June is Student Funding Month on our calendar. At this time of year, Vicars registrar Corrina Cornforth’s calendar is full of confidential one-on-one funding consultations with future Vicars students.

These free sessions, which happen in person or over video call, allow Corrina to help applicants navigate the sometimes complicated world of student funding.

Corrina has the experience and expertise to help them find the combination of loans, grants, and scholarships that can open doors for students. She’s passionate about this part of her job.

“I love talking about this stuff, dispelling all the myths and misunderstandings about government funding, and just getting down to making sure each student is getting what they need.”

Over the years, she has identified misconceptions that can make prospective students feel that going to school is unaffordable. But for Vicars students, it doesn’t have to be.

Lots of funding options available

Our blended-learning massage therapy program has full time status, so Vicars students in Alberta are eligible for all grants and loans available through the provincial student funding portal. This includes both provincial funding as well as federal loans and grants.

Blended learning involves fewer hours in a classroom, but it is still a full-time program. The Vicars massage therapy diploma requires around 30 hours a week, divided among interactive online learning, mandatory classroom time, and our teaching clinics. Alberta Student Aid recognizes this commitment and treats our applicants the same as applicants from conventional Monday-to-Friday schools and colleges.

Many of our students are also eligible for support through other sources, such as band funding, Veterans Affairs, and even WCB.

The options for students who live outside of Alberta vary depending on where they live—but Corrina knows her way around those systems, too. No matter where you live, a funding consultation can be incredibly useful.

Paying it back has never been easier

Did you know that federal student loans are now totally interest-free? And grads don’t start repaying any of the loan for six months, until after they have had a chance to start earning. Meanwhile, Alberta Student Aid allows a full year before payback must begin. The interest on Alberta student loans is discounted compared to bank consumer loan rates, too. (It is at the prime variable rate but can be locked into a fixed rate at any time. Have any questions about how that would apply to your loans? Ask them at a funding consultation!).

And if you’re one of the many Vicars students who are eligible for grants and bursaries, you don’t have to pay back that money at all!

What about family income?

Today’s student aid is not what it used to be. In a lot of ways, it’s better.

If you last went to school 10 or 20 years ago, you may be surprised to learn that student aid eligibility is no longer just tied to family income. Almost everyone is eligible for loans to cover at least some of their school costs; your family income only comes into play when calculating what support you get for additional living expenses as well as certain grants and bursaries.

Student funding is not charity

The purpose of government student aid programs is investing in you. It is available to everyone preparing for, or upgrading, a career. It is intended to pay tuition and ease the financial burden of supporting yourself and your dependents so you can focus on your studies. In the case of massage therapy programs, it is preparation for a satisfying career that is sustainable and well paid. RMTs are in demand all over Canada and that is not expected to change!

Apply early—and get it right

The Alberta funding applications are best tackled as soon as possible after they’re released in late June (the government does not announce the exact date in advance).

That’s because these applications are not just for loans; they determine your eligibility for grants and awards. Grants are first come, first served.

“There is a limited pot of grant money for each academic year,” explains Corrina. “And once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

To make sure you are considered for grants, you need to submit an application that is correct the first time. If it needs reassessment for any reason (such as missing information) you can still apply for loans, but you lose your eligibility for grants.

Corrina says that one of the most common errors is failing to list dependents. You can claim up to $724 a month for each child under 12, for example, without needing to collect and submit receipts.

We can help with that.

Without a navigator, the Alberta student funding website can be overwhelming. Although there is online guidance on how to complete aid applications, it is easy to make errors or underestimate your financial needs for the school year ahead.

Each year, we prepare our own a supplement to the information provided by Alberta Student Aid. This is a custom-made how-to-guide that walks you through each step of the application form, with screenshots and explanations. Everyone who has applied to the Vicars massage therapy program or is a student continuing to Year 2 receives this guide.

“They have the option to use the guide to complete their application; use the guide and then reach out to me to review it before they hit the submit button; or they can book a full one-on-one Zoom funding consultation to go through the application step-by-step together.” Corrina says.

“After they submit their applications, I continue to assist when needed with completing their loan agreements and submitting any additional documentation Student Aid may request on their behalf,” she says. “It takes some of the pressure off.”

As well as Alberta Student Aid, Corrina has experience with helping students access other provincial or territorial resources, band funds, Metis programs, assistance for members and dependents of the Canadian Forces, and more.

To book your student funding consultation, email welcome@vicarsschool.com or call 1-866-491-0574.

Note: This post was published in 2022. For more information about CMTCA Accreditation and what it will mean for your massage career, check out this post from summer 2023 or this page on our website!

Vicars School of Massage Therapy is proud to announce that we have been granted full national accreditation status for both our Edmonton and Calgary campuses.

By granting full accreditation status to both, the Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation is recognizing that Vicars School of Massage Therapy meets Canada’s highest standards for massage therapy education.

The CMTCA is the independent agency that evaluates massage programs across the country to determine whether they meet rigorous curriculum and delivery standards.

Why does accreditation matter, and who benefits?

“This is a major achievement for our school,” says Maryhelen Vicars, the school’s president. “It will have significant long-term benefits for our students, our clients, and the massage therapy profession in Alberta.”

