Kathy Nicholson, LMT (Fl license # MA12763), is part of an ancient profession that uses hands, fingers, forearms, and elbows to manipulate body tissues to help relieve pain, stress, anxiety, and basically improve overall health.
Massage therapy relaxes the nervous system by slowing heart rate & lowering blood pressure. Stress hormones & pain decrease from massage, thus enhancing immune system function & increasing alertness & performance. Muscles & deep tissues are literally relieved of much of their held tensions so the whole muscular-skeletal system moves more fluidly & efficiently. It sounds like the good maintenance of changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles, & Kathy observes, "In our case, the biological machine runs more smoothly." She offers another analogy, too: "I see what I do as Miracle Glow for your complete body, and that's biological, chemical, tactile, mechanical, emotional, and spiritual. Their whole soul just calms."
That overall, integrated aspect she notes is the contemporary term holistic, meaning the entire, whole person. That's what they're trained for, that's who they treat. An LMT, or a Licensed Massage Therapist, requires rigorous minimums in education & training to earn the initial state license. The State of Florida requires a minimum 500 credit hour set of rigorous curriculum to sit the state board examination. Subject areas include anatomy & physiology, pain & stress management, patient care, therapeutic medicine & the law, clinical work, ethics & professionalism, business development & management, hydrotherapy, medical terminology, pathology, nutrition, rehabilitative massage, & relaxation massage. Then there's keeping the state certification: each LMT is required to complete 24 credit hours in continuing education coursework every two years. "I've been doing this work since 1991," Kathy reflects, "and it's a lot of constant upkeep. That's really, really good. We need to know the latest, the best out there." The entire curriculum for the state LMT license is created & constantly refined by a consortium of accredited state schools & industry experts; the state is thus able to enforce standards & maintain quality control.
In a field in which physiology & psychology literally touch, the tools of the trade are as varied & plentiful as the good results. The Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami's Medical School has been studying the effects of tactile therapies & generating best practices for many since 1992, & their research population includes the entire human life span. In more than 100 peer-reviewed studies, they have found that touch & massage therapies have many positive overall effects: it facilitates weight gain in preterm infants, enhances attentiveness, alleviates depressive symptoms, reduces pain, reduces stress hormones, & improves immune function. All this research has "helped us as professionals to select the best methods," says Kathy. "People call me for a number of health reasons. They might want to relieve pain, or heal sports injuries, or just reduce stress in general." It's also great if you need to relax and ease anxiety or depression, or if you just "want a good boost in general wellness."
Both the TRI's & numerous professional & scholarly research supports these benefits & positive effects of massage therapy: reduced anxiety; immune system improvement; reduced juvenile diabetes; reduced labor pain; reduced pain from migraines, recent surgery, & fibromylagia; boosts self-esteem; reduces muscle soreness from sports or intense physical activity; reduces stress hormones; helps preterm infants gain weight; reduces fatigue, pain, stress, & anxiety in oncology/cancer patients; lessens chronic lower back pain; improves function & reduces pain in osteoarthritis patients; reduced carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms; lowers blood pressure & anxiety in stroke victims; reduced addiction-withdrawal symptoms; lessens distress & other psychological trauma in burn victims; reduced irritability, pacing, & restlessness in Alzheimer's patients; & less depression, pain, anxiety, stiffness, & sleep problems in fibromylagia patients. An impressive list!
Ms. Nicholson is clear to state that although LMTs don't diagnose or medically treat clients, their profession boasts a great deal of additional significant anecdotal evidence & related research, strongly suggesting massage therapy also is helpful for a range of conditions from pediatric ADHD to neck & cervical pain, from diabetes to infertility, from depression to endorphin-releasing pain management, and several others. "We have to remember that as an LMT I physically stimulate the lymph system, which is the body's #1 natural defense against toxic invaders…" Kathy adds, "I help put the fortress's moat and walls back in order. My client and I can work together to try to keep it that way." Recent research at the University of Virginia uncovers key interplay between the lymphatic/immune system & brain health (see link below). Discoveries such as this underscore the expanding understanding & roles of holistic science & medicine.
As a 10-year-old child with scoliosis, Kathy enjoyed back rubs to relieve pain, & soon began reading up on what caused her pain, focusing in particular on how to treat it & her whole self suffering from it. "My own healing is what kicked it off, really," she reflects. "I kept adding to my own medical knowledge, and realized I had the personality as well to become a professional LMT." Those traits include an outgoing personality; sincere compassion for others; the ability to read, understand, & apply technical information of a medical, anatomical, & physiological nature; ample patience & listening skills; a drive to heal others holistically; & a desire to solve problems collaboratively.
