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?
Mark Liskey: For me massage tools come down to a couple of basic things. Like finding the right massage tool for you would be “how does it feel in your hands”. Years ago I wrote an article for an American massage magazine and I pitched the article as the Tbar which is the most basic massage tool you can imagine. It has a handle and a stand and it’s wooden, it looks like a T. The bottom either has a beveled edge or something rubber stopper. Very simple. And she said “I don’t want that I want to know about more massage tools” I really didn’t want to do it but her article turned out to be better because I had to go to the massage store and I can tell within seconds I can tell what would work for me or not because it was what feels right when not just light pressure. Light pressure is not going to be the true test. It is going to be medium to deep pressure. So if you are applying deep pressure what tool is not going to hurt your hand. By the way tools will hurt your hand if you don’t have a way to hold them besides just gripping them. My selection of tools for me is I like to handle tools with the stem. The handle allows me to rest my hand on it. So my technique for the massage tool involves relaxing your hand when using the massage tool in order to do that you need to pin the massage tool between your hand and the client’s tissue and then you can exert your body weight to press on the massage tool. If you add the other hand your none holding hand to the massage tool and holding right by the stem as a guide finger that stabilizes the massage tool then you can certainly relax your hand that is holding the massage tool. To me it’s a handled massage tool but that doesn’t mean it’s for everybody. There is one called the Jacknobber which is a lot of spikey things. I have seen people use that, I have used that for deep pressure but it bothers my hand. For me the tool I like for deep pressure has some kind of handle that I can put my hand on that I can have enough surface area to balance that massage tool. Again it’s a personal choice when you start experimenting massage tools.
Krista Dicks: What would you say is the number 1 recommendation for saving your body if you don’t have the massage tool and were keen on massing pain free what would you recommend for saving your body.
Mark Liskey: Number 1 thing would be leaning, using your bodyweight to generate force as opposed to using your upper body to press, muscle your way through the massage. I was a big presser back in the day, I did lean with my forearms but when my forearms were no longer an option for me because of my conditions I had to figure out how to lean with my fists so that made me lower the table so I could transfer my bodyweight onto the client. Not like you have to have a low table so you can lean it depends on your body style, your massage style, your body type and the injuries you have. When you lean use your arms to stabilize your bodyweight so that’s a lot less stress in your upper body so the key for me for neck, shoulder, trap issues is to take the work out of your neck, shoulder and trap. Anytime you can do that you are not going to be fatigued or over worked. So when you lean you are using your arms to support yourself whether you’re leaning on your forearm or leaning with your fist and that’s a lot easier on your body then pressing with your upper body. There is actually a study on that Ed Warren in 2010 he published it. He is an engineer and massage therapist, he tested leaning against muscle weight, pressing in a massage and he found that leaning he could exert maximal force better then you could with pressing. And it just makes sense once you do it you realize that wow I can almost completely relax my shoulders and my neck and not stressing them that takes a lot of the work out of that area. That is where a lot of massage therapists end up with issues in the shoulder and neck. Another thing with leaning is you can do it sitting down so for me leaning is my deal. When I sit I am going to use my torso weight not my whole body weight can I can only lean from my torso to apply force but you can generate plenty of force especially for neck, hands, feet, IT bands, all these areas just by leaning. If you really want to take your shoulders and neck out of the equation if you lean and rest your fore arms on your legs now your arms are supported, there is no tension in your shoulders or neck and it’s so easy. I am really exerting little to no energy. That is another way we need to incorporate and leaning with massage tools. Leaning became the main ingredient for a lot of my changes that I did.
Krista Dicks: I think it was really effective to describe the methods. I can see you which is great. I watch a few of your resources online so I would love to link to some of those videos as well so they can see the techniques because the shoulder and neck are my area where I get the tension and then it will eventually lead up to a headache which can become a migraine. I was sacrificing my own wellbeing for my client. Even after watching this podcast and a few videos I put it into practice just yesterday and honestly I did notice a big difference. It was super easy to apply the techniques and I felt great at the end of the day. Right now we are seeing less clients then we normally would because of COVID and the schedule structure but I am trying to see where I can add an extra client here and there and that was actually my day yesterday was an extra client so I was really glad at the end of the day I applied your techniques then I had a full day plus the one hour extra and I still felt really good at the end of the day. I highly recommend that everybody do check out the videos and the resources that you have. Even what you described I think can help a lot of people so that is really wonderful.
