Ask the Massage Therapist

Does Massage Lower Stress Hormones? (For Therapists)

[A simpler article, written for clients, can be found here.]

For a number of years I've followed the research of Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. They've been doing research on touch therapy since 1992 and have been pioneers in the field of massage therapy research in the United States. One of the markers they use in their studies is cortisol, a stress hormone that can be measured in blood, saliva, and urine.

Does Massage Remove Lactic Acid? (For Clients)

The other day I wrote an article, directed at massage therapists, about massage and lactic acid.  However, for some clients it might be too much information, as they say, and may not answer the client's question, "What does this mean for me?"

Many, many people have heard that lactic acid is produced in the muscles during exercise, makes the muscles sore, and that massage helps get rid of lactic acid. This was once thought to be true. However, it has been discovered that lactic acid is not what makes muscles sore after exercise. What causes post-exercise soreness? We're not exactly sure but current thought is that it may be microscopic tears in the muscle fibers and inflammation.

What does this mean for the client? It may not change very much what we, as massage therapists, do. It changes what we think about what we do. Massage still makes people feel good and it makes muscles feel good. If you have aching muscles, there's a good chance that the right kind of massage can help.

Bringing Neuroscience and the Interactor/Operator Model to Therapeutic Massage

“Monkeys, and other animals, groom each other often with a marked reduction in stress. Touch is good, and one doesn’t need to wrap it up in pseudoscientific nonsense for it to be beneficial.” - Mark Crislip discussing reflexology on ScienceBased Medicine blog

These are the opening words to a paper on the interactor/operator model by Canadian physiotherapist Diane Jacobs, who describes herself as a "human primate social groomer and neuroelastician." When I first read this paper, I wasn't always completely clear about what Diane had to say, but what I understood resonated with me and articulated a dilemma I'd struggled with for a long time.

More Thoughts on Energy Work: Massage as Ritual

Yesterday I posted an article about my thoughts on energy work. I was surprised at the discussions it prompted among some manual therapists on forums off this site and was pleased with the thoughtful, respectful comments. I had actually been just a little nervous, afraid that my science-based friends might have thought that I'd gone daft and abandoned science, but they totally got it. I'm glad.

So now, I have a confession to make. I don't do it often but yes, I have engaged in energy work. In fact, some of the most profound experiences have occurred during sessions when my approach has come from this direction. Now, before you think I've gone over to the dark side, let me explain. Most of my work is done from a physiological approach, its purpose being to solve a particular physical problem. Some of my work, often with clients who have suffered trauma and have been referred from a psychotherapist, comes from an approach that is less focussed on physiology and more attentive to the emotional state of the client.

What Is Energy Work: Some Thoughts from an Evidence-Based Therapist

What is energy work? Practitioners of energy work claim there is a subtle human energy field which they can detect with their hands. By placing their hands on or over their subject, they are able to correct imbalances and unblock blocked energy. Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Chakra Balancing, and Polarity Therapy are all various forms of energy work.

There is only one problem: no one has ever actually demonstrated the existence of a human energy field. No one. Ever.

Practitioners of energy work claim to be able to feel a human energy field with their hands. However, under controlled conditions, they fail to demonstrate an ability to do so. The most famous experiment, the Rosa Study, was designed by a nine year old girl who became the youngest person to have a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Simple and elegant in its design, practitioners of Therapeutic Touch sat behind a screen and were tested on whether they could detect the presence of a hand held next to theirs without being able to see the hand. They failed. The study has never been contradicted.

St. Louis Massage For Couples Class, Oct. 1, 2011, Now Full

I have just received notice that the Oct. 1 Massage for Couples class is now full. This class is getting quite popular! My apologies to those who are unable to get into the class. The size of the room and my desire to give individual attention to participants limits the number of couples we can have in the class.

Dates have not been set for the next class but it is usually offered in February. If you'd like to stay informed about when registration will open for the next class, check your St. Louis Community College catalog when it arrives in the mail (we're listed under Health and Wellness in the Personal Interest section) or "like" Massage St. Louis on FaceBook, where we usually post an announcement when registration opens.

This class is offered once or twice a semester, depending on my schedule. You can also arrange for private instruction. Give me a call (314-670-0650) or email ( and you can arrange for your own personal "class."

New Massage Education Website: POEM Takes the World of Massage Therapy to a New Level!

The world of therapeutic massage took a giant leap forward today as Ravensara Travillian presented the Project for Open Education in Massage (POEM) to the public. The world of massage therapy will never be the same.

What is POEM?

Impossible to describe in just a few words, POEM is a resource for massage therapists like nothing ever seen before. It is an online gathering place for massage therapists that is intelligent, articulate, and civilized, much like Ravensara herself. It is a resource for learning about the latest research, learning how to read and understand research, learning how to do case studies. Still incomplete and in a testing stage, it will include forums, quizzes, places to pose questions, articles, and educational material, including Raven's book on research literacy for massage therapists. Not only will research papers be presented but also analyzed and critiqued, allowing the massage therapist to learn to evaluate the quality of research. POEM's stated intention is to:

Self-Help for the Hand, Wrist, Elbow, Forearm, Through Novel Movements

Musicians. Computer users. Massage therapists.  What do they have in common? They all use their hands and arms a lot in very repetitive ways. Anyone suffering from tight forearms, carpal tunnel syndrome, elbow pain, or wants to avoid those problems should take note.

We have habits and tend to move in limited ways. Our muscles develop habits. We use muscles in certain ways and neglect other muscles by not using them. Those unused muscles can end up going "dormant." If you've ever been in physical therapy, you may have had the experience of your PT giving you deceptively "easy" exercises that are impossible to do! That's because some of your muscles have become inactive. Those exercises are designed to wake them back up, to neurologically program them to start functioning again.

Our muscles are controlled by the nervous system. Every movement we make, every muscle fiber that is fired, is caused by the nervous system instructing it to contract or relax. Ultimately, the brain controls everything.