Evidence Based Chronic Pain & Injury Specialist Alice Sanvito Studies Pain Science and Specializes in Pain Education

Alice Sanvito1. Tell us a bit more about you and your practice as it is today? i.e. are you a solo practitioner or a business owner? If solo, what kind of an establishment do you work for, how large is it, what is the clientele like, what is the specialty offered? If it is a business that you own, kindly include the same time of relevant information that will give the reader a good idea about your establishment/practice. Please also include where you live and work?

I’m an independent, self-employed massage therapist in St. Louis, Missouri. I’ve been in practice since 1991 and the name of my website is www.Massage-StLouis.com. I have my own office near the Galleria.

I study pain science and specialize in pain education. I have a lot of training and experience in working with clients with chronic pain and injuries. I also have a particular affinity for working with people in performing arts, particularly musicians. I have been hired by Cirque du Soleil five times and have worked twice with Riverdance.

I also do prenatal massage and a lot of clients come for relaxation and wellness.

I have been trained in both the U.S. and in the former Soviet Union, where they use massage in hospitals and clinics. I have an exceptional level of training in my field, spend hours every week reading and discussing research, and am very evidence-based in my approach to pain management. However, this does not at all detract from the aesthetic experience, especially when the purpose is purely for relaxation.

My clients vary in age and occupation, from high school athletes to professional adult athletes to stay at home moms to retired folks in their 80s and 90s. I have a very mixed practice and I love it.

I have a blog on my website that is followed by both clients and massage therapists all over North America and in other countries.

2. Tell us why you chose to go into massage and at what point in your life did you decide to do so? What were you doing at the time? Where did you first hear about the massage career? What factors influenced your decision? What were you looking to get out of this decision?

I came to massage late in life. I had been working in construction for thirteen years as a union construction electrician and decided it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I loved getting and giving massages and thought I could be good at it.

Missouri was an unlicensed state at the time and one did not have to go to school at all to practice, but I went to the most comprehensive program available in St. Louis at the time and fell in love with practicing massage.

I took my first continuing education class 2 weeks after I finished classes and averaged 100+ hours of continuing education every year for the first seven years, even though I was not required to have any education at all! I still continue to devote several hours every week to reading research and discussing it with physical therapists and other science-mined massage therapists.

3. What were some of your questions and concerns before further pursuing your massage therapy goals? Talk about concerns with school and the profession itself.

I didn’t really have any. I was rather naive. I knew I could go back to construction if things didn’t work out. I just had an idea in my head and pursued it. I probably should have had questions and concerns but it didn’t occur to me at the time.

4. What is your specialty and what are the top three contributing factors to your success today?

I would say my real specialty is pain management. I think the most important factors contributing to my success in that area are an insatiable desire for knowledge and a commitment to excellence, a commitment to client education, especially pain education, and having developed my skills so that I’m very efficient and effective at helping clients with pain.

5. What do you like about your specialty? What do you like about what you do in general as a career? Why?

I lived with chronic pain for ten years when I was younger, so I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people get out of pain and helping them learn what they can do for themselves to get and stay out of pain and to restore normal function.

Besides the satisfaction of helping people to improve the quality of their life, there’s no limit to what there is to learn and every client is different, so it’s continually interesting. I never lose my enthusiasm for learning or for my clients.

6. What do you not like about what you do? Why?

The income can be inconsistent and unpredictable and because many clients need to come outside of normal working hours, it can interfere with my social life.

My schedule can be very inefficient at times and since the work is very physical, I wonder how long I will be able to do this as I age. But I take good care of myself and my body is holding up pretty well.

7. If there were three things you could change about your work or the industry as a whole what would they be? Why would you change them? What would you change them to?

I’d like to see better education of massage therapists. Currently, education is inconsistent and minimal. I’d like to see science literacy, research literacy, and critical thinking skills emphasized and included.

I’d like to be able to work with a research team but there’s very little research or funding available for it. Finally, I’d like to see current pain science, which focuses on the nervous system, taught to massage therapists. It’s very relevant to our work but most MTs don’t know it exists and are still being taught some outmoded ideas about pain.

8. How long do you plan to practice and what do you plan to do after?

As long as I can. I don’t think there will be any “after.” I’d like to return to teaching. Perhaps, if I develop that, teaching will become my “after.” I’d like to pass on the knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated over a 22+ year period.

9. Do you currently have another job or business whether full time or part time? Tell us a bit more about it and how you are able to juggle that with your massage career?

Not really. I do play music and make a little bit playing simple guitar accompaniment to old time fiddling at dances, but it’s not a significant contribution to my income. I also teach a Massage for Couples class at the local junior college six times a year. But this is really my sole means of support.

10. What are some mistakes you made in your career pursuit that you’d like to warn other students about so they can learn from your experience and avoid it?

Well, I’m not a good businessperson and I’d really encourage students to pay attention to that from the very beginning. Schools teach that now but when I went to school, they didn’t. I’d also caution them that if you go to work for or with someone, get your agreements in writing.