Mark Liskey: You made my day Krista, I appreciate that. I know the videos a really rough cut. It’s usually just me doing or Rob who works for us doing it the really rough cut I’m a blogger but I appreciate that. I am just going to add to that that could potentially help with the neck and shoulders. I soon learned that once I was into leaning, like if I lean on a low table there’s a problem with that. It’s when you are trying to exert lighter pressure because now you have to back off the client so you can’t transfer all your body weight onto the client so now you need to support that with your back and that is going to cause back strain. The solution to that is to lean against the table. So leaning against the table to support your body weight when you do that you could actually what I call getting vertical. You know like how in massage you are hunch back position all the time or bent over and that’s that static posture that beats us up over time it fatigues those muscles so what I try to do it take breaks during the massage, I am not like looking at my nails or drink water kind of break I’m sort of just resting and stretching but I’m still massaging so I will go into a one hand massage where I am gliding down spinal rectors and I get to the sacrum and I just switch to one hand use the table for support and let my torso go upright so now I am vertical and out of the hunchback position and sometime I will take it to an extension where I am leaning back in this cobra kind of thing. The idea is not to get away with something it’s not to do yoga while I am massaging it is just to give your body a break to continue to do a really good job. It is only a second it’s not like minutes or anything.
Krista Dicks: The client probably doesn’t notice and you use the words like dynamic after reading some of your blog articles as well you are very adamant that massage itself is dynamic. It is not static.
Mark Liskey: Right. When my wife and I did a couple massage a couple of years ago and her comment to me was “Dam you are noisy” which she referring to my feet because my feet are like shuffling. It’s like a sports analogy I’m getting into position to set myself up for the next stroke. If I am working on someone with deep pressure it would be shorter strokes because I can move in a position deliver the pressure and move that kind of thing. It doesn’t feel choppy on the other end as I have talked to clients because you are still applying the same amount of pressure so you are keeping that consistent. My belief is be dynamic move your feet, you might think that requires more energy but at the end of the day it’s going to serve you better by moving your feet then trying to reach for something that is really putting a lot of pressure and making your upper body work so hard. I know I am getting tired at the end of the day. My conversation in my head or what I am telling myself is move your feet. Keep it moving!
Krista Dicks: Excellent. Can we go back to the beginning of your massage career? You have so much experience and knowledge and you are a great example of how long this career can last and to be comfortable and be happy and enjoying it. What did the massage profession look like 30 years ago and how did you get involved and interested in becoming a massage therapist? There was less out there then so how did you know it was a potential career opportunity?
Mark Liskey: At first out of college I really worked out a lot to the point where I just didn’t understand as I was young, things break, things get torn. I was actually looking for a way to find pain relief and to enhance my workouts so I could work out even more. I remember I had a gardening business at the time, it was a little shady. A massage was like, you didn’t know what you were getting, I was very skeptical. I just wanted a massage, but every place looked like it didn’t do that, a therapeutic massage. One of gardening clients has a massage therapist and I heard her mention a name and I said great I will call her. I called this person and she answered the phone and she said “who are you?” I gave her my name and she said “who gave you my number?” “What do you want?” I said a massage and she grunted “ugh I massage I had eight yesterday.” She said her hands hurt and she gave whole list of how she hurts. She asked what was wrong with me. My back hurts and she said “what else” I said my knees. She said “that’s it, you can wait for 2 months call back then”. My introduction to massage was not really “OMG I want to be a massage therapist” but I did want to experiment a massage. I wanted to know why I felt like it could help me. I did find a massage therapist who was really good. It was not a massage but she coached me on like training she started to bring reality into me. What I think is what we do a lot of times, we are not just giving a massage, and people are asking questions, we are also trying to give them the best of our experience. The best information that we can so that is what she did. I really liked her approach and I like the fact that massage was very one on one back then I was still on the fence about coming a PT, it was so cookie cutter and you just didn’t get that dynamic connection between your client. Chiropractor also came up but back then it was very “businessey” and I was not so businessey it just didn’t appeal to me so that is how I fell into massage. I liked it, I kept liking it more and I saw the benefits of having my own massage business and working for myself, cause I can’t work for anybody else. I have learned over the years I am the worst employee of the world. At that point massage just looked like a wonderful fit and I can make my own hours and do my own thing and I can learn along the way. Massage was not my first choice I sort of fell into that.