Why I Have So Many Specialties (and why it's not as many as you think)
Specialties by their nature should take a long time to develop. When I see a long list of specialties, my knee jerk reaction is often "Look, jack of all trades, probably master of none." Which isn't entirely fair, but isn't entirely not. So I 100% understand why you might think the same thing about my list of 9 specialties. On the surface, it seems excessive to be able to specialize in that many things in a mere 20 years of being a full time massage therapist. But once you understand the whys and hows, you'll see that it's not so excessive. And you'll see that it's really only 3.
So... about my "long list" of specialties... Let me start by reiterating that it's really only 3 specialties but those specialties encompass several conditions. I list my specialties as conditions, rather than skillsets, because most people understand whether they have a condition or not much more easily than they can recognize whether a particular skillset can help them. After all, this website is supposed to help you decide if you think I can help you with your issue(s).
Let me explain how my specialties are grouped.
Group 1 - Tension headaches, migraine headaches, high stress, and neck/shoulder pain
These are inextricably linked by anatomy and physiology. It's very difficult, if not downright impossible, to effectively treat headaches if you don't know the physiology of stress or know your way around the neck and to some degree the shoulder as well. They taught me a lot about stress in massage school and by the time I graduated, I had a decent handle on the type of touch needed to relieve stress.
From early in my career clients have told me how great I was at getting rid of their headaches and/or neck pain. This lead me to take a bunch of courses to get even better at treating tension headaches and neck pain (and to boost my confidence that clients weren't just saying that to be nice). Many of these classes ventured into some shoulder issues as well, because there's a link between some of the muscles in your shoulders and the muscles involved in neck and headache pain.
From there, I started wading into migraine territory. Although migraine disorder is neurologically based, there's often a muscular component to it as well. Turns out, there's a lot of overlap (as in almost 100%) between the muscle tension in various tension headaches and the muscle tension involved in migraine headaches. And... the type of touch needed to relieve stress affects the nervous system in such a way that it can have a significant impact on migraine headaches.
Let me pause here and say that massage cannot cure migraine headaches, but it can help reduce their frequency and intensity.
Even though I graduated massage school in 2002, I wasn't comfortable saying I was specialized in any of these until close to 2010. At that point, I'd taken a couple hundred hours of classes and easily worked on these issues with a couple thousand clients.
Group 2 - TMJD, carpal tunnel, and plantar fasciitis
Although the anatomy of these three areas are vastly different from one another, the techniques used to relieve pain in them are not. The same principles are at play in each condition and, not surprisingly, the same techniques can be used for each with only slight modifications for structural differences.
If you're a technique nerd, I'll let you in on a little secret... I mostly use a variety of myofascial release type techniques. I started learning these techniques for headaches and neck pain, but the more I studied and practiced them, the more I realized they were the perfect techniques for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD), carpal tunnel syndrome, and plantar fasciitis.
The more I learned, the more clients came to me looking for relief from these painful conditions. So, I started taking classes specifically aimed at addressing these conditions and upping my competence in blending the techniques I'd been studying so I could apply them to the jaw, wrist, and foot optimally. Although I'd been studying the techniques since around 2004 and diving into these specific conditions since 2008ish, I didn't consider this a specialty until sometime between 2014-16.
Group 3 - Scars
The techniques I use for scar work are many of the same ones I use for TMJD, carpal tunnel, and plantar fasciitis. So, I've been studying and using them for close to 2 decades now. I've felt comfortable working on old scars for quite a while, and have had quite a few clients ask me to work on scars after their initial complaints were resolved. But back in 2018 I finally learned the key to working on newer scars. I've taken a couple classes and have had some amazing response to that new aspect of my work.
I've only just started advertising my scar work this year (2022). I'm not sure I feel like I can say I'm fully specialized because so far, I've had no complicating factors to deal with. But I'm definitely comfortable saying that I'm in the process of specializing.
There will not be a group 4
I have no interest in delving into anything else. That means, for the rest of my career, all my continuing education will be spent furthering my understanding and ability to work with these conditions. It will also be spent furthering my understanding of, and keeping up with, my knowledge of pain science. After all, you can't effectively treat pain if you don't understand it.
I really only have 3 specialties, which are groups of conditions treated by the same techniques or are anatomically related.
It's a lot easier to understand, and a lot more concise to write, when I list them as individual specialties, instead of as groups of techniques or body regions.