It can avoid misunderstanding later. Finally, if they take PI cases (automobile injury cases) make sure you get paid as you go along. I was convinced by a chiroprator, when I started, to take these cases with the agreement I would get paid when the case got settled. I took the cases but in half of them, I didn’t get paid and lost thousands of dollars.

Also, take care of your body. This is very physical work. I almost put myself out of work by overusing my thumbs. Set good boundaries. Sometimes I let my clients take up too much of my time by arriving late, not showing up, extending the sessions, etc.

It was my own fault. And don’t undervalue your work. People frequently ask us to work for free with the enticement that we’ll get exposure and get clients. What you get working for free is people looking for free massage.

I’m fine with donating my time to an organization like the Muscular Dystrophy Association, but when a swim team wants me to work on them “for the experience,” I politely let them know that I don’t need the experience, they need my experience.

11. What would you advice someone who is looking at massage therapy schools? What do you recommend they look for and how? How do you recommend they determine whether the school is the right one for them?

I don’t know, since it’s so long since I went to school and I don’t know what is happening in the schools these days. However, there are a few things to look for. Are they teaching a reality-based approach to massage or an imaginary/emotion/mystical approach? If the latter, if they are teaching “energy” modalities, run away.

How many instructors are there? If everything is being taught by one instructor, you’re probably better off finding a place where there’s a variety of instructors. No one person knows it all and you’re going to get only one person’s view of massage. Do they teach research literacy? How science-based are they? Unfortunately, most prospective massage students won’t know how to evaluate that.

I’d say look for instructors who don’t mind being challenged, don’t mind you asking the hard questions. That, too, will be hard to determine before you start school. Perhaps finding experienced MTs in your area and asking them would be the way to find out. Who has a reputation for being a really good instructor?

The biggest piece of advice I have is to realize that school is your starting place. When you get out of school, seek out the massage therapists who are really knowledgeable and learn from them. There are excellent forums on FaceBook where well-informed MTs and related practitioners discuss issues pertinent to our field. You can learn from practitioners all over the country and even all over the world! You can begin while you are still in school.

12. What do you recommend for someone who wants to go to massage school but cannot afford it?

I have no idea. If you want to do this, you have to do whatever it takes. This is not an easy way to make a living. If you can’t assemble the resources to go to school, you are probably going to have a difficult time supporting yourself when you get out of school. I guess you do what other people do who want to go to school – save your money, get a student loan, apply for financial aid if it’s available.

13. What are your three biggest points of advice for an aspiring massage therapist today? What should they do/not do? What should they think about and consider?

Develop your science literacy, research literacy, and critical thinking skills. Most schools are not yet teaching this. They also teach a very biomechanical/postural/structural approach to pain. This is outdated. No one is yet teaching pain science, you have to learn it on your own.

Do it. Start with Lorimer Moseley. Look up the Neuromatrix Theory of Pain. Learn about the brain and the nervous system and how pain works. You will be way ahead of your colleagues and will have a lot less to unlearn when you get out of school.

Realize that all knowledge is provisional. You are going to be taught things that are wrong. Accept that. Learn to think critically and learn to adapt your thinking when new evidence suggests you need to change your mind. Don’t be afraid to be challenged. If someone challenges your idea, that is not at attack.

It’s an opportunity for you to examine your ideas, your assumptions, where you got your information, and examine how reliable it is. Learn to have a professional discussion about the issues and keep your emotional responses out of it. If you find yourself feeling defensive, look at why that is. It’s usually a sign that you can’t really support your ideas. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time to reassess them.

Develop some business sense. There is a high dropout rate in our profession and a lot of it is that many MTs struggle to earn a living. Figure out how you are going to support yourself. Get mentoring from successful therapists.

14. Any open thoughts / comments – anything else that you’d like to share about yourself, the massage industry, profession, future, etc? If nothing, make one prediction for the future of massage?

Massage therapy grew out of tradition and folk medicine. We are an emerging profession and we are at a crossroads. Unfortunately, a lot of massage education in the past has been inaccurate and misleading, based more on outdated physiology, fantasy, mysticism, and mythology rather than on what we know about how the body actually works.

However, it is no longer acceptable to make unsupported and implausible claims. If we continue to embrace and promote ideas which are completely contrary to what we know about how the body works, we will become marginalized and will never gain the respect of other health care professionals or well-informed clients.

However, if we embrace and commit ourselves to an accurate understanding of how the body works, in all its bio/psycho/social ways, we can elevate our profession, move it forward into the future, and better serve our clients.

15. What is your passion outside of massage? What are your hobbies and interests which you pursue when you are not working? Tell us why you enjoy what you enjoy.

Outside of my work, I am a social dancer and a musician. I also love cooking, decorate Ukranian style eggs, and I’m a budding henna artist. I speak Italian and love traveling, especially internationally. I have a variety of interests and pursue them passionately.

People tell me I’m always walking around smiling and looking like I’m having a good time. That’s because I am!

Alice Sanvito, a Licensed Massage Therapist and member of AMTA since 1991 is a Certified Neuromuscular Therapist and a Certified Russian Massage Therapist as well. She currently practices in St. Louis, MO and can be reached on her website here.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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