. This is a voluntary activity. Back home in my private practice, I got to thinking about people living with different cancers in the community, those in treatment and those in remission, and I decided to look into how I might train to adapt my massage such that I didn't feel I needed to turn people away.
The training course was lead by a therapist called Maureen Bonner from START With Touch who has been working in oncology massage for nearly 20 years and now runs accredited training courses. On both a theoretical and practical level we covered three on-going risks for people who have been affected by cancer: Lymphoedema, Deep Vein Thrombosis and Bone Metastasis. In a very formulaic way we learnt what to AVOID, how to POSITION and how to alter PRESSURE appropriately. For instance, if someone has had lymph nodes removed following breast surgery or perhaps the lymph nodes have been compromised by radiotherapy, it is important to position the client such that their arms are not hanging over the couch and that massage strokes are not directed towards the compromised area.
One fascinating new massage technique I came away with was Restorative Touch. It can be used as a standalone treatment where any kind of pressure needs to be avoided but also as a part treatment where perhaps the client has any of the afore-mentioned risks associated with cancer and cancer treatment in one specific area. The therapist encourages the client to breathe in and out at their own pace and places their hands in a series of 'holds' across the body, each area being 'held' for 90 seconds to five minutes. Now I think I am a sciencey kind of person and before trying this out I would have rolled my eyes and said what a load of old airy fairy mumbo jumbo, throw it in the bin with the crystals. However, my massage therapy career has lead me down an increasingly intuitive and empathetic route and I do believe we have a flow of energy and that there is an energy between client and therapist - if nothing else we all know that being held in a safe manner offers a moment of peace and reassurance that's hard to achieve alone. I give you one example - I was recently giving a hand massage to someone in palliative care. I started and finished the treatment with a long 'hold.' Unprompted, the person said, "I can feel a warm, pulsating energy coming through your hands and right through me. It feels wonderful." I almost skipped off the ward! I can't explain that particular experience but the important thing is that the person felt safe, valued the treatment and requested further treatments.
The point of all this is that we or someone we know will be affected by a medical condition, whatever it is, at some point in our life and I don't want to be the therapist that turns people away. That is why I am making sure I operate safely within my professional limitations while ensuring I continue to receive the best training I can.
My next mission is to complete a further oncology massage course and then, moving on from cancer, to get to the real core of why I am trained to turn away women in their first trimester of pregnancy and to find myself a course specialising in just this. Because frankly, if you can go for a run or scrub yourself in the shower while 2 weeks pregnant, I'm pretty sure a gentle massage is pretty harmless too!
If you have got this far, thank you for reading and I am still very much in my day-to-day business of using Swedish, Deep Tissue and stretching techniques to reduce all your stresses, aches and pains. I wish you well for your weekend and hope to see you soon,