The methods chosen for this problem-solving teamwork fall into two broad categories: Swedish massage & deep tissue massage. These two combined add up to roughly 2/3 of all practiced techniques within the USA. Kathy's repertoire of treatments also include energy work, miofascial, orthopedic, craniosacral, Shiatsu, hot stone, trigger point, rolfing, & reflexology, among others. Each is specifically chosen & applied depending on her assessment of client needs & goals.
Relaxation styles of the Swedish school offer gentle techniques. These are often best for "your initial massages until more is known or needed," Kathy notes. The overall goal of Swedish techniques is to "calm the whole person's biorhythm, which brings bad stress down and relaxes muscles." One effect of these relaxation techniques is increased blood circulation, which helps to nourish cells & remove cellular waste. Typical goals in Swedish massage are to relieve tight muscles, calm back & neck pain, minimize generic stress, improve mood & sleep patterns, & increase energy & vitality. Common techniques involve hot or cold therapies, directed breathing, friction, kneading & percussion, passive stretching, hand rolling, gliding, & direct pressure or static friction. Kathy sees this style as a way to "reinvent the sense of touch and healing." Philosophically, she adds, "Culturally, we've sort of lost touch with one another."
Clinical styles up the focus & energy input/output, & "really focus on therapeutic goals for the patient, so they're more specific, more assertive." For instance, if a client suffers from chronic muscle spasms in the lower back, these clinical techniques hone in with precision: she might manipulate muscle & surrounding connective tissues as the primary treatment, while also giving attention to circulatory, nervous, & lymphatic systems. Goals of clinical styles often overlap those of relaxation styles, but intensity & frequency rise. For sports injuries or auto accident injuries, or any others that are more serious, "I target specific areas of pain," Kathy explains. "To reduce that kind of intense pain, I focus with my client-patient on releasing muscle and regional tightness to help repair injured tissues, tendons, muscles, and ligaments." That's a good start, for then she can help release scar tissue, adhesions, and nerve compression, which are "major obstacles." She smiles about the permanent goal: "We're biological machines with a lot of thought and feelings in the mix. I help reduce pain and stress to increase flexibility and range of motion." Agreed: animals need that, but our nature as highly social & mobile animals makes us completely crave those freedoms. Some of the freeing techniques commonly used in clinical massage that Kathy uses are resistive stretching, neuromuscular therapy, post-surgical, deep gliding, traction, rehabilitative, Thai, cross-fiber friction, and structural integration. These are sometimes decided in consultation with other health & medical professionals.
So what happens during a typical massage therapy session? Kathy outlines the typical steps: Since client-patient health & comfort are priority, she asks for, and details, "medical history and any other information to be clear about conditions and possible causes." A physician's permission may be required for certain treatments. Desired outcomes are then discussed, so "we're both understanding the process." Typical full-body sessions on the professional massage table she travels with cover the back, neck, shoulders, head, arms, legs, feet, & hands; clients will not be touched on or near the genitals (male or female) or breasts (female). The client is properly draped (with a sheet or towel) for warmth, privacy, & comfort during the entire session. Only the area being worked on is exposed.
"Gentle techniques start it off, then we move to targeted areas, if that's the goal," Kathy explains. Different oils or lotions may be used to reduce friction & hydrate the skin. Soothing music is played, but sometimes the client-patient "prefers to talk, or have the processes explained as we go. I'm fine with what helps to reduce the stress." If you feel any pain, Kathy says, "let me know immediately." Some motions & techniques will have mild discomfort of necessity, but "you set the benchmark." That communication loop is essential for best approaches. A usual full massage lasts approximately an hour, but customized massages that target intense areas of pain & rigidity may need more. When the massage is finished, most people "feel very relaxed, mellow." For some, long-term aches are gone or greatly reduced. There will be some soreness in muscles & other connective tissues with clinical styles, but that quickly disappears as increased energy & alertness build. People also need to drink a lot of water after a massage, for that type of tissue manipulation releases plenty of toxins, so it's important to "finish the job and flush them out." The whole process can be very beneficial & productive.
"I love to see the sparkle in someone's eye reignite," Kathy beams. "What's most rewarding about my work is the actual fix of someone's problem."
To schedule professional massage therapy with Kathy Nicholson, a Licensed Massage Therapist (State of Florida license # MA12763), please contact her at 407-415-9675. Outcalls only.
Touch Research Institute, University of Miami Medical School
TRI Massage Therapy Research Abstracts, 2010-2014
TRI Research, Adult Massage Therapy
UVA Research Linking Brain & Immune System
AMTA Massage Therapy Position Statement: conditions that massage therapy can address or alleviate
Glossary of Massage & Bodywork Techniques
Occupational Outlook Handbook - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Massage Therapist: median pay, job outlook, job duties, work environments http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
AMTA Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet: industry outlook and growth projections
State Regulations Guide (pdf link):
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