Every day, Rukhshana Surty lays her hands upon people and feels the effect of the workplace on their bodies.

A certified massage therapist and director of the Harmoni Holistic Centre in Kirkland, Surty says workers routinely repress job stress that turns into physical pain.

“A lot of people show up on our doorstep after being told by four different doctors that they have four different diseases and they say: ‘I know it’s my job. I know it’s stress-induced.’

“They’ll tell me that they were doing OK until they started doing the work of two other people, or they were just fine until that new boss arrived, or they were all right until the downsizing began and they wonder whose head will be on the block next,” she said.

What Surty’s clients all have in common is pain that appears in their backs, shoulders, necks, abdomens. “They’re tight and knotted and unable to relax because their tissues are stressed to the point that they’re shortened and are pulling their skeletons out of alignment,” she said.

And these problems are not unique to middle-aged or older workers. “I’m seeing young people who have been out of university and in the workplace for no more than a year with stress-related pain,” she said.

Blame it on the workplace, on the demands of juggling career and family, on poor office ergonomics or the fact that many of us sit hunched in unnatural positions over computer keyboards day after day.

An epidemic of physical injury is sending people to massage therapists in unprecedented numbers.

In fact, the therapeutic massage industry in Canada has expanded apace with the major changes that have swept across the work landscape in the past decade.

As organizations have become leaner and more demanding of workers, the number of massage therapists has doubled.

“There are 12,000 massage therapists across Canada, twice the number we had 10 years ago,” said Barry Antoniow, the Ottawa-based executive director of Kine-Concept Institute, which runs three massage therapy schools, including one in Montreal, which opened with four students 15 years ago and now boasts an enrolment of 400.

Antoniow said there was a turning point in the early 1990s, when “people began to recognize the value of alternative or complementary therapies and workers began to demand insurance policies that included massage therapy as part of their healthcare plans.”

That’s evident to Julie Mischook, a certified masso- kinesitherapist, who also has a clinic in Kirkland. When she launched her business in 1997, few clients asked her for insurance receipts. “Now, I give out about 20 receipts a week for insurance claims,” she said.

Like Surty, Mischook spends her workdays using massage therapy to unleash the tension that people store in their muscles.

“The majority of my clients come in because they’re stressed,” she said. “Along with massage, I give them stretching exercises and get them to commit to doing stretches every day.”

Rukhshana Surty sees a lot of stressed people on her massage table.”They have repetitive strain injuries, chronic headaches, shoulder stress and set jaws,” she said.

‘When you live a life in constant stress mode, the body doesn’t have time to recuperate. Think of how life is. You wake up after not getting enough sleep. You’ve got to get the kids off to school. You’ve misplaced your keys. You forgot to photocopy something for work. There’s heavy traffic and it’s snowing. As you’re driving to work, you start to think stressfully in anticipation of the events coming up. So your heart rate and blood pressure are up. And chances are, you’ve set up your energy template for the day by drinking coffee and reading the news.”

What results, said Surty, is a flood of cortisol, adrenaline and other fight-or-flight hormones that accumulate as toxins in the body’s tissues.

She said that while people have traditionally viewed massage as a means of “relaxing after a workout, we’re doing something much deeper than that.” Clients often experience an emotional catharsis during massage through the release of tension stored in muscle tissue, she said.

Julie Mischook said she treats a lot of clients whose bodies are screaming at them because of the way they work.

“I have clients who sit at computers all day and their arms are in a constant flexed position,” she said. “When the arms are held in one spot all day, it leads to a posture in which the shoulders are rounded forward. That puts pressure on the back and the shoulders.” One of Mischook’s clients, Maureen Hudson, began getting regular massage therapy a year ago because of back pain.

Hudson said she spends her work days “hovering over a computer. When I go to see Julie, she only has to look at my arms and shoulders to know exactly what kind of a week I’ve had.”

Source: Nanaimo Daily News. Nanaimo, B.C.: Apr 29, 2003. pg. A.10

Reprinted for Everest Therapeutics, a Vancouver massage therapy clinic.

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