We expect that future Vicars graduates will be in even greater demand because of this announcement. Holding a diploma from an accredited program will help them stand out to employers and clients who want an RMT with a comprehensive and competency-based massage therapy education.

The announcement is also great news for people who are still dreaming of beginning a career in massage therapy, and are trying to decide which of Alberta’s massage therapy programs is the right choice for them.

“People shouldn’t only have to rely on what the admissions reps from each school tell them when they’re researching a new career,” says Vicars admissions coordinator Corrina Cornforth. “Being able to rely on unbiased sources like the CMTCA nationally and the MTAA locally means they can be confident about their choice of school.”

What is national accreditation and how did we get there?

“Becoming accredited is a landmark for our school,” says Maryhelen. “This is the result of more than two decades of commitment to providing the most up-to-date and effective massage therapy education possible.”

To determine whether they deserve to be accredited, the CMTCA evaluates a school’s performance in seven important categories: curriculum content; faculty and learning; student support; resources and infrastructure; leadership and administration; human resources; and quality improvement.

The curriculum standard is based on national standards for massage education in regulated provinces. The first version of these standards was published in 2012, just after Vicars School celebrated its 10th anniversary. We immediately took the opportunity to update our curriculum to meet these standards (though there weren’t too many changes needed, we’re proud to say). We did the same thing in 2016, when the standards were revised. Our curriculum is updated every year to make sure our students are learning the most up-to-date information and have access to the best resources.

This latest recognition from the CMTCA is a vindication of our commitment to our students, over and above what we’re required to do in Alberta.

“This kind of objective assessment—from an expert organization like the CMTCA—would be an important stamp of approval for any Canadian massage program,” explains Maryhelen. “But it’s even more important here in Alberta where massage therapy and massage education are not regulated by the government.”

In some Canadian provinces (such as BC and Newfoundland) massage therapy is a regulated health care profession, and massage therapists and massage schools are governed by a regulatory authority (called a professional college). Those regulatory groups work with accrediting agencies like the CMTCA to ensure that all schools in their province meet the national standards.

In non-regulated provinces like Alberta, however, there isn’t a professional college. Schools don’t have to meet any massage-specific curriculum or quality standards. Some of the professional associations that oversee RMTs—like the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta—have created education benchmarks, but they are not mandatory.

The absence of regulation has meant that the content and quality of massage therapy education in Alberta varies widely. This has made it very difficult for prospective massage students to know if a particular school will prepare them for a modern, successful massage therapy career.

What’s next?

Now that Vicars school has achieved accreditation, we will continue to support efforts toward the regulation of massage therapy in Alberta.

“The reason that we applied for accreditation in the first place is that having national standards is important,” says Maryhelen. “They exist to keep our clients and students safe, and to elevate our profession. We don’t think that any school should be able to opt out of meeting them—which is why they should be enforced at a provincial level.

“And in the meantime, we’re pleased to have earned this latest badge of quality from the CMTCA.”

In early 2001, a small group of students stood around massage tables in a rented Edmonton community centre, each motivated by the desire to help others and change their own lives in the process. They were our first-ever students, and they were amazing.

That’s one thing that’s remained constant in the 20-plus years since the school began: our students are incredible. Vicars students are compassionate, hard-working, talented, and committed to client care.

The other thing that’s remained constant? Change. As the massage therapy profession has evolved, so have we. And we’re not stopping yet!

What’s new as we head into our third decade?

Quite a bit, as it turns out! We have a new name and a new logo to go with it!

You read that right: Vicars School. This spring, we will be officially changing our name to Vicars School of Massage Therapy. You’ll start to see the new name appear online and in print in the next few weeks.

The new name means we’ll need new art to go with it. If you don’t already follow us on Instagram and Facebook, do that right now! That’s where we’ll be revealing our new logo in the next few days, and you don’t want to miss it!

Preliminary Accreditation Granted Seal of the CMTCA

Note: This post was published in 2022. For more information about CMTCA Accreditation and what it will mean for your massage career, check out this post from summer 2023 or this page on our website!

Accreditation Site Visits Scheduled for July 2022

Vicars School is one step closer to our goal of earning full accreditation from the Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation.

Vicars was granted preliminary accreditation status for both its Calgary and Edmonton massage therapy programs last year. The next phase of the process is preparing for special site visits at both our Edmonton and Calgary campuses. They’re scheduled for this July, and we can’t wait!

What is CMTCA accreditation?

The Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation (CMTCA) is an independent agency that evaluates massage programs across the country to determine whether they meet rigorous curriculum and delivery standards.

The CMTCA evaluation rates a school’s performance in seven important categories: curriculum content; faculty and learning; student support; leadership and administration; human resources; resources and infrastructure; and quality improvement.

Why does CMTCA accreditation matter?

Program accreditation through the CMTCA is a way for massage therapy programs to demonstrate that they meet Canada’s national program standards.

Accreditation is important because the national standards are important. Especially in a province like Alberta, where those standards aren’t mandatory. In Alberta (and many other provinces), massage therapy isn’t regulated by the government, and so there’s no official universal education standard.

That’s what makes independent approval processes like CMTCA accreditation and the MTAA school approval program list so important.

