Massage Matters

Mindful musings on massage, muscles, and moxie

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Love of Chair

I had been asked by my supervisor at Fitness Formula Club to do chair massage for an open house at one of the clubs we manage, in the building at 111 N. Wacker Dr. I had actually been the massage therapist at that club a little more than a year ago and left because it hadn’t been busy enough for me there. But I was happy to help out—especially since it would be a paid gig.

I am not, in general, a huge fan of chair massage as it can be taxing on me and it is hard to do a “proper” massage through clothing. Stiff fabrics, thick sweaters, belts, and so on can make having any kind of real engagement of muscles tricky at best. And though one rationale for doing chair massage is to introduce potential clients to your touch, it has seldom netted clients for me: most people simply want the free massage that is being offered by me or by their corporate entities.

But I was pleasantly surprised by my reception at 111. Several people were genuinely excited when it was decided that I would again work Thursdays at 111—this time on an on-call basis only—and one woman would have scheduled a 90-minute massage on the spot for later that day if I’d been available! This has given me a new Love of Chair.

For those of you who were not aficionados of the kids’ TV show The Electric Company in the early 1970s, “Love of Chair” is a reference to a recurring and silly episode on that show. Wikipedia succinctly sums it up thus: “Love of Chair: A spoof of the soap opera Love of Life. Announcer Ken Roberts (who, appropriately enough, was also the announcer for Life) read a Dick and Jane-style story about a boy (Skip Hinnant) sitting on a chair and doing other simple things. He concluded each sketch by asking questions in a dramatic tone such as “Will he stand up? Will he fall asleep? Will you fall asleep?” the last of which was always “And what about Naomi?” These questions were then followed by “For the answer to these and other questions . . . ,” at which point a cast member other than Hinnant would be shown briefly on-screen uttering a complete non sequitur (such as “What time is it?”).”

While my new appreciation for the value of chair massage is not exactly dramatic, what caused me to think of that old show was, in a twist of “Love of Chair,” “And what about the chair?” “Will the chair fit in the bakfiets? Will it fall out of the bakfiets? Would I fall over in the bakfiets?”—because the day before I was scheduled at 111, I had left the cargo bike at Fitness Formula Club, too tired to ride the nearly nine miles home that night. And then, too, I thought, leaving the cargo bike for the next day would afford a good test of whether the massage chair will work in the cargo bike as satisfactorily as the massage table does. In fact, the chair fits even more easily and snugly into the box of the cargo bike than does the table.

It just seems like every few days I find that the cargo bike is even more useful in even more circumstances than I’d ever considered. Now I can haul anything from groceries or a six-year-old nephew to a massage table or chair through nearly any weather, what with the new studded tires. It is slow going, riding to work downtown on the bakfiets, and it may never be practical to ride such long distances to deliver massage—at least not unless I can grab a shower and a change of clothes first! But it is good to know that I have this sturdy, reliable transportation option available. And now clients only three or four miles away will seem like a snap to bike to!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How I Came to Pedal Massage

I'm delighted to have more viewers coming to this blog and I offer this post as an introduction to how I came to combine two of my great loves, massage and biking.

Long ago and eighty miles away, I began my love affair with bikes by trying to destroy one. Getting a massage—much less giving one—wasn’t even a gleam in my eye when, at ten, I inherited my mother’s beat-up old Schwinn with coaster brakes and balloon tires (like the one shown here). Despite my grandfather’s having lovingly repainted it for me, I found the bike hideous given that everyone else was riding little bikes with banana seats or multispeed bikes with skinny tires. I reasoned that, were I to break the bike, I’d get a new one. Or at the very least, I would show myself to be disdainful of the bike in front of my peers. So I systematically set about a plan to ruin it, riding it under the chin-up bar on the playground, grabbing hold of the bar, and letting the bike go sailing into the chain-link fence or riding it down small flights of stairs. Sometimes I’d even jump off and let it crash dead-on into the brick school wall. But nothing would destroy that bike.

Finally, in junior high, I begged my mother for a new bike. She thought I’d soon outgrow it, heading into high school as I was. I pleaded with her, promised I’d continue to ride it. Eventually, I got an inexpensive three-speed, the primary redeeming quality of which was that it didn’t have balloon tires. I don’t remember now whether I kept my promise. I certainly didn’t ride it to school, that much I recall. So maybe my mother was right.

