The Power of Massage — An Interview with Laura Tobin

5 March 2013
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Laura Tobin has 21 years of experience in healthcare. As a licensed massage practitioner, she focuses on maintaining function, injury prevention, and recovery from an injury. She graduated from Seattle Pacific University. She has been married to her husband, Michael, for 15 years, helping raise his son Kalin who is now married with two children of his own. Laura and Michael also have a daughter, who is active in the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Laura performs massage at G4.

The Path to Massage

G4: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us, today. Could you tell a bit of your story? What led you to sports, the work you are doing for G4, and massage in general?

Laura Tobin: I’m a Washingtonian, born and raised. As a youngster, I was attracted to sports. I ran track year round, played basketball, and ran cross-country.

Going to college, I always knew that whatever field I got into, it would be a field that helps people. I got what I find to be a very comical degree in recreation. I tell people “I know how to recreate.”

G4: Really? What does that degree entail?

Laura Tobin: An example of what job I thought I would get with that degree was a position on a cruise ship like Julie, the cruise director from the show The Love Boat, or possibly a job with a city’s parks and recreation department.

G4: Wow, that’s really interesting.

Laura Tobin: My focus in my Recreation degree was in Health Fitness. Right out of college, I went to work for a health club doing fitness consulting and fitness testing.

That lasted about a year and then I got offered a job in a physical therapy clinic as an aid. I would take instructions from a Physical Therapist and implement the exercise program with the patient.

G4: Where did you go from there?

Laura Tobin: From there, I decided I needed to do something more to help people. Oddly enough, I chose massage randomly. I was driving in my car knowing I needed to make a change in my life and I heard an ad on the radio for massage school. Literally, I decided at that moment that massage school was the next step for me.

My parents were skeptical, but supported my “need” to go back to school. Right out of massage school I got a job in a physical therapy clinic where I worked for about 7 years. And after that, I started my own private practice.

G4: You spent some time with the US Olympic rowing team. What was that experience like?

Laura Tobin: It was absolutely amazing. I was only about a year into my profession and I was working for a PT clinic and the physical therapist/owner happened to be the PT for the U.S. rowing team.

I would work on the athletes on a volunteer basis. Rowers are amazing machines. They demand so much from every muscle in their body. I would see the same injury over and over. Working with the US Rowing team was a learning experience that helped shape how I treat my patients today. A rower’s muscles get a lot demanded of them. They definitely responded well to getting massage.

A Passion for Massage

G4: Let’s get a little more specific. What do you like about massage? What about it makes you passionate?

Laura Tobin: I’ve been licensed since 1991 and I think I am more passionate today than when I got my license. I think for me, it’s the ability to give my knowledge to someone through my hands. Being able to do the work and make a difference. I love being able to help facilitate healing, or improving performance, or helping someone get out of pain.

G4: Seeing that something you are doing is a benefit to others — I could see how easy it is to find enjoyment in that.

Laura: Right! I went from clinic to private practice to clinic. My desire to get back into the clinical setting was so I could continue to learn, improve my skills and challenge myself to become a better massage therapist. The clinic challenges me to think. It challenges me to be on my game, to be really present, to think something through — not that I was not thinking before — but I think it really encourages growth. With growth comes, hopefully, better results for the client.

G4: You’ve been licensed since 1991 and you’ve mentioned it’s been a process to get here. What does that process look like? Was it a Eureka moment? Or a steady learning about your craft?

Laura Tobin: I think it is a combination of a process and several Eureka moments. Mostly a process, the more people you touch, the more you learn. Every person brings you something new to think about.

The Power of Massage

G4: The average person might think of massage as a relaxing activity on a couple’s date, not necessarily a component of physical therapy. What would you say to that person?

Laura Tobin: I would say massage is 110% therapeutic, even for that couple’s massage. Massage in the physical therapy setting can be relaxing as well as therapeutic. Massage is an important piece to help the human puzzle become whole and to be able to operate at an optimum level.

G4: What would you say to an emerging young athlete? How does massage contribute to the high functioning athlete?

Laura Tobin: I think it can be multi-faceted. First, it can serve as preventative, so if somebody isn’t coming in because they have an injury, it can help keep the tissue healthy, for example, by improving circulation, increasing flexibility, and decreasing muscle tightness. It can also be therapeutic in nature, treating a specific injury.

I believe that massage in the physical therapy setting helps facilitate healing and gets the athlete back to their passion sooner.

G4: First off, should all athletes be getting massages even if it’s on the preventative side. If yes, how often would you recommend a young athlete should be going to get a massage?

Laura Tobin: Ok my answer is absolutely they should! Everybody should! Athlete or not! But in terms of frequency, it really depends on what is going on with the person. When we are in a treatment stage and trying to reeducate muscles due to an injury, I like to see someone twice a week in the beginning. Muscles have memory and they try to go back to what they think is “right”. As we make progress, we can go to once a week, then to every other week, and finally to once a month.

However, it is my belief that once a week would be a dream for the high performing athlete.

G4: I think most young athletes have thought through massage conceptually but I don’t think they’ve really understood how important massage can be for them.

Laura Tobin: As we continue to learn, and we see the demand these athletes are putting on their bodies, we as providers are here to help these athletes keep their bodies functioning at high levels. The human body, nourished and cared for, is like a well-oiled machine. Massage, to the body, is like putting oil in your car; it helps it to run smoothly. So as an athlete, putting such demands on your body, do yourself a favor; get a massage; give your body the well deserved “nutrition” that it needs, a massage.

G4: Could you speak to the results an athlete could expect to see if they come in once a week? What have you observed is the impact of massage on an athlete?

Laura Tobin: If an athlete were to come in once a week, a few things they could expect would be to have less tightness/tension in the muscles, increase in flexibility, decrease in soreness and they might notice their recovery time is improved, which would allow them to get back into their sport as quickly as possible.

The impact of massage on an athlete varies from athlete to athlete. I think what I notice most working at G4 is that athletes’ level of awareness of their body increases. They start to understand how all the muscles in their body work together and, although they may have pain in one particular area, it is necessary for us to look at the entire body. By doing this, often we find the source of the problem is not necessarily where the actual pain is. We can then treat the source and get them functioning at the level they want to.

G4: Is there any advice you could give to young athletes about massage?

Laura Tobin: Pay attention; listen to your body. Feel your body when you think you have a question or a concern, address it. Don’t wait. Waiting gets you in trouble. Waiting often adds to the problem and increases the healing time. Don’t wait!

G4: That’s a truism for sports and in life. Listen! Make sure you are prepared, ready, and preventative.

Laura Tobin: Be aware, really present, and listen to your body. We hope for prevention, but the next best thing is early detection. Athletes typically don’t want to take time off. So, the key when there is a hint of something not being right is to address it. This will help you to have the least amount of time out. Let your body be your guide; listen.