One of the most frustrating realities a keen new massage therapist has to face is that despite your enthusiasm and knowledge, some clients just aren’t prepared to listen. Annoying, isn’t it? Even though you’ve gone out of your way to help them, and you know how important it is for your client to follow your advice, sadly, sometimes it can fall on deaf ears.
It may be a woman addicted to high heels, perhaps a footballer that refuses to take time off or a highly stressed person who refuses to change their lifestyle. These people may repeatedly ask you to “fix” their muscular problems but not listen to your suggestion to “fix” the underlying problems. Fortunately these cases are relatively rare, but when it does happen you need to be prepared. To minimise the frustration, let’s have a look at ways you can communicate effectively with your massage clients so they can keep their bodies as healthy as possible.
The no-win situation
When the problem is an obvious one, such as the woman suffering back pain who refuses to wear flat shoes, there is not a lot you can do other than point out the obvious. Continue to explain why high heels cause the lower back to spasm, and you could also suggest stretches to help lengthen the lower back muscles and iliopsoas. If your client absolutely refuses to change her high heel habit though, all you can do is provide symptomatic relief by giving her a decent massage, whilst explaining clearly that the problem will never go away until she takes responsibility for it.
As long as you have been professionally responsible by advising her of your expert opinion of the cause of the problem, there is little point in doing anything else. The onus will be on her whether she continues with you – and her high heels, or not!
Working within acceptable parameters
Hopefully most people fall into a middle ground and aren’t as difficult as our stilettoed sister above. The best way to communicate successfully with your clients is to understand their work requirements, personal preferences or exercise habits and find solutions that enable them to continue with their activity with changes that are within acceptable parameters.
For example, an office worker may come to you with a tight neck and shoulder pain. If you feel that the majority of the muscular problems stem from their ergonomic set up, you may be able to suggest some solutions – without them having to give up their job! Ask your client about their ergonomic situation, for example, type of chair, desk height, computer screen, whether the mouse is in close proximity to their body and so on. Perhaps suggest that they get in touch with an OHS consultant or occupational therapist to help with this issue. You can also encourage them to take regular breaks and to see a physiotherapist or exercise therapist to work out exercise routines to counteract any sitting or postural problems.
If a runner is constantly experiencing tight calves or hamstrings, suggest appropriate stretches for them. At the next appointment, check in with them to make sure they are remembering to perform these stretches regularly. If they claim that they have forgotten or that they simply haven’t done them, politely remind them why you have suggested the stretches. You could mention how they will benefit from regular stretching – not only removing the problem, but enabling them to fully enjoy themselves and their sport. By taking it seriously, you encourage them to take the stretching seriously, too.
Sometimes a client will sincerely want to get rid of their pain but despite your best work and recommendations, things don’t seem to improve. Don’t despair when this happens. Even the most experienced and qualified health professionals will have times when it is difficult to relieve a client’s pain.
You may have to look a little deeper: perhaps the problem is postural and stems from another area in the body. Perhaps it is the way they are sleeping, or the mattress they are sleeping on. Discuss the client’s daily activities and sometimes surprising facts may emerge. A woman may be having pelvic problems because she is always picking up her young child and carrying her on one hip. A man may be having strange shoulder problems that have nothing to do with his work or exercise routine, but stem from throwing the tennis ball to his dog.
Referring your client
As we all know at Sage, massage is a wonderful therapy and not only feels good, but can cure a plethora of problems. Massage is not a panacea for all ailments though, so don’t feel bad if you have to refer your clients on from time to time. Whether it’s advising them to see the family doctor, book in with a physiotherapist or consult a podiatrist, working with other health practitioners is often the best way to reach a successful outcome.
Remember you as the massage therapist are only one part of a larger chain of people that work together to keep your clients happy and healthy. One of the key participants in this chain is the client themselves. Encouraging clients to listen to your advice and recommendations is part of the massage therapist’s job – but ultimately the responsibility falls to the individual themselves.
Sage Institute of Massage – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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