Without these independent third-party approval processes, people who want to become massage therapists would have no way of knowing whether the school they choose will prepare them for a modern massage therapy career.

At Vicars, we believe that massage therapy students deserve to know what kind of education they’re signing up for, and that clients deserve to know that their RMT has the knowledge and skills to give them a safe and effective treatment.

“At the end of the day, this is really about our students,” says the school’s founder, Maryhelen Vicars. “Everything that we do is about making sure that we’re providing the best possible massage education and preparing our students to be successful RMTs. The accreditation process is just a chance to have an independent organization recognize the work that we’re already doing.

“If the CMTCA didn’t exist, our school’s goals wouldn’t change,” explains Maryhelen. “We would still teach according to the national standard, and we would still work just as hard to give our students a top-notch experience.”

What’s the difference between preliminary accreditation and full accreditation?

“We’re extremely proud to have earned preliminary accreditation status, but we know that’s only the beginning,” says Maryhelen. “The next step is successful site visits.”

Both preliminary and full CMTCA accreditation status are based on the same curriculum, delivery, and organizational standards. The difference is in how the program is evaluated.

To earn preliminary accreditation, we submitted a comprehensive application with a detailed breakdown of our entire program along with written evidence of how we meet the criteria in each category. That was then independently reviewed by three trained CMTCA surveyors.

This summer, a different set of surveyors will visit each of our campuses to learn about the program in person. They’ll talk to students, staff, and faculty, and inspect our facilities and materials up-close.

“The evaluation will be very rigorous, so we’re doing everything we can to prepare,” says Maryhelen. “I’m confident in the quality of our program, and I hope that the surveyors agree!”

For the second year in a row, the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta’s Peter Martin Award has been given to an MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate!

Please join us in congratulating massage therapist Lee Brill, who graduated from Vicars in 2021.

“We’re incredibly proud of Lee for winning this year’s award,” said Robin Collum, the school’s communications director. “She represents the compassion, ambition, and dedication to comprehensive client care that Vicars therapists are so well-known for, and we’re thrilled that she’s been honoured in this way by the MTAA.”

The Peter Martin Award recognizes a newly qualified massage therapist for their accomplishments in their first year as a practicing RMT, and their dedication to advancing the profession in Alberta. It is given out annually by the MTAA, one of Alberta’s leading massage therapy professional associations.

Last year’s winner, Sheena Taggart, was also a Vicars graduate. Read Sheena’s story here.

“The MTAA is committed to supporting new massage therapists that have completed their education and are ready to embark on their new career,” said Kaitlyn Crawford, MTAA Marketing & Member Services Coordinator. “One of the ways we do this is by offering the Peter Martin Award. It provides new graduates with the opportunity to receive a $750 cash award that can go towards their student loans, purchase of supplies to get their practice started, or for their MTAA Active Membership.”

Lee chose to become a massage therapist in part because of her interest in women’s health, particularly around pre- and post-natal care. Lee’s previous career experience includes acting as a doula and a nanny, which opened her eyes to new ways she could provide care and support to her clients during pregnancy and beyond.

“While working as a birth doula I started to realize how many things were missing from prenatal care in Alberta and specifically what I was unable to provide for my clients,” Lee explained in her application essay for the award. “I have a strong sporting background as well and have always had an

interest in the human body and all that comes with that. I felt that massage therapy was the

most natural next step for me to satisfy my interests and my clients’ needs.”

Lee has turned her dream into a reality since graduating in June. She currently practices out of the Holistic Institute of Health & Fertility in Calgary, a multidisciplinary clinic that specializes in fertility, prenatal, postnatal, pediatric, and menopausal care.

“I was introduced to the world of fertility and infertility through working at HIHF, and have learnt so much more about what massage can do to help individuals and families through their fertility journeys,” Lee said. “I’m so excited to keep learning and growing in this profession.”

Lee’s plans for the future include taking continuing education courses in prenatal and postnatal massage as well as complementary modalities such as cupping and neurofascial reset therapy.

massage for knee pain

Common Causes of Joint Pain and How Massage Can Help

If your knees hurt, you are not alone. Your knees are two of the hardest working joints in the body—and two of the most vulnerable. Knee pain is common and can be debilitating. But knee problems can be very treatable, and among the most effective of the nonsurgical options is therapeutic massage.

Your knee is a complex structure. It includes three bones: the lower part of the thigh bone, the upper part of the shinbone, and the kneecap. Strong ligaments and tendons hold these bones together, and cartilage under the kneecap cushions and stabilizes the bones. Any damage, inflammation, or imbalance in these structures can cause knee pain. 

Some of the most common causes for knee pain are trauma, muscle strain or sprain, nerve irritation or a pinched nerves, fluid buildup around the knee capsule (also known as bursitis), and tendonitis. Osteoarthritis is the most common of the diseases that affect the knee. It is caused by the wear and tear of knee cartilage through overuse and is more common among those over 50. It may start with a sharp pain during movement. 

If you have hurt your hip, back, or foot, you may feel pain in your knee, because you are holding and moving your body differently without realizing it. Over time, this misalignment puts strain on the muscles and tendons surrounding your knees, often by increasing the weight load on the opposite knee. Resolving stiffness and pain in the injured hip or back can take the pressure off the knee.

