Continuing Education Archives - Florida School of Massage

How is ‘Oncology Massage’ Different from ‘Normal Massage?’

by Tracy Walton


She called me about getting massage for her brother. He was in treatment for advanced cancer, and he felt too sick to arrange massage for himself. “What is different about massage for people with cancer?” she asked me. And “How is it different from ‘normal’ massage?”

I hear this question often. It always deserves a thoughtful answer.

My answer touches on a couple of things:


One is the goal of oncology massage. I told the caller that we aim to ease specific cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment, such as pain, anxiety, nausea, and poor sleep. In particular, improving anxiety and sleep helps other problems improve. I told her that I’d want to know her brother’s symptoms and goals for the session. I will ask how he is sleeping. In oncology massage, we go after the “problem list” specific to cancer, and we try to make them better.


We also adapt to the effects of cancer and treatment.

Here, we’re focused on not making things worse. We want to avoid any problems with massage pressure, stroke direction, or joint movement that could aggravate symptoms or injure vulnerable tissue.

Some of these safety precautions are intuitive: if there is bruising, lighten up; if skin is chapped, don’t irritate it.

But not all oncology massage precautions are obvious or intuitive. In fact, some are invisible. Some of our concerns are even more serious 30 years after treatment than they were at the 3-month mark. Lymphedema can be a lifelong risk. Radiation and other treatments can weaken tissue and organ function years later. 

As we teach oncology massage, we feel the weight of such concerns. We teach how to interview for them, and how to use the client’s health history to structure the massage in favor of symptom relief.

On the phone with her, I kept it light but truthful: “Here are a few examples. For one, I consider any tumor sites and side effects of treatment. I might need to work more gently or slowly.  If lymph nodes have been removed, I might shift the direction and pressure in my work. Even with past treatment, years ago, some effects might linger. So I start by getting a good understanding of my client’s health picture. I take a few minutes at the beginning of the session to ask some questions about treatment and other health conditions. If your brother has had massage before, I would explain how oncology massage and Swedish massage are similar, and how they are a little different. We would go from there.”

That phone call, the intake, and even the massage itself—these things take time to learn and more time to practice.


Then there is Facebook.

On Facebook, interactions are immediate and brief.

In massage therapy groups on social media, we see many therapists posing good questions to their colleagues. Among them, I’ve seen countless requests for how to work with a client in cancer treatment. Well-intentioned questions are followed by well-intentioned answers.

Yet several problems often arise in this forum.

  1. Answers are often all over the place, with conflicting advice.
  2. Most answers focus on the massage itself rather than the interview with the client.

And last, but not least, the most frustrating problem:

  1. Massage guidelines for cancer do not fit into a sound bite.


Cancer is not a single disease.

Instead, the word, “cancer,” describes over 200 different diseases.  Along with that, hundreds of different treatments cause many different side effects. Treatments change, and many side effects run in cycles. Each client scenario is unique and it can be different on a different day. Customized care for so many possible client presentations? Impossible to capture in a sound bite, or even a short list.

Instead of something on the fly, most massage therapists tell us they want in-depth understanding. They long for the skills to help more clients with cancer. Many were taught, years ago, that massage was flat-out contraindicated in cancer. To undo this misinformation, they need substance and support. They need to think through actual cases. They need some time and supervision in order to practice their skills.

In response, Cindy Gillan and Nanci Newton are offering “Oncology Massage Therapy: Caring for Clients with Cancer” at FSM May 3-6, 2017. Cindy and Nanci have decades of oncology massage experience behind them and almost as many years of teaching experience. They’ll be joined by Susie Finfrock, an FSM grad who works at Haven Hospice in Gainesville and has her own long history in practice.

Between them, these instructors have hundreds of client stories. In class, they share many of their stories as they help build a solid oncology massage foundation. They create a supportive environment for honing the skills to work safely with people with cancer: The hands-on skills, interview skills, and even skills for that first phone call with a client.

The early registration discount ends soon in March 2017, and the course has begun to fill in response to many requests to hold it in Florida.

Find details and registration information here.

More background about our work here.

Beyond the Veil of Stillness

by Giorgia Milne


The ground substance of our connective tissues is the matrix within which life originates.  It is composed of a liquid substrate that bathes, and is within all cells, and provides the means for global, body-wide, communication. It behaves as a liquid crystal that communicates all quantum vibratory information throughout the whole body simultaneously at various speeds – light, sound, pressure, tension, wave, temperature, and so on.

