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The Pain Free Massage Therapist

Transcript from The Radical RMT Podcast #031 - Mark Liskey

Welcome Radical RMT listeners. This episode features Mark Liskey. He’s a Massage Therapist and certified neuro muscular therapist practicing in the United States. He’s approaching 30 years in his practice and he is the author of “The Pain Free Massage Therapist”. Mark has developed techniques to help himself massage pain free as a result of experiencing multiple injuries in his own body because of the way he was massaging. His doctor even advised him to quite massage. Mark is committed to sharing these techniques with other massage therapists because it will ultimately help us to increase our revenue and to have a longer more fulfilling career.

Mark also has a successful blog that offers DIY articles to help you at the start of your massage career or to get unstuck if you are reaching a plateau in your revenue. Through his teachings Mark would really love to see more massage therapists put themselves first. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with him on this podcast. I hope you enjoy this episode.


Krista Dicks: Mark welcome to the Radical RMT Podcast. It is really awesome to have you here today.

Mark Liskey: Thank you Krista, I’m honored to be here.

Krista Dicks: Can we get a little bit of your background? You are a licensed massage therapist, certified neuro muscular therapist in Pennsylvania. Is this State. Which part of Pennsylvania are your practicing from?

Mark Liskey: I am really close to Philadelphia, South Eastern Pennsylvania.

Krista Dicks: You have been practicing almost 30 years.

Mark Liskey: I think I hit the 30 year mark but I stopped counting. It just doesn’t sound good anymore, it’s sort of “dinosaurish”. We’ll say 30ish.

Krista Dicks: 30ish years that is an incredible accomplishment as a massage therapist and I think everybody listening can certainly agree. What’s really exciting about having you on the show is that you are going to share with us some of the massage techniques that you have come up with and strategies in order to be in this practice for 30 years, and the best part is that you are working pain free and could you foresee indefinitely you could continue massage by the way that you practice now?

Mark Liskey: That’s a good question. I do feel that way. I may not be able to do the volume like when I am in my 70’s that I can do now in my 50’s. But I will say that I do see it as you know 7 years ago when I hit the wall basically when things were falling apart on me I couldn’t see it. I was like done. May be I would massage my wife that was it, but now I can see that as not necessarily my mainstay occupation but as something I like joining and I can always do. I do see myself continuing that. As you get older and do it, it becomes more involved in your life in a lot of ways. For instance I massaged my mom until she died in 2019 it was 30 years of that connection. It can be very powerful.

Krista Dicks: Absolutely. Can you share a little bit more of your story as you mentioned 7 years ago there seemed to be a turning point when you decided you had to change the way that you practiced?

Mark Liskey: About 7 years ago I really upped my volume. My wife and I were on an espionage mission. We had our private practices, but we wanted to understand what massage spas did and we had an idea maybe we want to create a business that would be on that level. So to understand what they did we went in. It sounds a little nefarious but it wasn’t. What we did was we did the best job possible, we converted people for them and given the 4 months’ notice when we quite. So we did our best work we could. But my volume just basically doubled. All those little things that were nagging me became bigger things so I ended up being diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, cervical radiculopathy, unstable shoulder, my hands were constantly aching. There were a bunch of things going south. The doctor said to quite massage and I’m like I don’t really want to quite massage. I want to figure out a way around things here. Because I have done it most of my 20 years prior so I figure I could do it again. This time is just more complicated so I gave myself a year to figure it out. The massage boom became my experiment lab. I had a couple of rules. One of them was if something hurts stop doing it. Just stop. And then figure out another way to get around it. That became challenging because some of the things I stopped doing like using my forearm which would trigger my neck and shoulder problem. Now what am I going to do. So I looked down my arm and I saw my fist. How do I use my fist and stop using my forearm which was 60% of massage. So that took a while to figure out. My clients were used to me for 20 years massaging a certain way. Now I am changing it on them. That was another consideration. It wasn’t like I abruptly changed I would do it slowly. See if they worked with my body. See if that felt better and then just work that into the massage. It was an experiment that was conducted in live time on my clients. That is how is sort of when down.

Krista Dicks: This is perfect timing. I know so many massage therapists and myself included like I do get discomfort and pain. I catch myself in really awkward positons because we are just trying to get at this specific area. If I zoom back like my nose is like an inch away from the glute muscles sometimes. I am like “what am I doing”.

Mark Liskey: That could be dangerous

Krista Dicks: Yes on multiple levels. That’s my biggest concern I do want to massage more efficiently and pain free so I am really interested in your feedback and your tips for this specifically. What was your client’s reaction? When they are used to massaging for so long I think that might be a concern for a lot of massage therapists. The way that they have always done it and what if my clients don’t come back because I changed my techniques. Sometimes you feel silly doing some of the more biomechanical moves as well. The reality is they can’t see you. Sometimes you do feel kind of silly going down, bending the knees super low. How did your clients react and how did you feel changing the technique?

Mark Liskey: My informal survey was this; if I got feedback that they weren’t coming back that’s another indicator that they didn’t like the massage or they actually commented about it. Out of 1000+ massages only 1 person liked my old style better. A lot of people didn’t notice I was changing because it was very subtle on how I would do it, so I was pretty pleased with that. I was actually able to grow the business while changing how I do it. It was nerve racking at first 3-6 months but then I realized things that remained was consistent was pressure. So as long as I could deliver the pressure (that is actually the name of one of our businesses, “The Perfect Massage” I put a lot of emphasis on that. That’s the key to a lot of things, to relaxation. So as long as I can nail that pressure it really didn’t matter it just mattered that I was consistent that’s proved in my formal experiment nonscientific that it worked. That is was good, I am fine with this. Also towards the end I started to discover even better ways that I could deliver more focused pressure efficiently, effortlessly without causing myself pain and the client would like that better. That was with massage tools which took my massage to a different level in a sense that those kind of things became central moves so I knew people would come to see me for very specific pressure controlled not too much. That was because of the experimenting I was doing in the massage room. If I continued on I would have never discovered these other ways not more efficient but can be more focused if you are looking for more focused pressure.

