I love writing, probably because I was an academic for 21 years before starting my new career. Researching new stuff, explaining what I do, writing about the benefits and conditions that can be treated with canine massage and myotherapy, are all things I do every day. But to explain a single day in the life of a canine massage therapist stumped me for a while.
I looked back through my records at the dogs I have treated in the past 3 years. No day is actually the same. There have been a variety of ages. My youngest was a 6 month old puppy where I was actually called to help the owner bond with him more. By teaching her a daily massage routine the power of touch was remarkable and within a few weeks they were inseparable. The puppy had finally stopped climbing the ceiling as he found climbing into his mum’s lap for a massage was far more fun. Then there was the 1 year old who I was asked to help after they became over exuberant and strained some leg muscles. In the middle range, I have had lots of 8 year old dogs who have started to display signs of slowing down. They can often be treated on a regular basis to maintain mobility and quality of life for as long as possible. At the far extreme I have been referred a couple of 13 and 14 year old dogs for palliative care. The aim with those was not to treat the disease that was affecting them but to help them relax, ease their muscles and joints, so they could be relatively pain free with regard to their mobility to help their own internal healing.
Then there were the conditions I have treated. The list is lengthy. Muscle issues are clearly the most frequent on the list, followed by joint issues, arthritis, sports massage, spinal problems, lack of symmetry due to amputation, dogs with a fear of fireworks and even a dog with epilepsy. It is not just about prevention but also maintenance, treating specific injuries, rehabilitation, sports and relaxation. Personally I think to pigeon-hole the rationale behind canine massage and myotherapy as having one benefit is not the way to go. I prefer to think holistically – where the therapy can work on the whole body since everything is ultimately interrelated and interconnected.
Recently we have expanded our toolbox of therapy techniques to include Reiki and Animal Healing for those dogs or owners who prefer a less physical treatment. Dogs have no guile; they don’t understand the concept of placebo. If Reiki or Animal Healing works on them, then it works, no need to question the whys and hows.
As far as the numbers of dogs seen in a day, that can be anything from 1 to my largest number of 5. On one occasion I worked on 4 dogs of different ages and abilities back to back (literally too). They each had their own issues, their own ways of lying for me and their own 'feel'. The first dog was a true athlete, an agility dog who had muscles like Usain Bolt (I guess, not that I have massaged Usain Bolt.....) firm and plentiful. Dog #2 was a retired athlete, still possessing the sporty muscles but they were a lot looser with the beginnings of evident wastage. He fell asleep for me. Dog #3 was the puppy of the first dog and didn't know the meaning of “just try to relax”. I think she heard that as “wriggle as much as you can”. Dog #4 was an ability dog who had thyroid problems which had resulted in the loss of all his fur before being diagnosed and treated with thyroxin. With him it was all about the skin, no kneading. Lots and lots and lots of skin lifting, fascial work and stimulation. By the end of his session he was not only fast asleep but had noticeably softer fur. His owner said “Oooo...is not spikey anymore”. A variety of dogs, a variety of conditions, a variety of aims, but in each the outcome was successful.
Feedback typically comes from the dogs (apparently!) I am always surprised how many are able to send me selfies of them snoozing after a session or texts telling me how much better they feel now.
There is also education. At AchyPaw, we not only treat animals but also like to share our knowledge with owners. After all, they are the people with their dogs 24/7. When treating a dog I always work with the owner. They sit in the treatment session with me and if I feel a tight muscle, or find a move that is very beneficial then I will share it. Everyone goes away with some ‘homework’ and I always follow up a session with a workbook of things to do tailored to each dog. This could be massage techniques or exercises, which is where the myotherapy side comes in.
Massage is easy to explain but the explanation I like best is “The scientific manipulation of the soft tissues of the body, as apart from mere rubbing” (Prosser, E.M.(1941) A manual of Massage and Movement. 2nd ed. Faber & Faber: London). The effects and benefits of massage can be mechanical, physiological and psychological varying according to the intent with which massage is given, the selection of techniques used, the condition of the client and the frequency of sessions.
Myotherapy describes muscle therapy or, as I like to explain it, the therapist exercising the muscle for the client. It is a form of manual therapy focussing on the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal pain. The term is not just a technique taught at a particular school but was originally used in the 1970’s by Bonnie Prudden to describe a specific type of trigger point therapy which she developed following earlier research and studies into pain and from myofascial trigger points. Used today, the term myotherapy incorporates a wider range of techniques including massage, joint mobilization, therapeutic stretching, exercise, postural advice and, most important for me, education.
Demonstrating a few appropriate exercises to the owner that they can do with their dog to stretch and mobilise appropriate joints and muscles can then be their ‘homework’ to build on the therapy session with me and maintain the mobility until the next session. These exercises don’t have to be expensive with lots of kit. They can be simple walking, sitting or standing exercises. Our Sam loves the beach and loves digging in the sand. This is a great free exercise that is under my control. When I think he has had enough, I take the ball away. But while he is digging he is exercising his shoulders, back and rear leg muscles…..and it is free and fun.
There are also days when we deliver one to one or group training sessions. These are great fun and allow the academic in me to resurface. The day always starts with a game and I ensure the session is not just a lecture but interactive and hands on. Those days in the life of a canine massage therapist can be hard work but very rewarding. Seeing a frisky boisterous puppy turn into a slumbering snoring dog in a couple of hours of being massaged by their owner can’t fail to make me smile. Or an older dog who struggles in but leaves with softer fur, a wagging tail plus an owner who is happy that they can now help their dog themselves.
One thing that is always constant in my daily life though, is my own dogs. I never forget the reason why I started AchyPaw Canine Massage, which was to help our Sarah. Every night, she and her brother Sam, sit either side of me on the floor and have their daily treatment. Instead of being petted now by stroking, they get therapy. Not always intensive or long, but always some kneading, some effleurage, some stretching, all of which result in smiling faces and “Don’t stop now Dad” stamps of their paws.
Is this the best thing I have ever done? Most certainly. The best job in the world.
Dr Les Ellam : AchyPaw Dog Massage : 07544 844120