After fertilization embryological forces inside the embryo’s protoplasmic ground substance ignite intentional whirls and eddies from which WE develop. Fourteen days after conception, a core of stillness emerges as the central organizing principle that will become known as “midline”. Bodily, this becomes the germ layers of ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm – leading to the formation of the heart, central nervous system, and the rest of the body’s organs and structures. However, midline actually defies description, because it is nonlinear and multidimensional.


After embryogenesis is complete, the midlines resonant signals convey the coherent instructions for the maintenance, defense, healing, immunity, and perceptual development of the bodymind.

Charles Ridley, author of STILLNESS – Biodynamic Cranial Practice and the Evolution of Consciousness.


Embryological forces continue to guide our growth, development, and overall health maintenance throughout our lives.  These subtle emotive forces behind the motions of life are indeed perceptible, and this is what we are connecting with in Biodynamic Cranial Touch.  By resting in stillness at the center of your being, you become resonant with the organizing principles of creation, and the source of our health and sense of wholeness.

Happy Renewal Year

By Frank Merrilat
I recently received an email, it began “Happy Renewal Year”. It was an inquiry about an upcoming workshop that I will be presenting in March and a nice play with words. I have to say that it got me thinking about the meaning of renewal.
The base of the word is “new”. To me that means something different, maybe unique. It could also mean seeing something a little bit differently, a new take on a familiar subject. The prefix “re” to me means doing something again. So the word renewal could have several interpretations, referring to examining what came before and beginning again.
We are now in a renewal year for our massage licenses. Continuing Education is an opportunity to learn new skills and grow your practice. Is there a modality or area of interest that turns you on? Maybe you want to get clear on anatomy or go deeper into a particular technique. Maybe you are interested in some self-work to help you in meeting clients in your practice. There are so many options available. I have several offerings available including Getting Specific one-day workshops on the neck, shoulder and low back as well as a two-day offering focusing on the breath. Check out the FSM website to see what will be offered at the school.

NEW! Sports Massage Advanced Training

Is sports massage something you are ready to dive into? Do you love working with athletes? Do you have clients with challenging soft tissue injuries and chronic pain that you want to help? Do you want to have new doors open to you?  Our Sports Massage Advanced Certification course may be for you!
Come join us for this 100-hour comprehensive training. Completing this certification will give you the confident edge as a competent Sports Massage Therapist. By participating in this course, you will take away the skills you need to obtain employment in any sports environment. 
Our unique approach includes:
  • Visits to state of the art sports medicine facilities
  • Lectures from top sports medicine professionals
  • Application of specific massage techniques for injuries and musculoskeletal dysfunctions

Elevate your practice to the next level! Our course will provide you with the skills necessary to differentiate you from other therapists.

Through our small group centered lectures with athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers, you will have a first hand knowledge of how to collaborate with other sports medicine practitioners in the groundbreaking sports medicine field.

Focus On Maternity Massage

by Leslie Stager

Leslie Stager

My friend has a busy sports massage practice. She works with pregnant and non-pregnant clients often doing deep tissue work in hip adductors, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps. One day we were discussing pregnancy massage adaptations — sidelying and semi-reclining positions, altered body mechanics, and relevant bodywork precautions.

“What precautions?” she asked.

I mentioned the 5x increased risk of developing blood clots during pregnancy, and greater risk for six weeks after birth. I stated that massage therapists should do thorough intakes and adjust their bodywork for those with specific risk factors, such as recent airplane travel, obesity, a history of previous clots, carrying twins or more, being over 35 years old, or recent cesarean section. Seventy-five percent of pregnant and postnatal women who develop clots have one or more of these risk factors.

Who Will Teach Us To Give Birth To Our Souls?

by Mary Reis

“Who will teach us to give birth to our souls,

to be life-giving creative centers of energy

instead of death-dealing centers of inertia?”

—Camille Campbell in Meditations with Theresa of Avila 


mary reis staff photo

I came across this quote at the beginning of “Stillness: Biodynamic Cranial Touch and the Evolution of Consciousness” by Charles Ridley. Having recently finished the Biodynamic Cranial Touch Mentor Course, I was reflecting back on the long journey of my BCT training and picked up this book, which is the required reading. Reading this quote I was transported back to the beginning of my journey into bodywork and the rebirth of my own soul.  

