Robin Magder, M.OMSc RMT, is an Osteopath at Aurum Medicine & Wellness Clinic. In this interview in 2019, Robin speaks about their switch from social services to massage therapy, the interconnection of the body, and how even tiny adjustments can make a big difference. Read their biography here.
Why did you choose to go into massage therapy?
I chose to go into massage because I like working with my hands – I’m a very tactile person. When I was a kid I was always touching plants and flowers. I felt like massage would be fun and also relieve pain for people.
I was working in social services with people who did not have access to pain relief through manual therapies. I want to keep working to change that, to minimize barriers. I work with a lot of queer/trans people – for us there are barriers to this kind of care for various reasons. Often there is a lack of understanding or lack of interest in understanding how to be respectful and welcoming when interacting with us and our bodies.
Has it been fun?
Yeah. A lot more fun than I thought it was going to be. I thought I would like it but as soon as I started studying and getting deep into anatomy and physiology, my mind was being blown by the complexity of everything going on in the body and how everything is connected. Things can be so predictable yet also drastically different between people, the way that the body adapts to different ways of living is fascinating.
Can you tell us a bit more about your approach?
I understand the body as having a way that it wants to be – that everyone is different but there are also patterns in the ways that forces of nature and living organisms function. When we are say 5 years old, the length of our muscles is likely aligned and our postures are often the most balanced that they are going to be. As we grow and injure ourselves and compensate, or do jobs and activities that require us to be in certain positions for long periods of time, our bodies adapt to those things and pulls us out of alignment. So I see my work as supporting the body to come back into balance.
Here is a common example that I see every day:
Someone’s upper back and neck muscles are in pain. The first thing to understand is that those muscles are stretched out from leaning forward, often from working on a computer, and the person’s pecs / chest muscles are going to be short. So I would lengthen the pec muscles in order to let the shoulders move back. This allows the upper back muscles to return to the length that they are at their strongest. This would be in addition to working on those upper back muscles to bring blood flow and relief to the irritated fibres.
Otherwise it is really important to me that my client is relaxed. I work with a lot of depth, but do so quite slowly so that the muscles don’t contract and so that the body has time to accept the treatment. This also helps because when I am trying to release a muscle, a person contracting in pain will work against that intention.
What is massage therapy to you?
A bodywork modality that focuses on muscles and fascia – so soft tissue. We also work with the joints in order to help nutrients move through the body. It’s manual therapy so we are working directly on the muscle and skin of the client.
What have you learned since starting out?
So many things.
One thing that I have learned that helps me a lot is understanding the importance of fluid movement in the body. For example, when I think of people with chronic headaches including migraines, often their neck and shoulder muscles are really tight. There are nerves that come from your spine, and blood vessels form the heart that can get restricted by your shoulder and neck muscles so blood flow is not moving to and from your head causing pressure changes within those structures, limiting necessary nutrients which can cause pain.
With your arm, if you have pain in your hands, especially if it’s numbness and tingling, I think about the nerves are coming out of your spine down through your shoulders. If your shoulder muscles are really tight, which is also connected to that anterior forward head-shoulders moving forward, that’s going to constrict the nerves coming into your arms, which means there’s not going to be blood and innervation to to the wrists, hands and arms.
I have come to understand that everything is connected, to not just look at where it hurts but to follow the pathway to the heart and the spine. Things as simple as a hip traction, where I gently pull on the leg to open up the hip, can be significant. The body is working at a microscopic cellular level, so even seemingly tiny adjustments will make a big difference.
Is there a condition you like working with or that you have noticed people with those conditions have been drawn to you?
I work a lot with upper back pain because of phone and laptops and desk jobs. So like I was talking about before, when you are looking down a lot and your shoulders come forward then your upper back muscles get chronically stretched out and lengthened, and your centre of gravity is not centred but is forward. Your neck and back are working harder to hold yourself up and the muscles are not at their ideal length, so they are not as strong. This is happening for a huge number of people.
I’ve really appreciated learning more about how gender confirming chest binding impacts the body. For example, the way the ribs are compressed by a binder contributes to back pain. Massage can really relieve that by increasing blood flow, innervation and lymph drainage in and around the back and ribs.
What’s next for you?
I am currently in my first year at the Canadian Academy of Osteopathy in Hamilton where I’m learning about how the body acts as one unit. I’m learning more about how it’s interconnected and in more depth about how constrictions or lack of movements impact the body’s ability to function.
*This Interview was completed in 2019. Today, Robin is practicing at Aurum Medicine and Wellness Clinic as an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner.