Relief from pain, stress through massage

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2005

A healing touch is a gift. It's one with which Greenville area native Sylvia Harrelson seems to have been graced.

"My friends always said I gave good massages. One joked that it ought to be against the law to practice medicine without a license…when I retired from working with the state in June 2003, I decided to go for it," says Harrelson.

"Going for it" meant going to school at the Pensacola School of Massage Therapy to be trained and certified as a licensed massage therapist.

While the normal course of study is six months, Harrelson put in extra hours and studied for seven months in order to meet the more stringent licensing rules of the State of Alabama. She also obtained national board certification and is a member of the American Massage Therapy Association.

A change of pace

After years of working first with the State Forestry Service and then as an accountant with the Department of Corrections ("I went from silent pine trees to plenty of complaining prisoners"), her new venture is quite a change – and one she truly enjoys.

"I love knowing I am making people feel better – it's a good feeling."

Harrelson initially opened her business, Tender Touch Massage, inside the Hair Shoppe on Commerce St. in June of 2004. Harrelson has been in her current location at 127 W. Commerce St. since December 1, 2004.

"I do find this a relaxing job…sometimes I almost feel like I could fall asleep when I am giving a massage, so I guess that stress remedy oil I mix in with the lotion really works," she says with a grin.

NOT a massage parlor

Just don't refer to her business as a "massage parlor."

"I cannot stand that term. People equate a massage parlor with something shady. They hear about these places in Montgomery being shut down for immoral activity. Believe me, I didn't spend my time and money training for this to do anything illegal or immoral," stresses Harrelson, who also prefers to be called a "massage therapist" as opposed to "masseuse."

Therapeutic massage techniques such as Harrelson performs have long been practiced in all cultures as an integral part of health care and maintenance. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, considered massage of prime importance in any health regimen. Galen and the Romans also prized the healing benefits of massage.

While massages became linked in the public's mind with unsavory activity in the later half of the 20th century, these days there is growing interest in holistic therapies. Interest in therapeutic massage has brought about a renaissance for this art of healing through touch.

Benefits are many

A massage just might be good for what ails you. There are many benefits to be derived from a therapeutic massage, says Harrelson.

"A therapeutic massage is a great way to reduce stress. It works on the body's central nervous system to counteract the body's response to stress. You relieve that muscle tension, and the heart rate, blood pressure and circulation all return to normal. It's great for people with high blood pressure or circulatory problems."

Pain relief is another benefit many receive through massage, the therapist says.

"When you go in and unknot those muscles and loosen them up, they become much less painful. Also you are taking pressure off your joints, and that pressure can cause a lot of pain, too. Often people hold their bodies in a different manner when they are hurting and that can cause referred pain in other areas. You need relief – and therapeutic massage can offer that."

Massage can also help those battling migraines and other types of headaches, Harrelson says.

"I had a gentleman come in who had a severe headache to the point of nausea and I did a scalp and neck massage on him. When he left, the nausea was gone and the pain was at least lessened."

With spring allergies about to bloom, Harrelson says she can probably relieve some of those unpleasant symptoms for allergy sufferer.

"Often people come in complaining of sinus headaches and after I work the face and back of the neck, we get those sinuses draining, relieve the tension in the neck and they leave feeling better."

The vagus nerve also benefits from the stimulation provided by therapeutic massage, says Harrelson.

"This nerve attaches itself to several key organs including the heart and lungs. When you stimulate the vagus nerve through massage, it improves digestion, heart and lung functions."

And in a hurry-up world fraught with anxiety, a therapeutic massage is the perfect way to relax both mind and body, the therapist says.

"People need a way to relax that's drug-free and without negative side effects. Therapeutic massage provides just that for a lot of people."

Privacy important

Harrelson is often questioned about attire, or lack thereof, during a full body massage.

"Yes, you do need to be fully undressed for the treatment. I tell people it doesn't work very well with your clothes on. However, let me point out my clients undress and dress in complete privacy.

"Alabama law requires the client be covered with a sheet – and MY law requires they be covered with a sheet during the massage. The only part of their body uncovered at any time is that specific area I am working on. Respecting the client's privacy is very important to me," explains Harrelson.

The massage therapist says she also tries to be sensitive to what a client is comfortable with and what they aren't.

"They fill out a questionnaire before I work on them indicating which areas of the body need special work, and which ones they do not want me to touch. I respect their wishes. For example, some people have very sensitive foot and can't stand for someone else to touch them."

The long or short of it

Harrelson offers half-hour and full hour body massages, foot massages, and seated chair massages. She says she tries to accommodate her clients in terms of the amount of spare time they have in their schedule.

"A person can walk in who has only five minutes to spare and I can do a five-minute chair massage for five dollars. Or they can treat themselves to a full hour of massage. I try to be flexible and meet the needs of my clients."

She also offers several types of massage techniques to her clients, including Swedish relaxation, deep tissue, pre-natal and hot stone massages.

"The Swedish relaxation massage increases circulation without increasing the heart load. It works those knots out and loosens muscles as well as stretching the tendons and ligaments. It's definitely a great way to relax," she says.

"A deep tissue massage is similar to the Swedish massage, except much deeper pressure is used to work into the muscles and loosen very deep knots – it is not for everyone as some people cannot stand that deep pressure. It is great for those with chronic pain if they can bear the more intense technique."

For expectant mothers, Harrelson offers a pre-natal message, which is usually performed with the client lying on her side.

"Generally I target the legs and back, the areas pregnant women tell me give them the most pain – though some expectant moms also ask to have their abdomens massaged, too."

For the hot stone massage, the client is placed on heated stones that warm the muscles, relaxing them to prepare the muscles for the actual massage. "This type of massage is great for deep pain."

For those who are on their feet all day, Harrelson offers a "super-relaxing" foot massage.

"I actually work from the foot to the knee and spend over 20 minutes per leg, working the calf muscles and loosening up all the muscles in that area."

For those who are short on time, Harrelson offers a seated chair massage or a scalp, neck and upper shoulder massage, at just $1 per minute.

"While I am happy to make appointments, I also welcome walk-in clients, so don't hesitate to stop in and see me. And I am also available for businesses wanting on-site massages. For charitable concerns. I can bring my chair and do five-minute massages for a donation."

Harrelson finds her second career a very rewarding one.

"It just feels so good when someone walks out of here and they clearly feel better than when they first walked in. Making people feel better is what it's all about."

Tender Touch Massage is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (final appointment made at 5 p.m.) and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (final appointment made at 1 p.m.). Call 382-2442 to schedule an appointment. Gift certificates are also available.