Massage for Veterans
When I was young and beautiful, I spent a lot of time hanging out at the air force base in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. I am sure you can guess there was a boy (manboy) involved. He was handsome, fit and ready to take on the world. It was a glorious time in my life, I loved hanging out on the base, I loved the bittersweet long distance phone calls when he was deployed across the world in places that seemed so glamorous to me, I loved his friends and how different they were from my friends.
They all seemed so confident, strong, and handsome of course.
In the years since we have drifted into separate worlds, as you do, and mostly lost touch. But the stories of the men and women in service to the Canadian people, how hard they train physically to get ready to serve, their training while deployed, their daily work environment, what they see and do on a daily basis, and especially in whatever manner they serve leave injuries in the widest range possible. Physical injuries and mental injuries are all too common, and too often they are complicated and hard to understand.
In my career as a massage therapist and a business owner I am drawn to vets of all ages and it seems they are also drawn to me and my company as we have been blessed to have an opportunity to use our gifts and skills to make life better for the people that were willing to give way more than that to make our lives better.
Soft skills like massage and acupuncture are often overlooked as a tool to help Veterans recover both physically and mentally from the stress of their military career but they can be an incredibly valuable tool both adjustment to life after the military and recovery from injury.
I have worked with clients with severe PTSD that have found massage to have a soothing affect on their nerves and whose families later told me that the start of massage treatments corresponded with the first small steps of a turnaround in the way their loved one coped with life and their families. And clients who years after injury found massage soothed muscle pain that they thought they would live with the rest of their lives.
And clients with more severe physical injuries where we have been part of a team of experts that help healing process.
For clients who also happen to be vets, therapeutic massage and other touch therapies can help in lots of ways.
Massage is proven to reduce depression, anxiety and pain, and there are many contributing factors, one of them being the reduction of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. It is all well and good to relax, but massage has real physiological effects. And this reduction in cortisol levels actually lasts for hours and sometimes days after the massage is done. Massage is shown to decrease Cortisol levels by 31%
Massage also works to decrease the levels of other stimulating hormones including norepinephrine and epinephrine. If you have too much norepinephrine or epinephrine it can lead to feelings of anxiety, panic and trouble sleeping. Massage therapy using long slow, gentle strokes reduces these hormones in the human body, giving it much better hormonal balance, and leading to a feeling of calm and control.
Massage therapy also releases feel good hormones. Like serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine.
Like falling in love or having a great workout, hormones are released that make you feel good, this may not cure all your ills but it is a great place to start.
Dopamine is a hormone that helps oversee thoughts, increasing clarity and decisiveness as well as influencing fine motor skills like painting and mechanical work, but it also contributes to motivation and the sensation of pleasure. Dopamine can also help to lower blood pressure. Massage increases dopamine in the blood by an average of 28%
Seratonin is linked to depression when levels are low, as well as antisocial behavior, suppressed appetite and digestion problems. Massage increases the level of Serotonin in the blood by an average of 33%
Massage promotes a healthy immune system. Another side effect of decreasing cortisol levels is an increase in the activity of our white blood cells or lymphocytes, which help fight viruses, as well as fighting abnormal cell growth and function, rapidly attacking and killing viral infected cells one of the effects of regular massage therapy is less colds and flu and faster recovery from other forms of illness.
Increased Endorphin production- Which in addition to helping to regulate pain also produces feeling s of euphoria and helps manage appetite.
Improved sleep quality- almost too many studies to count show a direct improvement in sleep this is likely a combination of all the hormonal changes that massage produces in the body. But for people with prolonged sleep problems regular slow deep massage can have a very curative effect.
If you are a massage or other touch therapist interested in working with Veterans there are some things that will you should know. Not every Veteran you work with will have any sort of trauma of course, but if you are going to make it part of your ongoing practice here are some things that will help you better serve your clients.
Massage and trauma
Lots has been written about this in the last several years, as massage therapists have volunteered countless hours after all sorts of disasters, both manmade and natural, and both therapists and clients have documented the results. Pulling together the best of that information with my own experience here are 5 ways to give a better treatment to someone with Trauma even with no extra training
Show up 5 min early,
Not only is this good practice professionally, but for clients used to a regimented life, sticking very closely to their schedule is important to who they are as a person. If you are late, they may see that as a sign that they are not a priority to you, and it might also mean they have to cancel with you due to their own commitment which is stressful for the client that is looking forward to a massage.
