Written by Virginia Eaton —
When I was in my early 40s, I ruptured a disc in my back. I remember lying on the driveway in front of my home in Salt Lake City feeling like I had just been electrocuted as my husband stood over me trying to figure out what to do next.
This happened in January, when the ground was frozen solid but the sky was brilliantly blue — I can still see the cloud formations in the sky.
The paramedics came and offered to help my husband load me into the back of his Tahoe for the trip to the hospital and he very sweetly asked me if that’s what I wanted to do. The thought of being lifted and moved sent panic through me and asked him to please, don’t let anyone touch me!
My husband relayed the message and we waited for the ambulance to trundle me off to the hospital where morphine eased the pain enough so I could walk out of there.
My recovery was long: I had ruptured the last disc in my lower back above my sacrum (L-5-S-1). My left leg was numb; walking was a slow, uncoordinated process and my doc was sure surgery was in my future. Having seen my mother go through that end-result, I avoided surgery by working with my physical therapist, taking Pilates and being very careful!
I worked with one woman who suggested I get massages regularly. She said that getting the whole body to unwind and relax would help me manage the chronic pain. Never having had a massage, I just added that piece of advice to the growing list of supportive suggestions that were coming my way.
Eventually I made an appointment and had a massage – wow, I was hooked! Of all the physical therapy that I did, this was the first ‘therapy’ that felt absolutely divine from beginning to end! My body was relaxed but, more importantly, the mental tension that comes with chronic pain was eased for the duration of the massage and most of that day.
Massage wasn’t an instant fix but it gave me a grace period from the pain and the tension pain brings in it’s wake, and that was worth every penny!
Eventually I found a massage therapist who was the perfect fit for me. We had a 10 year client-therapist relationship and this was one my biggest regrets in leaving Salt Lake City to return to California—how would I ever find another therapist like her?
I have since found several people who offer fabulous massages with different styles and am back in the groove of monthly massages. While I rarely have back pain now, the benefits of massage are numerous and, according to the Mayo Clinic, a host of ailments can be improved (if only temporarily) with the laying on of hands.
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related to stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ)
Finding the right massage therapist is a lot like finding the right person to cut your hair: there is a style or personality fit that is absolutely necessary for success. If you‘ve tried a massage once and didn’t care for it, don’t give up! Here are some things you should know for a successful massage experience:
- Communicate with your therapist before and during the massage to ensure the right pressure that allows your body to relax. Everyone is different so don’t expect the therapist to read your mind.
- A spa massage with heated rocks and scented oils is a lovely experience for the mind and body whereas a sports massage is more focused on working out specific issues that stand in the way of the body moving well.
- An oft-asked question is what to wear while lying on the table. Chat with your massage therapist about this but, typically, one is completely unclothed or wearing only underwear. Massage therapists are adept at draping the blanket in ways to protect your privacy while still working your muscles thoroughly.
- If you are very ticklish let the massage therapist know ahead of time. Often a change in pressure or stoke can prevent the giggles.
The key to finding the right massage therapist is communication. There is probably no question that someone hasn’t already asked and since the goal is to relax the body AND the mind once you are on the table, ask those questions when you book your appointment. The foothills are home to some amazing massage therapists; you have lots of styles and personalities to choose from and, with a little work, you will find the perfect person to ease you into relaxation.
Virginia Eaton is the owner of Oakhurst wellness center Class: The Body Pastiche