Research suggests massage therapy can help with pain levels, stiffness, and overall day-to-day function in individuals dealing with osteoarthritis in their knees. This seems to be especially true in the short term when dealing with a flare-up of pain.

One study found that participants with knee osteoarthritis who received a weekly 60-minute massage for eight weeks had less pain and better daily function in the short-term than those who received standard care.

How does massage help with knee pain? 

During treatment of a sore or arthritic joint, massage can reduce swelling and inflammation, stimulate blood flow to the joint, improve circulation in the leg, and reduce overall pain and stiffness. 

Your therapist will do deeper treatments of the large muscles that stabilize the knee joint by finding and releasing trigger points. A trigger point is a sensitive knot found within bands of muscle and occurs for a number of reasons including injury, surgery, or basic stress and strain. Trigger points cause soreness and pain, often referring pain to other parts of the body away from the location of the trigger point. 

Your massage therapist may also suggest remedial exercise to strengthen these large muscle groups that lend support and stability to the affected knee.  By releasing tightness in the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and tibialis muscles, massage will maintain and increase your flexibility. 

But an effective massage to relieve knee pain is not limited to working on the legs and the knee joint alone. A good RMT will include more general massage treatments, such as relaxation massage techniques across your whole body, in your personalized treatment plan.

That’s because living with pain is stressful, and stress is stored all over the body. When we’re in pain we move less naturally, we contract our muscles to protect the injured area, and the pain can keep us from getting the sleep we need. 

During an effective massage, the heart rate slows, blood pressure drops and the effect of stress hormones is lessened. When your tissues are relaxed, so are you—and your therapist is able to work more deeply and effectively. 

When knee pain needs medical attention

While sore or arthritic knees can benefit from massage, pay attention to signs or symptoms that may suggest a more serious concern. If your pain is new or has recently gotten worse, or if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s important to visit a doctor:

  • Swelling, warmth, or redness in the knee
  • Knee pain accompanied by a fever
  • Pain in multiple joints
  • Inability to bear weight your leg 
  • Significantly reduced range of motion
  • Knee pain after trauma (such as a fall or car accident)

Get a high-quality massage at an affordable price

If you need massage to treat chronic pain or to help you recover from injury, you probably want to schedule weekly treatments at first, and later maintain the effects by seeing a therapist every two weeks or once a month, but for many people the biggest barrier is price (even if they do have health benefits). 

That’s why the public massage clinics at MH Vicars School are so popular. At only $35 for a one-hour appointment, our student massages make regular massage therapy treatments accessible. Our students treat clients of all ages, professions, and lifestyles. Our “regulars” range from people who had never had a massage before their first visit to Vicars, all the way to people who’ve been getting massages for decades and come to our students in between appointments with their fully trained (and full price) RMT.

Whether you’re a massage newbie or looking to supplement the treatments you get through your benefit plan, regular massages from at our clinic will make a huge difference in your well-being. 

At our Edmonton and Calgary public clinics, you’ll receive massage therapy treatments from our focused and well-trained students at a sharply reduced rate. Your 75-minute appointment includes a comprehensive assessment consultation, a full one-hour massage, and a home care consultation, all for only $35.

If this would be your first massage, take a look at some frequently asked questions about what to expect from your first massage.

You can easily book online * for student clinics at either our Calgary or Edmonton campus. Please note our updated Covid-19 regulations to keep the public, our student therapists, instructors, and supervisors safe. We look forward to seeing you there!

massage therapy for office employees

The high cost of sitting down on the job

One of the great things about working at MH Vicars School is getting free massages at our student practicum clinics. But it’s much more than just a nice perk, like free beer after your shift at the brewpub. It’s a health benefit.

Our admin staff (and even our faculty) spend a lot of time at their desks. And sitting is hazardous work!

If you’re reading this blog post from your desk chair, you’re probably familiar with the physical strain on the areas of your body that are most affected by long periods of sitting and inactivity. When we sit, our upper back, neck, and shoulders are under constant strain. This can lead to headaches, back pain, back spasms, jaw tension, and other forms of discomfort that follow you home from work and into the rest of your life.

Even if you’re very careful with your posture and get up to take quick breaks throughout the day, it may not be enough to ward off chronic tension—especially when you factor in the time you spend sitting during your commute and during your leisure time. Human beings simply weren’t meant to sit all day.

If I’m just sitting all day, why does my body feel so tired?

When your mind is busy answering the millionth email of the day, your body is working nearly as hard trying to cope with sitting still in a chair (and let’s be honest, probably hunched over at the keyboard).

When we sit in the same way for a long time, our body activates more muscles to compensate for the muscles that are getting fatigued. When one muscle or joint is out of whack, they all are. It’s a bit like how your hip starts to ache when you walk with a painful knee. Your body is always compensating for weakness. When one bodily system overdoes it, the rest of the systems will step in to try to ease the load.

You may also notice that you start to feel unwell after a long bout of desk work. That’s because poor posture and long periods of inactivity can not only cause chronic pain, but it can also put additional strain on your internal organs.

Pandemic-forced work from home has made things worse for many of us. Many workplaces pay attention to ergonomics for sitting employees: office chairs are designed to encourage good alignment for bodies of different heights; standing desks and exercise balls are available alternatives; monitor heights can be easily adjusted.