But then two things happened to renew my love of bike riding. First, my uncle became an avid cyclist. Whatever my uncle’s interests were, the rest of us would soon get sucked in. We all became archers for awhile, for instance, including my mom and my grandparents. It was a lot easier to find a place to ride a bike in the city than to shoot arrows, so that was definitely a point in favor of bicycling. I learned phrases foreign to most of the general populace, like “truing a wheel” and “trimming my gears.”

The second thing that happened is that I had moved out of my parents’ home and into an apartment. Getting to my part-time job from my apartment via public transportation was neither convenient nor affordable with the pittance I made at the Milwaukee Journal, where I took calls from customers wanting to start or stop a subscription or complain about their carrier. My first girlfriend and I went bike shopping and settled on ten-speed Falcon racing bikes, the Eddie Merckx model. Merckx was a name I recognized, thanks to my uncle, as bike-racing royalty of sorts, and that was enough to sell me.

Racing bikes, in those days, were not built with women in mind. But despite the long reach to the down-turned handlebars and the gearshift lever—and despite the fact that few people were using bikes for much more than recreation in those days—my girlfriend and I rode to work and school. Once, I remember, we even had to make our way home on our bikes a trifle tipsy after a rare dinner out that featured margaritas.

My bike was my primary mode of transportation through much of college, but when I got a job in Franksville, WI, and then relocated to San Jose, CA, my bike got put away more or less permanently for the next fifteen or twenty years. There were little intermittent spurts of renewed interest, but the circumstances weren’t right, during those years, to encourage more regular biking on my part.

Fast forward to 2006. Feeling there were no more challenges in my position as a copyeditor at the University of Chicago Press, I boldly—or insanely, depending on your point of view!—left my full-time job to go to massage therapy school. Ensuing economic constraints and the eight-mile ride from home to school got me back on the bike. When I got a job as a massage therapist at Fitness Formula Club downtown, not far from where I went to school, I was able to continue riding. Exercise, money saving, and environmentally friendly: biking was the whole package.

But when it came to seeing clients in their homes on my own, unable to figure out a way to bungee my table to my bike rack, I was forced to use my car or public transportation. Using the car was an easy way to transport the table, but I hated contributing to traffic congestion and carbon emissions, whereas getting a table on and off buses, even folded in half and in a case, was no easy task.

Then I discovered the Dutch bike WorkCycle bakfiets (pronounced bahk-feets and translated as “box bike”). WorkCycles, located in Amsterdam, was founded by Brooklyn-born Henry Cutler. The bakfiets is perfect for carrying kids, groceries—or a massage table—because the low box and perfect geometry make it steady and easy to handle. And when the bike is not in use, it sits very firmly on a parking stand, allowing for easy loading and unloading. (WorkCycles, one of several companies that manufactures bakfiets-style bikes, can be purchased locally at Dutch Bike Co. Chicago,
 651 W. Armitage Ave. []).

The bakfiets allows me to bike to clients within the boundaries of Cumberland on the west, Clark on the east, Howard on the north, and Washington on the South and provide them in-home massages—with no guilt about adding to their carbon footprint. I like to think this means they can clear out the knots from their muscles while also clearing up their karma.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How I'd Get That Pain? Part 2, Torso

As noted in part 1 of this article, there are times when there is little doubt about why you have a particular pain. But if you have a muscle pain that seems to come from nowhere, factors such as those listed below might be responsible—factors that could be avoided in the future. Of course, when you can’t dodge an ache, it’s time to see your massage therapist!



Stressors of That Muscle

Rectus abdominis

Top layer of muscle over the center of the belly

Prolonged driving in the car; collapsed chest and rounded shoulders; excessive exercise; pregnancy or obesity

External obliques

Sides of ribs and belly

Actions involving throwing; scoliosis and postures with compressed ribs; prolonged postures involving a rotational component (e.g., sitting at a desk in a sustained twisted position); pregnancy or obesity

Internal obliques

Outer edges of the front of the belly

Compressed posture toward one side; leaning toward one side or forward for long periods of time while seated; pregnancy or obesity


Front of hip bone to spine, through the abdomen

Prolonged sitting with knees above the hip or hip in a jackknifed position; hyperlordosis/anterior pelvic tilt; sleeping in a fetal position; lower limb length inequality or small hemipelvis; excessive sit-ups

Pectoralis major

Chest, from breastbone to upper arm

Collapsed chest, protracted head syndrome, protracted/rounded shoulders; excessive exercise (e.g., push-ups, weight machines); sustained lifting in a fixed position (e.g., using power tools)