I once got stung by a bee on the way to an appointment with an Retired army colonel, and I had to pull over to the side of the road for a couple minutes, making me 5 min late. He was less than impressed by my tardiness, and I have to say not at all sympathetic to my paltry bite.
My being late also made him late for happy hour, an important part of his social connections and he was not at all happy, in the end we got along great, but I was always 15 min early for every appointment after that.
Listen intently while they tell you about their concerns.
I once had a client that had lost his sight in when a landmine exploded and although I asked him about his medical conditions, and reviewed everything with him, when he mentioned he was sensitive about anyone touching his face, I didn’t clarify that, nor did I hear the applied caution. At the end of the massage when I was working on his head, I briefly covered his ears, which caused a very sudden and nearly violent panic attack.
His loss of sight had been very sudden, and covering his ears diminished his hearing which was very stressful for him.
We worked through it and I saw him for years, but that first visit would have been so much better for him if I had listened intently to his story and checked in as I got closer to his face.
For any person searching for peace, finding space between sound, and words in a safe and supported way is an incredible relief. Even if the client is chatty, leave longer and longer space between words and allow them to drive the dialogue. Even asking a client to relax and not talk can be very restorative.
A chatty therapist is not restorative. Also, no matter how smart and empathetic you are, that is not your job. You are there to support the client to a more peaceful place. That is found through silence. When suffering through or recovering from trauma, finding moments where you are safe and supported and can decompress can give your spirit a chance to revive and heal.
Don’t ruin that for your client by talking about your day, of course if the client needs to talk to be at ease, listen, but you are likely not trained to consul, you are trained to work out muscle stress, relieve tension and relax your clients. Use your skills.
When working with any client “listening” to the body is important, sudden tensing of muscles, twitching, failure to relax, chattiness can all be signs of anxiety. This is when it is good to check in with your client. Some things that might be triggers to be aware of is contact close to an old injury, wrapping a client too tightly when draping, sometimes being face down in the face cradle feels unsafe. Without making a big deal about these non verbal clues ask your client if they would be more comfortable in a different position.
You likely don’t understand
This is a common communication error everyone makes when talking to someone going through a tough time; or recovering from one. You don’t know, and even if you do by talking over a client or trying to show your understanding, without fail you are diminishing their experience, not sharing in it, not making it better, you are making your clients experience less valid.
When we hear stories, especially powerful ones, they invoke emotions and memories in us, and part of the human experience is to want to share those emotions with the people we are talking to.
I can’t say too strongly to resist this urge, let your clients talk, emote, and tell their stories, it is super rare to come across a good listener, and if you can be that person for your clients you will do more to help them release these emotions and memories than by inserting yourself in their stories.
This does take practice and discipline, and to be honest is not nearly as interesting for me as participating in the story, but through years of experience and tonnes of my own moments of stress I know it is way better for our clients for us to listen to them with empathy and attention, then it is to diminish them and their stories by comparing it to something that happened to our second cousin, our best friends’ husband or even ourselves. Every story is different, no matter how much the same, because we all look at the world through a different lense. Take this as a chance to learn about someone else’s experience of the world, and maybe to count your blessings.
I believe very strongly that both massage and acupuncture are super effective tools for anyone with injury and or trauma, it is always amazing to have a treatment such as Massage therapy that also feels so good, and with absolutely no side effects, no drug interactions and no damage to other bodily functions as part of a treatment.
Even acupuncture can be deeply relaxing and an important part of a treatment plan, helping with all sorts of organ function, stimulating healing in a deep and permanent way.
The Canadian government and veterans affairs has provided some benefits for veterans in regards to massage therapy and other paramedical expenses, so if you or someone you know might benefit from massage therapy or acupuncture you can call us and we will check and see if they qualify at no cost or obligation to you.
Or you can call veterans affairs yourself and check.
If you do decide to look further into Acupuncture or Massage you will also need a Doctor’s note for your benefits to cover the appointment, but from there it should be super easy. We have a great relationship with Medavie Blue cross and so we can bill them directly for your treatments so you don’t even have to pay us out of your pocket.