At home, we are slumped on the couch, bent over our iPad or laptop. Or we are at the kitchen table on a straight-backed chair, peering at a screen that is too high or too low.

Over time, you can expect this to lead to poor alignment and tense muscles. You may even experience sciatic pain, which feels like a lightning bolt shooting down the leg from the buttocks.

Another common side effect of long periods of sitting is slowed circulation, or blood flow, around your body. This is a big reason why it’s easy to become fatigued.

But don’t despair—massage can help!

Regular appointments with a well-trained registered massage therapist are an effective (and enjoyable!) way to combat the physical impacts of your desk job.

A good massage relieves muscle tension, help realign your body, and improve circulation. This improved blood flow and circulation helps your body get rid of metabolic waste and bring in nutrients and oxygen to tight muscles more effectively, helping you recover and thrive.

Let’s not forget about the positive mental effects that massage brings too! Massage is an excellent way to increase endorphins and reduce stress. After a long week in the office, what could be better for your body and your mind than spending an hour on the massage table, with nothing to focus on but taking care of yourself?

And the benefits of your massage extend long after you’ve left the clinic. A good RMT will work with you to determine your body’s needs and create a personalized treatment plan that includes homecare advice to prolong the benefits of your massage. They may even recommend easy stretches and strengthening exercises to help keep you feeling strong between appointments.

Get a high-quality massage at an affordable price

Getting a massage every week or every two weeks does wonders for your mental and physical health, but for many people the biggest barrier is price (even if they do have health benefits).

That’s why the public massage clinics at MH Vicars School are so popular. At only $35 for a one-hour appointment, our student massages make regular massage therapy treatments accessible to all. Our students treat clients of all ages, professions, and lifestyles. Our “regulars” range from people who had never had a massage before their first visit to Vicars, all the way to people who’ve been getting massages for decades and come to our students in between appointments with their fully trained (and full price) RMT.

Whether you’re a massage newbie or looking to supplement the treatments you get through your benefit plan, regular massages from at our clinic will make a huge difference in your well-being.

If you’re not feeling 100%, you can book 60-minute massages at MH Vicars. At our Edmonton and Calgary public clinics, you’ll receive massage therapy treatments from our focused and professional students at a sharply reduced rate. Your appointment includes a comprehensive assessment consultation, a full one-hour massage, and a home care consultation, all for only $35.

A review from one of our many happy clients:

“This is my favourite massage school. I have been for many massages for the last number of years. The students are consistently well trained… I have always, without fail, received fabulous massages. The clinics are well organized, and the atmosphere is professional and pleasant.”

Victoria L

If this would be your first massage, take a look at some frequently asked questions about what to expect from your first massage.

You can easily book online for student clinics at either our Calgary or Edmonton campus. Please note our updated Covid-19 regulations to keep the public, our student therapists, instructors, and supervisors safe. We look forward to seeing you there!

How Massage Therapy Can Help Relieve TMJD

How Massage Therapy Can Help Relieve TMJD 

Your jaw hurts. It clicks and pops. You might not be able to open your mouth all the way. It might even temporarily lock up out of the blue. That’s TMJD. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction is a common problem, but many people who experience it don’t recognize what’s causing their symptoms. And if they do, they might not realize that it’s an easily treatable problem. 

Massage therapy is an effective treatment for TMJD symptoms. If you think that you might be suffering from TMJD, keep reading to learn more about the condition and how you can get some relief. 

What are the main symptoms of TMJD? 

  • Jaw tenderness and jaw joint pain 
  • Aching around or in the ear (earache) 
  • Tooth pain 
  • Facial pain 
  • Difficulty opening the mouth wide 
  • Trouble chewing 
  • Pain while chewing 
  • Clicking and popping when opening the jaw, chewing or yawning 
  • Headaches 
  • Stiff, sore neck muscles 
  • Shoulder pain 
  • An uneven or uncomfortable bite 

What causes TMJD? 

The temporomandibular joint is where your lower jaw connects to your skull. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction is a general term for a number of problems affecting that joint and the associated soft tissue. 

One of the major sources of TMJD is psychological stress: the majority of TMJD cases are linked to clenching or grinding the teeth. Another common culprit is poor posture. Slouching and “head-forward posture” are hard on the structures of your jaw. 

TMJD occurs most frequently in women 30–50 years old. During the pandemic, health providers have noted that frequent and prolonged wearing of masks has also had an effect on the number of people being diagnosed with TMJD. 

The lower jaw has rounded ends called condyles. These condyles are responsible for gliding in and out of the joint socket when we move our jawbones (mandible). Similar to other important joints throughout the body, the condyles are covered by cartilage and separated by a small disk to absorb shock. When the cartilage and disks are worn down, the movement of the jaw becomes rougher, resulting in a cracking or crunching sensation, inflammation and pain. 

Other potential causes of temporomandibular joint dysfunction: 

  • Arthritis 
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Poor jaw alignment caused by missing or loose teeth 
  • Incorrectly fitted dentures 
  • Habits like biting fingernails or frequent gum-chewing 
  • Infections in the jaw 
  • Jaw injuries 
  • Tumors 
  • Sleep apnea (sleep apnea is known to trigger teeth grinding during periods of apnea) 

How is TMJ diagnosed? 

