BWW Interviews: Massage Therapist Kara Sylte Explains Bodywork Modalities and Choosing Therapists
Kara Sylte is a therapeutic massage therapist with an active practice. She has an independent massage practice as well as working with a chiropractor, and is committed to the use of massage for treatment of pain and injuries as well as for relaxation. She's presently at work with other holistic and alternative practitioners in Pennsylvania on developing a complementary/holistic clinic featuring a large spectrum of bodywork and other therapeutic treatments.
We sat down with Sylte to have a conversation on the types of massage and bodywork available to the public, and how to choose the massage and bodywork therapists you need, as well as on what to expect from massage therapy. The first thing that anyone planning on treatment needs to know, and has a right to ask, is about credentials. It's common for states to require education and licensing, and there are credentialing agencies within the discipline itself.
A legitimate massage therapist will always be happy to list their credentials and licenses. Sylte explains, "For the past seven years I have worked as a Chiropractic Assistant at Sigafoose & Jackson Chiropractic in York, Pennsylvania. Sigafoose & Jackson is a high volume practice sometimes seeing as many as 200 patients daily. Due to the high-traffic practice, I have had the privilege to work with many different personalities, body types, and health conditions. I attended Harrisburg Area Community College and York College for Biology and later graduated from the HACC Massage Therapy Program. I am currently licensed in the state of Pennsylvania for Massage Therapy, and I am a member of AMTA, which is the American Massage Therapy Association." It's also perfectly acceptable to inquire into the length of a massage therapist's experience and the other types of bodywork they practice, if any. Some, like Reiki, are currently unlicensed, although bodyworkers should be able to identify who trained them and to offer documentation.
"Massage Therapy qualifications vary depending on the state," she adds with reference to training. "All massage therapists in the State of Pennsylvania must have a valid license to practice. Massage therapists are required to take continuing education to maintain their license. If you are looking for a specific type of massage check to see if your therapist has had continuing education in that modality or if it was included in their initial training."
People often identify legitimate massage with spas and with very fancy, sometimes very expensive treatments that don't have any obvious benefits other than being relaxing. Are they worthwhile, or is therapeutic massage more appropriate? According to Sylte, "I feel that all massage therapy can be therapeutic beyond stress reduction. 'Spa' massage can be offered for general relaxation and is usually seen as a special treat for pampering purposes. Most people may not know that massage can offer much more than just a pamper session and a stress reducer. There is an emotional and psychological component to massage therapy that can, along with other psychological services, address anxiety, trauma, and abuse, through what some call 'Somatic Release Therapy.'
"Other forms of massage can help, chronic pain, TMJ, carpel tunnel, headaches, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, lymphodema, and even ADHD. Athletes can greatly benefit from massage whether to prevent injury or care for a previous one. Post-surgery patients can increase range of motion and lessen scar tissue with massage. There are even branches of massage that address post-breast cancer patients or ones susceptible to the disease."
How does a prospective massage client know whether spa massage or therapeutic massage is better for their individual needs? "Spa massage traditionally is not as frequent as therapeutic massage, as few individuals go to the spa monthly. I have clients I see monthly and even weekly, for the chronic pain sufferers. Just as it takes time to gain muscle or lose weight with exercise, it also takes time to work out specific ailments with massage therapy. A therapeutic-focused therapist will address specific areas over a period of sessions. A spa-type therapist can address areas of discomfort, but typically sees clients with relaxing and pampering as their goal in mind. Which type of massage to choose? Whether you are looking to address specific areas of discomfort, or looking to take a load off and relax, most massage therapists will be able to help you find what you are searching for." The important thing is to have a serious discussion with the therapist to cover your needs.
The association of licensed massage with spa treatments conjures up images of women in white terry robes relaxing in rooms full of plants, sipping herb tea. What about massage treatments for men? "I cannot speak for the general population of men out there, but there are a lot of men I see personally in my practice. York has a lot of physical laborers and I work with factory workers, landscapers, and maintenance workers as well as a bodybuilder. These men are very much in need of maintenance massage therapy in order to prevent injury or to keep them in shape enough to continue the heavy work loads."