Pectoralis minor

From third and fourth ribs to top of arm; under pec major

Use of a crutch; prolonged compression (e.g., carrying a knapsack with a tight strap); kyphosis, poor sitting habits or poor chair design, poor posture; collapsed chest, respiratory problems, vigorous breathing; prolonged position with arm overhead (e.g., during sleep or painting a ceiling)

Serratus anterior

Side of first eight or nine ribs

Excessive exercise such as push-ups, lifting heavy weights overhead; irritation of lungs (e.g., smoking, asthma, chronic cough); excessively fast or prolonged running


Top of arm, at shoulder

Intramuscular injections, such as B vitamins, penicillin, influenza vaccine; overhead repetitive strain develops during prolonged lifting (e.g., holding a power tool); any repetitive movement with arms at or above shoulder height


Between spine and shoulder blades, deep to middle traps

Well-developed pectoralis major muscle pulls the shoulder forward, overloading the weaker rhomboid muscle; prolonged leaning forward and working in the rounded shoulder position

Trapezius, middle

Top of thoracic spine to top of shoulder

Collapsed chest and protracted shoulders; kyphotic and scoliotic conditions; behaviors associated with forward head posture

Trapezius, lower

Mid-thoracic spine to top of shoulder

Rounded shoulders; if there is kyphosis, the lower traps becomes a postural muscle, acting like a fourth erector spinae


Under the shoulder blade

Repetitive/chronic tendonitis; reaching in back seat of car and lifting a heavy object; playing tennis, weightlifting


Covers the lower part of the shoulder blade

Sleeping on the affected side (compresses and stimulates trigger points); sleeping on opposite side (arm falls forward, stretching affect muscle bands); grabbing backward for support to regain balance or mis-hitting a ball in racket sports


Covers the upper part of the shoulder blade

Carrying heavy objects (such as a suitcase) with arm hanging down at the side; lifting objects above shoulder height with the arm outstretched

Teres major

Stretches from lower part of outer edge of shoulder blade to top of arm

Driving a heavy car without power steering; butterfly stroke during swimming

Quadratus lumborum

From mid-lumber spine to last rib

Sitting on a wallet; functional short leg; contracts with high hip or anterior pelvic title; awkward lifting movements; carrying a child on a hip over a long period of time

Latissimus dorsi

Lower part of the thoracic spine to top of arm

Repetitive reaching forward and upward, either to manipulate some awkwardly large object or to pull something down (e.g., butterfly stroke); rounded shoulder posture

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Four Seasons, Two Wheels, One Great Massage

When I first bought the bakfiets, a.k.a. the cargo bike, I thought I would get five, maybe six months of the year out of it for massage transportation. But this week—after riding through a minor snowstorm to get to the Dutch Bike store (, some seven miles from my home—I had studded tires put on the bakfiets. And now, I’m a two-wheeling massage therapist for all seasons.

No one is more surprised about this than I am. When I left my tomboy childhood, I also left behind any semblance of daring. The thought of riding a bike on snowy, icy streets has always horrified me. What if I slipped on the ice and fell into traffic? This is not the kind of attitude that has gotten Mount Everest climbed or Antartica discovered, that has sent snowboarders hurtling over cliffs or motorcycles sailing across ravines. Of course, I’m not trying to conquer great forces of nature—just Elston Avenue. And now, when I need an intact body to earn my living, risking life and limb for fresh air and a greener form of transportation seemed downright foolhardy.

But then some sort of weird confluence occurred where it seemed like everyone I knew was talking about studded tires for bikes. Okay, so it was Alex at Roscoe Village Bikes ( and Vince at Dutch Bike. But they were very convincing. And Vince said the bakfiets was great in snow. Because of its weight, it could just plow right through. And then I was thinking about how much I enjoy riding the bakfiets and how much I was missing riding my bike, and the next thing I knew, I was trundling through snow clogged streets to get studded tires. Several guys on road bikes zipped by me, as though the snow was hardly an inconvenience for their skinny tires, but I hardly gave them a thought, amazed as I was that I—scaredy cat me—was riding a bike through the slushy, slippery streets. New flakes pelted my face and eyes, making the trip even slower going, but speed was not the point of this excursion anyway.

Today, I go pick up the bakfiets, with its new studded tires. With these tires and with my new goggles—those flakes felt like little darts zinging my eyes—I am hoping I will become even more intrepid. There may be days yet when the weather interferes with my bringing massage to clients by bike. But there will be far fewer of those than I ever imagined.