Most people who get an official TMJD diagnosis receive it from their dentist, often during a routine checkup. Dentists don’t just look after your teeth and gums; they’re also trained to recognize issues and abnormalities of the whole mouth and jaw. They can spot problems with your bite, abnormal muscle tone, or evidence that you’ve been grinding your teeth—all of which can point to TMJD. 

Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your dentist might recommend you wear a night guard or refer you to a dental specialist. But a lot of TMJD cases don’t require appliances or complicated dental work. Increasingly, dentists are referring their TMJD patients to massage therapists for treatment. 

But you don’t have to wait until your next teeth cleaning to start feeling better. If you’re suffering from TMJD symptoms, you can make an appointment with an RMT even without a formal diagnosis. Massage therapy is an effective, non-invasive treatment that can help relieve the symptoms of TMJD, and in many cases even address the root causes. (Of course, you should still see your dentist regularly, and always have severe pain checked out by a dentist or physician). 

How does massage help with TMJD? 

If you’ve been suffering through the pain and tension of TMJD for months or even years, a TMJ massage can feel like a miracle. Because the muscles involved are so small and close to the surface, there’s a good chance you’ll notice significant results after just a single treatment.  

In a typical TMJD treatment, your RMT will begin by working on your neck, back, and upper chest. They’ll target the trapezius, rhomboids, levator scapulae, splenius muscles, and suboccipitals. 

Then they will move on to the affected muscles of your face and jaw. When they’re working extra-orally (on the outside of your mouth), your RMT will pay particular attention to the masseter and temporalis muscles. 

Extra-oral massage of the face, neck, and head can be very effective. It’s relaxing, comfortable, and altogether a pleasant experience (even if your therapist finds a few trigger points). 

But if you’re serious about treating your TMJD, we recommend going a little deeper. That’s right: we’re talking about getting massaged inside your mouth. 

Intra-oral massage is not what most people think of when they picture a massage. Lying on your back communicating to your therapist through pre-arranged hand signals as they use a gloved finger to apply gentle targeted pressure to a tiny muscle under your tongue is certainly less relaxing than the average back massage. 

But what it lacks in glamour, intra-oral massage more than makes up in effectiveness. Working on the inside of your mouth allows your RMT to access small but important muscles like the medial and lateral pterygoids. They will apply pressure and make small movements on the inside of your cheeks and at the back of your mouth. 

We won’t lie: having the inside of your mouth massaged is a sensation that takes some getting used to. To help you feel comfortable, your massage therapist will talk you through the treatment before they begin, and you’ll work out a way to communicate. They’ll let you set the pace, and give you plenty of breaks. 

A Quick Tip to Relieve TMJ Discomfort at Home

A good RMT will offer you homecare advice as part of your treatment. This is especially useful for people with TMJD, because there are some really wonderful self-massage techniques you can use between professional treatments.

Here’s one that you can do right now at your desk: 

Working on both sides of your face at the same time, place your thumbs (or your index and middle fingers) in the hollows right under your cheekbone, close to the side of your face. Open your jaw and apply gentle pressure. With your jaw closed (but not clenched!), make little circles along the edge of your cheekbones until you find the spots that feel good. You can also slowly work downwards toward your jawline, making little circles or gently “stripping” along the masseter muscle. Make sure you work down towards your jaw, not up towards your cheekbones! You should feel some pressure and may experience a little bit of tenderness, but if you feel excessive pain or discomfort, stop immediately and contact your doctor or dentist. 

You deserve to feel better!  Give massage therapy a try by visiting one of our student clinics in Edmonton and Calgary. Each appointment includes an assessment, a 60-minute massage from one of our talented and qualified students, and a short homecare consultation—all for only $35. Book online today 

massage for tension headaches

How Massage Therapy Can Help Solve Tension Headaches 

For many people, a tension headache acts something like a “check engine” light: it’s your body telling you that something is off balance, and you should stop and pay attention.  

Anything that puts extra strain on the muscles of the neck, back, shoulders, and face can be the culprit. Not enough sleep, too much caffeine, grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw, dehydration; all these things can cause stress in your body and contribute to a tension headache.  

Massage on its own can be effective treatment for relieving the cause and symptoms of tension headaches. By both addressing the stressors and emotional issues causing the headaches and by targeting tense muscles and joints, massage by a great Registered Massage Therapist may help you kick your tension headaches to the curb for good. 

I get headaches all the time. Are they tension headaches?  

While only your physician can officially diagnose the type of headache that’s plaguing you, a good look at your activities and habits and the symptoms of your headache can narrow it down. A tension headache usually presents the following symptoms: 

  •       The sensation of tightness around your head 
  •       Mild to moderate pain 
  •       Pressure in the forehead, sides of the head, or back of the head 
  •       Tender shoulder and neck muscles 
  •       Tender scalp 

Tension headaches are a very common type of headache. They fall into two categories: chronic or episodic. If you suffer from tension headaches for 15 or more days each month for at least three months, you are likely to be suffering from chronic tension headaches. Episodic tension headaches are less frequent and tend to last for a shorter time (anywhere from half an hour to a full week). Regardless of the length of time, tension headaches are no fun!  