Attract Grateful Clients Who Do Your Marketing For You

by Karen Ball, LMT

KarenI don’t know about you, but I don’t recall learning a lot about what causes debilitating foot pain when I first studied reflexology or massage therapy. I was forced to learn though as more and more people came to me with their painful conditions – often as a last ditch effort.

Initially, my approach was simply reflexology – very targeted reflexology sessions. Sometimes that worked beautifully, but sometimes it didn’t; and that left me more than a little frustrated and disappointed in myself.

As fate would have it, I developed plantar fasciosis (often referred to as plantar fasciitis). My compassion for those who had sought out my help soared, and my motivation to figure it out leapt into the stratosphere. I was so not willing to accept the prognosis of a one-year recovery time!

I dug around, studied more, talked to a lot of other people, and eventually developed an approach that worked – for me, at least. It took me three months to recover, not 12.

The Challenge
The real test came though, when a well-known massage therapist in town called and asked for my help with one of her clients who had been diagnosed two years earlier with plantar fasciosis (PF). This woman’s experience with PF was way beyond what I had undergone. I “experienced” plantar fasciosis; she was “enduring” it.

Failed Attempts
I asked a few questions and was told that this woman:

• religiously followed a stretching routine given to her by a physical therapist.
• tried heel lifts and custom-made orthotics.
• had consulted with and received regular treatments from a podiatrist.
• wore “sensible” shoes; in fact, she had gone so far as to have very expensive custom-made shoes created just for her feet.
• had received more than one corticosteroid injection in her heel.
• tried Ultrasound therapy on her heel.
• had received Prolotherapy treatments on her heel.
• underwent ESWT (Extracorporeal shockwave therapy) treatments on her foot.
• and finally had a Plantar Fasciotomy (the last resort – a surgical approach that “clips” the fascia).

Oh, yeah, and she was not overweight, nor was she sedentary, nor did she work at a job that required her to stand on her feet all day!

Yikes! This woman had done everything that the allopathic community prescribes. She reported that her pain was not as excruciating as it initially was, but was noticeably still there.

Frankly, I felt less than confident that my approach would make a difference – but I agreed to see her anyway.

The Approach
I started by asking this woman to show me the stretches she was doing. All were the same that I had performed daily, with the exception of one other that she was not doing.

So, I taught her that one stretch and then proceeded to give the hands-on session that I had developed – which I teach attendees in the How to Relieve Chronic Foot Pain workshop.

The session begins with a focused, targeted foot reflexology session, followed by assisted passive and active leg and foot movements to clear nerve compression, erase muscle memory and re-educate the muscles to a balanced state. The release of nerve impingement along the S1 nerve root combined with a solid foot reflexology protocol and adherence to an individualized homework plan is what I found creates a successful treatment for stubborn plantar fasciosis cases.

At the end of that initial session, the woman went home with the invitation to call me the next day to let me know how her feet felt upon rising the next morning. I was probably more anxious than eager to hear from her!

She waited until the late afternoon to call, because as she explained, “I thought the results were too good to be true, and didn’t want to jinx anything by stating out loud how I felt.”

Turns out she slept through the night for the first time since having been diagnosed with PF! First night in two years not being awakened by foot pain! She said that the pain was not completely gone, but it was minimal; and for the first time in this lengthy journey of recovery she felt hopeful for a full recovery. Yay!

She returned the next day. We repeated the session and she set off the following week for a planned walking tour in Europe with her family, accompanied by a new stretching homework routine to prevent re-occurrence. I never saw this woman again.

Buoyed by the success with this client, I added in some additional protocols and techniques, learned how to really target my reflexology work and most importantly, how to identify better choices my clients could make pertaining to their own foot health.

Through trial and error and formal study, I have discovered that much of the suffering that people experience in not only their feet, but the knees, hips and low back, results from a number of irregularities within the lower extremity that can be influenced with the protocol that I practice.

Standing Out In The Crowd
Over time I became known in my community for being able to help people with chronic foot pain, especially peripheral neuropathy and plantar fasciosis (both of which are addressed by the same hands-on protocol).

What I do now with clients suffering from chronic foot pain is very different than what I once offered – and that is what I share in the How to Relieve Chronic Foot Pain workshop, a two-day event that looks at how bodyworkers can impact 20 problematic foot complaints that people present with.