Krista Dicks: The tools are something I would love to talk more about. At that point of your career as well 25 plus years at that point you are retraining your body for the massage, and the massage more efficiently. If the clients did not like your style at that point with your confidence were you like it does not matter because this is better for “my” body really. Was there sort of a sense of freedom as well or like “I can refer you to somewhere else because I am no longer the right fit.” I would have no problem with that.

Mark Liskey: That is an excellent question because that is exactly what happened in my mind. At some point we go into the massage (I am not going to speak for all massage therapists) but I will speak for myself. I go in thinking I am going to do what I need to do to get the job done. So when I do that that means you throw body parts in harm’s way sometimes. Like I’m just going to jam my thumb in there and press until that person says that’s it. That feels great. You do that for many many years and you start to second guess yourself about going in there and doing it. When I started thinking about myself first which was a difficult thing. How do I do this massage without injuring myself and acerbating a pain condition? It’s a totally different mindset but I still want to do a good job. We are not taking that out of the equation. We are just adding in how do I take care of myself and do a god job. My concept of taking care of myself before was after the massage I would stretch my fingers, ice my hands but I was changing that saying what can I do during the massage was completely different to me. So that took a while to get. Once I got that it was exactly what you said. If this is the thing you like the technique and I have a substitute technique and that doesn’t work then maybe it’s time to find another massage therapist and I am ok with that. I also knew by having the other techniques I was more durable I could do more massages and I was bringing more people in so I really didn’t need them to be there if that makes sense. I don’t mean that in a cavalier kind of way it’s just once you have the volume coming in then you don’t have to worry about keeping people especially if they are not your favorite massage clients.

Krista Dicks: That is totally fair. So why is learning to massage pain free so important? The earlier we can learn this the better. It’s usually something that we learn later in the practice unfortunately. Why is it so important that we are massaging pain free as a massage therapist?

Mark Liskey: To me it took me a while to figure out unfortunately but one is that if you are in pain you are not going to do as good of job as you were in pain. That’s the facts. When you’re in pain you are not focused on the person as much and you can’t do as many massages. You are cutting down your massage volume. There are times we start to resent doing a massage. I think we have all experienced this. “OMG I wish you would just get up and massage my back”. Or you hear the words “deeper” “you can go deeper” I could but I don’t want to. What you want me to do hurts me. If you are in pain while massaging you sort of loose confidence in the whole field itself and career of choice which is a legitimate concern because you are dinged up and you don’t know what your future has in store for you. Taking care of your body and asking these questions “how do I do this massage, the best massage I can without injuring myself”. In the beginning it’s going to set you up for enjoying massage and also for creating a business where you’re the sole proprietor your income is just massage you can ramp up your massage and increase your massage max, make more money and not feel the effects of too much massage. I mean there is a limit, we all have limits, it’s not like you can do unlimited massage but you can do more massage effectively efficiently and you can go play tennis after you are done or whatever you do. That’s why it was so important to me. I think our body they are the vehicle. I treat massage as a sport in a way. Each move is like in tennis analogy. You set yourself up for a shot with good body position and you really apply compression, don’t be reaching, make sure you are in front of it where you are pressing and you are leaning into it. So those kind of things. Also what you do in the massage room is how you play your sport. If you want to continue to play your sport then you do the techniques that work for you. Not all techniques will work for everybody, it’s you doing your own experiment.

Krista Dicks: I think there are some really great points in there and I can’t wait to go back and listen to the episode to recap. Just even the resentment about the client coming in and having the lack of motivation to go in to the massage clinic that day because your body is in pain. Sometimes personally if my shoulder is hurting that day. Guess what comes through the door. 5 people with shoulder stuff. All I want to do is get on the table and have them work on me. Certainly I have experienced those feelings and part of the process of talking to people like you and learning from people is going to keep me more involved in the profession and taking care of my own body so I can continue to enjoy the profession and still love my clients who need that massage as well. So may great points in there as well. I want to jump ahead which can certainly happen, you mention that you treat the massage like a sport which I thought was a really cool analogy as well. While you are massaging you set yourself up in the right position. Do you consider any training or a fitness program outside of your massage day? Do you feel like it’s important to have some type of routine to keep your own body healthy as well?

Mark Liskey: I do. I don’t think there is any prescription or any kind of recommendation I would have I just always like to work out. My challenge became was my work out would supersede my massage. Sometimes I would just beat myself up, come into the massage room with stuff that is acerbated or problematic. I do believe that exercise is a win. You are going to be stronger in your massage and feel better and there is all sorts of chemical stuff that happens when you exercise. And stretching I am not the worst stretcher in the world but I do think it’s a wonderful thing. When I did yoga many many years ago I loved it but I just don’t do it. I do think it’s really important. Maybe it’s more personality driven. You should exercise your health in general but in massage not everyone is an exercise person. I’m not saying someone should not do that I still think you can be strong and do a good massage pain free without doing exercise. Exercise can’t hurt and it’s defiantly a great thing to do.

Krista Dicks: Lets’ go back to massage tools cause you did mention them earlier as one of the ways that you stay pain free within your massage work. Are you able to give any description of some of the tools or the ways that you are using them?