There are some symptoms that could indicate a more severe condition. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor right away: 

  • The headache comes on quickly and is severe 
  • The headache is paired with a stiff neck, mental fogginess or confusion, double vision, fever, seizures, weakness or numbness or slurred speech. 
  • The headache starts after a head injury and gets worse rather than better over time 

Why do we get tension headaches? 

There’s no single cause of tension headaches, and what triggers this kind of pain varies from person to person. However, the most common causes include physical and emotional stress and postural dysfunction. 

Can massage therapy help? 

By increasing blood flow and soothing inflamed tissue, massage therapy can be just as effective as pain-relieving drugs to reduce and eliminate muscle tension, neck pain, headache pain and of course, the symptoms of a tension headache. Unlike popping a pill, which only temporarily stops the discomfort, massage therapy can address the root physiological cause. An RMT will be able to offer a few different options for your massage treatments. 

A qualified RMT has been trained in an accredited program that has covered massage therapy in depth. This includes identification of muscle groups, fascia, pressure points, joints and more. They know how to create a personalized treatment for you, based on your symptoms, sensitivities, and health history. They can also teach you ways to prevent or treat your headache symptoms at home, such as stretches and self-massage techniques. 

How does an RMT treat tension headaches? 

Relaxation massage 

Relaxation massage doesn’t get the respect it deserves. A good relaxation massage is a treat; it feels so good, it’s easy to forget that it is also therapeutic. In fact, nothing beats a tension headache like a relaxation massage!  

Relaxation massage, sometimes called Swedish massage, is very effective for reducing tension headache symptoms because of the way it affects the parasympathetic nervous system and balances the levels of key hormones. Massage therapy boosts your levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin (one of the reasons why you feel relaxed and sleepy during and after a massage!). Massage also reduces the level of cortisol in your body. Since cortisol (a stress hormone) is a major contributor to tension headaches, this can make a huge difference for your symptoms.  

Deep tissue massage 

Your RMT can use specialized deep tissue massage techniques to treat the muscles of your upper back, neck, head, and face—the trapezius and suboccipital muscles in particular. For many people, these two muscle groups are the ones that hold onto the brunt of the tension in their body. The suboccipitals are the muscles that create that feeling of having a tight band around your head during a tension headache. Reducing tension and adhesions in these muscles can go a long way towards solving your headache woes. 

Facial Massage 

Most RMTs will incorporate a facial massage into a tension headache treatment. Their main target will be the masseter muscle on either side of your jaw. The masseters connect your jaw to your cheekbones—they are the ones you flex when you clench your jaw. They’re powerful; in fact, by weight, the masseters are the strongest muscles in the body.  

These are often the first muscles to tighten up and trigger a headache. Masseters become (and remain) tense because of teeth grinding (bruxism), conscious tensing of the jaw, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), or during periods of sleep apnea. For some sufferers, releasing the tension in these muscles will be enough to chase a tension headache away.  

When massaging your face, your RMT will apply very gentle pressure and use small, precise strokes. The muscles of the face are small and close to the surface, so it doesn’t take much to have a huge impact. 

Trigger Point Release 

Trigger points are tight, painful adhesions within your muscles and fascia. They are very tender to the touch, and often create what’s called “referred pain”—pain that shows up elsewhere along the muscle. Activating a trigger point can cause tingling, prickling, burning, numbness, and even cause the muscle to twitch.  

If you’re suffering from headaches caused by tension in your shoulders, neck, head, and face, there’s a good chance you’ve got trigger points in at least a few of those muscles and would benefit from a trigger point treatment. 

Trigger point therapy is a technique that your RMT will incorporate into your therapeutic massage treatment as they go. When they locate a trigger point, they will apply a combination of techniques and massage strokes to deactivate it. If you’ve never had trigger point work done, you’ll be amazed by the immediate relief it can offer. But be warned: trigger point therapy can be uncomfortable and even painful while it’s happening, and may cause some short-term soreness.  

If you’re suffering from tension headaches, why don’t you give massage therapy a try by visiting one of our student clinics in Edmonton and Calgary? Each appointment includes an assessment, a 60-minute massage from one of our talented and qualified students, and a short homecare consultation—all for only $35. Book online today! 

For our latest entry in our graduate spotlight series, we’re switching things up a bit. Instead of interviewing a grad and writing about our conversation, we handed over the whole blog to her! 

In this post, Claudia Wattel tells the story of her massage therapy career in her own words—from going back to school as an adult, to starting her own business in her small town. 

Hello! My name is Claudia Wattel, RMT. I run my own home-based massage clinic, R.E.M Massage in Barrhead, Alberta. I graduated from MH Vicars of Massage Therapy in Edmonton in 2017.


For me, going back to school was a life-changing event in more ways than one. When I decided to go back to school and pursue a career in massage, it was a now-or-never moment in my life. It was also, in a lot of ways, a spur of the moment decision.


I was 43 years old and I had already been a single mom for many years. I was looking for something that would be fulfilling and I wanted to do something that would benefit the health of others. I was looking for a career that would give me freedom and would not tie me to a specific place.


I also wanted options so that I would never feel stuck in any job. At the time, I was working full time as manager of a furniture store. I was doing okay making a living off of that, but knew that something had to change if I ever wanted to get ahead financially so that one day I could retire.  