I hope you will join me on November 19 and 20 at FSM, for my last workshop of the year. Invest in your business, save yourself years of research, trial and error and create a reputation in your community as the “go-to” person for foot pain.

This training is designed for certified reflexologists and massage therapists who have had at least a basic 2-day training in reflexology and have been utilizing it in their practice. I will not be teaching basic reflexology skills in this workshop.

If you qualify, then I invite you to register now.  There are thousands of people out there that need our help!


Rock Your World!

by Karen Ball

Karen facultyIf you read my post from March 16, you’ll know how much importance I put on relaxation. It’s not just me either. Everywhere you look these days, you will see mountains of anecdotal and data-driven evidence on how “un-relaxed” our society is. That chronic level of stress is playing havoc on our health.

If you want to “kick-it-up a notch” in the relaxation department, then I suggest considering how to use hot and cold mineral stones within a reflexology session.

Adding stones to a reflexology session invites the recipient into such a deep experience of themselves it almost defies definition. I swear that the following statements were not written by a copy-writer! They are true, authentic experiences of clients, word-for-word, shared after receiving a Reflexology Rocks! session:

“As strange as they may sound, I feel like I entered the earth itself. I didn’t leave my body; I became part of the body of earth.”

“The experience was the most relaxed I have ever felt. It wasn’t like floating; it was more like sinking into the safety and solidity of the earth.”

“The experience is almost primordial. I have no words to describe the peaceful state I was in.”

If you are a certified reflexologist, or have taken at least one weekend of reflexology training (hands or feet) please consider joining us for this 6-hour class at FSM on Monday, April 20. If you’ve not yet taken a reflexology workshop, there is one at the school on the Saturday and Sunday preceding this class.

In this short class you will learn how to:

– safely use hot and cold mineral stones (basalt, marble and soapstone) in either a hand or foot reflexology session;

– utilize Himalayan salt crystal stones to reduce the effects of harmful electro-magnetic frequencies on the body;

– learn how to incorporate aromatherapy with hot stones;

– incorporate quartz crystal stones to balance the seven primary chakras.

More importantly though, you will yourself experience why clients rave about stone reflexology.

Details and registration here.

Reflexology Rocks! Rock your world!


The Tension of Opposites

by Karen Ball

Karen facultyWhen teaching Thai Foot Reflexology, I am often asked why we start sessions on the left foot with women and on the right with men. I usually just give the simple explanation that in the Thai model the left side represents the feminine and the right, the masculine.


Here’s a little more detail:

In all the eastern practices, elements are seen as opposing forces. You are probably familiar with the Chinese model of yin/yang: night/day.  Adjectives associated with yin are: cool, inside, receptive, quiet, female, soft, water, earth, dense, moon, dark, For yang: bright, warm, male, sun, outside, expressive, hard, loud, expansive, fire. Both are necessary for existence; you can’t know one side without the other.

In Ayurvedic medicine – from which Thai bodywork arose – these opposing rhythms are referred to as the Ida and Pingala energies. In part, they flow along the opposite sides of the spinal column, ending on the lateral edge of the fifth digit of both of the feet; the Pingala on the right, the Ida on the left. Hence, in Thai Foot Reflexology we begin on the left with a woman, and on the right with a man, so as to re-enforce the more dominant rhythm of the client.

Whereas in China energy lines are referred to as meridians, the energy conduits in Thai medicine are called sen. The two forces mentioned in the paragraph above are known as Sen Ittha and Sen Pinkhala. Sen Pinkhala, the Father energy, is metaphysically represented as electricity; Sen Ittha, the Mother energy, is represented as magnetic. These two forces interact together to activate the coiled energy, called Kundalini, at the base of the spine, and awaken our dormant, libidinal and spiritual forces.

When I first read Carl Jung’s statement, “The tension of opposites is the very essence of life itself,” I had to smile. I thought first of human relationships: how opposite personalities seem to be attracted to one another and work out their differences often through tense interactions. And certainly, according to Thai medicine, that statement would be true. The tension created by the dynamic interplay of Ittha and Pinkhala is what creates the harmony and balance required to live a healthy life. This homeostasis is one of the primary goals of Thai Foot Reflexology.

I hope you’ll join me at the Florida School of Massage in Gainesville on Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22, to experience the effects of Thai Foot Reflexology yourself. Details and registration can be found here.