But some men are only too happy to sign up for massages, holding another stereotype of massage in mind - the "massage parlor." Sylte thinks that de-sexualizing the image of massage therapy is "much needed, since many people still hold the image of massage parlors or massages with 'happy endings' in their minds." Despite years of effort by bodywork organizations to overcome that stigma, it's still out there.
In Pennsylvania, to combat that image and to ensure the privacy of clients during massage, and not just because of body shyness, draping of the client is required. Some extremely body-shy clients find even this difficult, but it alleviates much of the problem. "Professional draping is the law in this state. During a massage, the client undresses to their level of comfort [nude, or in undergarments] and is covered with a sheet. When properly draped, the massage therapist will uncover only the area that is being worked on - that arm, leg, or other area - and once finished will re-drape that specific area. Genitals and breasts are always to be covered during a professional massage. In order to use massage oil or lotion for loosening up tissue, bare skin is optimal, although if a client is truly uncomfortable with removing clothing, fully clothed massage is not only possible but also will achieve results."
What other forms of bodywork are available, from massage therapists or other practitioners? "'Bodywork' is hands-on work. This can include Osteopathy, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, Reflexology, Acupuncture, Massage, Reiki or Energy Balancing. [Some of these, such as osteopathy and chiropractic, require being performed by doctors trained in those disciplines, either doctors of osteopathy or doctors of chiropractic. Physical therapy should be conducted by trained physical therapists. All the other disciplines require training and certifications of various sorts as well.]
"Working with the skeletal structure, alleviating nervous system interference, focusing on connective tissue/muscle tissue, and addressing electrical energy imbalances, as with acupunture and reiki, are all included under the umbrella known as 'bodywork.' All the systems work together. If you have a skeletal imbalance, that can cause nervous system and energy imbalances and vice versa. If you are looking to address root causes of ailments as opposed to just alleviating symptoms, bodywork is an excellent option. Knowing the cause of a physical complaint is the first step in finding which one, or combination of hands-on therapies will work best for your specific complaints."
Should prospective clients seek bodywork on its own, or should a doctor or chiropractor be consulted or involved with regular treatment? "I feel it is always best to have a team of health care professionals working together for your overall health. As with any kind of treatment, having a doctor's approval is always best. I am not a doctor, so I am sure there are many examples of circumstances when someone should not receive massage therapy. The ones I can think of are directly after surgery or accidents, if someone has sickle cell anemia, or any condition in which bruising easily could be a risk to the body. If someone is on pain medications, the therapist must be aware of that, as pressure tolerance will be diminished, which will need to be noted. Diabetics must be aware of insulin levels, as they may drop during a massage session. You should always make sure that the bodywork you want is actually what you need, and not the wrong thing for you."
She adds that better results may be obtained if the massage therapist or bodyworker is working in tandem with a doctor or chiropractor. And there are times that multiple forms of bodywork may be appropriate. " I think that when we want to lose weight we eat better and we also increase our energy output - we exercise - to get results faster. I feel it is similar with bodywork. They each are fabulous on their own, but each one can complement the other to achieve the results we want."
Is massage or other bodywork a luxury? The image of spa treatments makes it seem like one. "As with anything, it is a matter of perspective. To people who rely on public transportation, having a car can seem like a luxury. To the individual who has no immediate symptoms, massage therapy could be seen as a luxury. People who need bodywork are everywhere. We operate on a system that doesn't address health issues until there are obvious symptoms. Overuse through occupation, poor posture, even sitting at a desk can add pressure to our systems and eventually we will develop symptoms. When living a preventative lifestyle, bodywork could be viewed not as a luxury, but just as necessary as any of our routine checkups."
Sylte continues, "It is the preventative model that attempts to avoid surgery, prescription drugs, and other health problems, but we as a society are only recently catching on that this model is, in fact, successful in other parts of the world."
For more information on massage and bodywork, or on locating bodyworkers in your area, visit www.amtamassage.org. Kara Sylte can be contacted at email@example.com.