As I suppose is inevitable when getting a proper massage from a properly licensed massage therapist, we got to talking about injuries. At first the subject was me, naturally. But when I revealed that I actually have no injuries—debilitating or otherwise—and was just getting a massage because I rarely, if ever, get massages, she mentioned off-hand that injuries were common amongst therapists.
“What?” I asked, only half conscious of what she was saying.
“Oh yeah,” she said while rubbing my shoulder. “It’s real easy to hurt yourself if you’re trying to do too much. Especially if you’re working too deep or not using your body right.”
I didn’t really think about it much at the time—no one really ever thinks about much when getting a really good massage, and I was getting a really good massage—but later when I wasn’t lying on my stomach getting all sorts of stress I didn’t even know I had rubbed out of my muscles, I was suddenly intrigued at the irony of licensed massage therapists possibly injuring themselves while trying to treat other people’s injuries.
How could this be? How could a licensed professional develop repetitive stress injury or some other problem doing their job, when they’re the ones trained and schooled in getting rid of those problems in the rest of us? How often did this happen?
To find out more—or if I was simply making a big deal out of nothing—I called Linda Sola, director of the Maui School of Therapeutic Massage in Makawao. Chuckling a bit, she said that injuries to therapists, while possible, happened only “in a relatively small number of cases.” She added that waitressing is far more strenuous than therapy and that, if done properly, massage therapy would not lead to injury.
But then I asked if she had ever been injured. Considering how she thought I was over-blowing a remote possibility, I was surprised by her answer.
“When I was in massage school I developed tendonitis in my thumbs,” she said. “First the right one, and then the left one. What happened was, because I was forced to stop using my thumbs, I developed new techniques that I became comfortable with—using other parts of my hand, especially my fingers. Once my thumbs got better, I never had that problem again in 27 years of practice.”
Then there was the matter with her wrist. “Focused on work and not my body, I would be hurting my wrist and wouldn’t notice it until the end of the day,” she said. “I knew I was doing something, but eventually I was able to focus on what I was doing. It took me a couple months to realize [what she was doing]. I was doing so many different things with my hands during the course of the day.”
The point isn’t that Sola was a bad therapist or that she’s part of a risky profession, but rather that it’s difficult for any of us—including massage therapist students—to shake the bad habits we learn as children.
“Postural habits and movements that we have are very hard to change,” she said, adding that injury warnings and proper techniques are constantly stressed to students. “We learn to walk by watching our parents. To ask someone at the age of 30 to be more aware, that’s a lot to ask.” MTW