I was also looking for a career where I could attend school while working full time. After doing a lot of research I was pulled in the direction of massage therapy because MH Vicars offered a blended-learning schedule option that would make this possible. 


But I still was not sure I would like it. So when I saw that MH Vicars was offering a weekend introductory massage course, I signed up for it.


This in itself was way out of my comfort zone, but I decided if I was ever going to do it then now was the time. My two older children had already graduated and in the work force, and my youngest daughter was in high school. I wanted to be done my own schooling before she went into her grade 12 year—I wanted to be able to dedicate my time to her in her graduation year.  


After taking the weekend massage course, I decided to jump in with both feet. I was called into MH Vicars for an interview after which I was accepted into the weekly program.


I will admit it was a very tough 2 years. But I knew it was doable. I remember thinking when I started that if I can make the pass grade of 75% I will be happy. Being a mature student, I knew that failure really was not an option. There is not only a lot of money invested into education but also a lot of time. Time is a precious commodity. And I will admit—there is also a sense of pride that is not always there when you are younger. There was no way I was going to go home at the end and have to tell people that I failed! 


I was working full time most weeks. I had two days off each week: Sunday and Wednesday, the day I had class. 


The first year I was in school from 9am-5pm (plus the commute to and from Barrhead, which is 2 hours each way). I also did about 4-5 hours of independent study work every weekday evening and most weekends. 


Once public clinic was added into the mix, it became even more time-consuming. I chose to do my public clinic shifts on Wednesdays after class so that I wouldn’t have to drive into the city more often than necessary. So I was in school pretty much every Wednesday from 9am-9 pm. 


I was thankful that my kids were older and fairly self-sufficient. I was also thankful that I had a strong support system: my sister and brother-in-law helped me out a lot.


When all was said and done it was all worth it: hard work and perseverance definitely pays off. Not only did I achieve my goal of not failing—I graduated from MH Vicars with honors! 

I received a great education through MH Vicars. 


The program is jam-packed. I had very hands-on instructors and public clinic supervisors. By the time I graduated I was prepared to confidently put into practice what I had learned. Today, I am doing what I love.


I was very fortunate because I still had my full-time job at the furniture store when I graduated. This meant that I didn’t have to stress about having a full client base right away and gave me the freedom to build my massage practice at my own pace. 


I started working part time at Pembina Massage in Barrhead in September 2017. I knew that I eventually wanted to have a home-based practice where I would have complete control over my schedule and my clients, but I also wanted to get some more clinic experience first.

For almost three years, I worked at Pembina Massage three evenings a week and treated a few clients at the clinic space I set up in my home. And then COVID hit in spring of 2020 and Alberta had its first shutdown. 


When Alberta Health made the decision to allow massage clinics to open up again, I decided that the time was right to leave the clinic and focus on my home-based business. 


I knew that this would mean rebuilding my clientele, but I could afford to take this risk because I am still working at the furniture store (I love that job too!). 


It was always my intention to practice massage part time. This career supplements my existing income. At first that additional income went towards paying off my student loans. Now that I have done that, I can slowly work towards retirement.

I believe that massage therapy in a small town differs a lot from a city practice. In a small town everyone knows everyone. When you walk down the street it is a constant stream of saying hi to people you know. This also means that your clinic has a much more personal feel to it. 

When we studied ethics in school, our instructors really stressed the importance of having boundaries between your friendships and your client relationships. In a small town, many of your clients are friends or acquaintances before they become clients. So I need to pay special attention to enforcing the appropriate boundaries and maintaining the therapeutic relationship both during massage treatment sessions, and in my everyday life. When my friends and neighbours come to me for a massage treatment, they know that for the time they are in the clinic space, they are my clients and I am their massage therapist. Outside of that space, I’m their friend and not their RMT.


Professionalism is very important. I have found that because I work from my home, new clients are sometimes surprised that it’s a professional space, a professional business. But they learn right away that my clinic is exactly that: my clinic. It is a professional environment, and I my clients receive the same respect and care that they would in any professional clinic. 


In a small town there is a lot of “it’s not just what you know, but who you know.” Advertising happens through word of mouth. You have to be good at what you do, because if you are not news travels fast. That being said, if you do your job well others will hear about it.  


I have been very blessed.  My career in massage therapy to date has been very fulfilling. I have been able to help a lot of people and continue to do so. My clinic is open 3 nights a week. I am fully booked through October and am booking clients into November and December. I have not had to advertise for my clinic and have had to turn clients away because I am already busier than I imagined I would be. 


My massage career has also given me that step up that I was hoping for financially. In addition to saving for retirement, I was able to purchase a new home this spring and I have been able to create a perfect set up for my home-based clinic. 


When I was a student, we had to create a business plan. One of the required elements was a mission statement. I still believe in what I wrote back then, and it’s now the mission statement of R.E.M Massage: 


To assist in the healing of body and mind. 

To relieve tension and pain. 

To bring an overall feeling of health and wellness to each and every client in a professional and relaxed environment. 

One massage at a time. 


Claudia Wattel, RMT 

R.E.M. Massage 

Rejuvenate. Enhance. Maintain.