Don’t Chase the Pain

A very common critique of my work is that I take the time to listen to clients make them feel like their voices are being listen to more than just being heard. The thoughts of my clients that they convey is considered very seriously during the pre-chat at the start of every session. I believe one of the reasons I hear this so often is that therapists are often times not trained as well as they should be in the area of providing context to their work. By this I mean when someone asked for focus and area because it causes him pain or just comfort it is the responsibility of the therapist to help the client understand what they see while they are working the tissue and how that may change the game plan for that days session. When a client doesn't receive that type of communication it will oftentimes lead to a very decide is fine client because of your feel they are not being listened to. Today's blog post really goes to the heart of this phenomenon of massage therapist and bodyworkers trying to do their jobs but not understanding how important they are to the person they're serving and what you can do with your service providers to show them that's what you're looking for.

So what do I mean by the title of this particular posting? As a professional soft tissue therapist we are trained not to chase pain now when we are in school but as a career is involved and we learn more about our industry and we start to choose to interact with the most senior members of our industry. This simple few words can greatly define your career as a bodyworker and thus reflect your beliefs as your clients will see them. It's not only about how you project yourself as a therapist but also the perception that your clients get for the work they receive and one of the greatest things that I have learned is that there must be a balance between communication and understanding. 

At our most basic level of training massage therapists are taught that unless we are addressed by a client during a service we are not to speak unless it is necessary to get information from the client regarding what's currently happening and that should be as concise as possible. The other thing we are taught is that we are not to speak unless we are spoken to first if the client wishes to have a more lengthy conversation during their service. What we should be taught in addition to that is that we must clearly convey that we have listened to our client not only verbally but the type of work we performed should reflect that. That could be as simple as immediately addressing an issue about a shoulder when the client came in with that as her number one priority. I simply initially palpating the area we demonstrate that we now only understood them but that we are taking direct action as a result of it. Many of you I'm sure I'm reading this saying this sounds like customer service 101 and yes you would be correct but in a massage environment for some reason this fact is been someone ignored by many of the massage schools and is not fully grasped until years after graduation.

In many cases the sources of pain are not in the areas in which we feel the pain presented itself from this is simply the mechanics of the human body. That is why I believe in discussing topics with clients very carefully before any service begins and to make very clear communication during a service as well as doing the required paperwork after the service to have a clear record of what did take place. On average it will take me approximately 15 minutes after her client has left my office to complete all of the necessary paperwork in order to then clear the room and prepare it for the next client which means I often give myself 30 minutes between services just to make sure that the last client is well taken care of in all respects and that the next client will get that same service when they come in.


When a client comes in complaining of pain in their neck for example I will oftentimes ask several follow-up questions which helps we need to form an idea of what could be a possible cause or a possible aggravating factor. By starting with the simple research before hand it gives me the opportunity to let the client tell me really what they don't want to be feeling when they leave. In the case of a sore neck there could be several contributing factors several causes and several different points elsewhere in the body that could present themselves as that pain but are not actually coming from the neck. When someone gets on the table complain of neck pain as their primary concern the first thing I will do is make sure that I've done a proper diagnostic palpation. Diagnostic palpation is simply a term used to describe the process of interpreting the information my senses like my sense of touch will get from the tissue and start to form a mental picture of the anatomy that will help me better understand how to mix proceed with the problem. This is a technique that takes years to develop and tested because there are miscommunications that can occur during a pre-chat session in which case I need to then tell the client what I think I am saying and give them some possible more concise or accurate words to describe the pain that's been going on so that we have a mutual understanding before any further treatment is conducted.

When it comes to the case of a neck that we are discussing in the scenario I will often times have people face up because the weight of the neck and head often times act as a pressure barrier which will prevent me from going into deeply causing the least amount of discomfort. There will be particular patterns in the muscle tissue that will start pointing me towards causes that I can look at. But before I work on the neck I will always work on the back and shoulders simply because most of the time the neck and shoulders are being stretched from the the front of the body. If you let off the tension in the shoulders first will oftentimes allow the neck to relax and become much more pliable. Creating this pliability in advance of actual direct contact makes the experience much more comfortable and it takes significantly less time complete the network that will result in a long lasting effect. What makes my work different from so many others is that I will tell someone before they get on the table but general game plan which would mean that I would let them know that they would start in the face down position to allow me to look at the shoulders first in plain terms I would say why the same as I have explained it here. This is by far these most simplify explanation of what I try and do every day for my customers to let them know that they are now only being heard about listen to.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you're not being listened to here are my recommendations for how to bring your provider and you're closer together when I comes to communication. 

First and foremost I think it is absolutely vital that a practitioner make every effort to be an open book to their clients in terms of being able to speak openly and to encourage that openness when it comes to initiating communication before, during, and after a session. Unless a practitioner conveys this repeatedly by not only their body language but by simply stating very clearly that if they should want for anything only need do is ask. The second thing you can do is to make sure that you convey that you plan on communicating during the session should you want anything and that goes for whether the practitioner has made that environment for you or not. I would also encourage every single client to remember the name of the practitioner who is working on them at the time so that if there is a concern you can address them directly this sounds like a fairly simple thing but it actually helps the practitioner because it allows them the opportunity to know that they are being directly addressed. So often you'll find individuals will simply start talking and you don’t quite always know whether it is a general comment or whether it's been directly asked to you so coming from my side of the table I always prefer that people tell me they want to communicate with me by using my name. The third and final thing I would say is that if a practitioner does not necessarily confirm what they want to do before they do it in light of the information you have given and what they have on in your body if they go into an area that you don't quite understand why I would strongly suggest that you ask! If you have pain on the right shoulder and the practitioner is only there for a few minutes but seems to spend a significant portion of time on the upper shoulder working it much harder in my opinion the best advice I can give is to simply ask "I know I told you that I wanted work done on my right side but I'm having a hard time understanding why you would want to spend so much time over on the left, why would that be?

This is actually a very good reminder for the therapist working with you at the time. In my humble opinion I believe the greatest away the client can get the best service I've ever had this by simply communicating and making sure they are understood. If therapist does not have the confidence or the training to do that to your satisfaction I believe in most circumstances the therapist will have the technical skills to meet your requests, they just simply need to be reminded that communicating and educating the client is their responsibility and then you welcome it.

A parting note I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that bodyworkers need to be taught customer service when really customer service should have been done when they were in massage school. I don't consider it an excuse I do consider the idea an explanation and why so many clients sometimes. But I will say after years of being a professional practice full-time that there are things I reflect upon often but I wish I had done better sooner this would be one of those areas I am glad however that I have surrounded myself with wonderful mentors and colleagues. And I wish to convey the simple message to all my current clients and those who are reading this around the world. The truly great customer service is a refined art that takes time to develop and with such an Internet service I believe it is vital that trust be built based on communication driven in the long term by could results.

With that I wish every client and therapist out there the very best sessions they will ever have. I hope in some small way this has helped.