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The Medical Massage Lady – Exclusive Interview With Sam Mishra

Sam Mishra (The Medical Massage Lady), is a multi-award winning massage therapist, aromatherapist, accredited course tutor, oncology practitioner, trauma practitioner and breathwork facilitator. Her medical background as a nurse and a midwife, combined with her own experiences of childhood disability and abuse, have resulted in a diverse and specialised service. She is motivated by the adversity she has faced, using it as a driving force in her charity work and in offering the vulnerable a means of support. Her aim is to educate about medical conditions using easily understood language, to avoid inappropriate treatments being carried out and for health promotion purposes in the general public.

Image photo of Sam Mishra

Sam Mishra, The Medical Massage Lady

Introduce yourself! Please tell us about you and your life, so we can get to know you better.

I am a self-employed medical and sports massage therapist, course provider, aromatherapist, trauma practitioner, oncology practitioner and breathwork facilitator.

I never really grew up knowing exactly what I wanted to do for a living and I thought I would most likely go to art college, study Spanish literature or do catering. Basically, I didn’t have a clue, so when the time came for the careers talk at school and the guy asked me did I want to work with people, I did at least know that much. I didn’t want to be sat in an office all day. He opened his book and the first thing he saw was occupational therapy, which at the time I didn’t even know what it was. I asked him what I needed at A level to do that and he said two C’s. I was sold! I was very intelligent but also very lazy, so the chance to get two C’s without doing any work was very appealing.

Off I went to university to do a degree in this subject that I really didn’t know much about and after two terms I realised that it was too much assessment and, having done some care work, I decided I wanted to be involved in the treatment side of things more, so I transferred across to nursing. At the age of 19, half way through the nursing training, I had a nervous breakdown and had no option but to withdraw. I knew I had to do something with my brain so I registered onto an evening massage course which could fit around a job. I qualified in 1997.

But life has a funny way of bringing you back to unfinished business and I ended up returning to complete my nursing. After initially thinking I would specialise in oncology (which I later returned to), I discovered an absolute love of surgery, working in a wide range of surgical settings, and later developing my interest in women’s health. With no jobs in gynae I registered onto midwifery, thinking I’d hate it but it would look good on my CV for when a gynae job came up. I fell in love with the high risk labour suite.

By this time, I had two children, one of whom was then diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and had been in an abusive marriage for 9 years. I finally plucked up the courage to leave and also made the decision to come out of work to meet my daughter’s care needs and establish a treatment programme. I thought I’d be out for a year and nine years later I was still a stay at home mum but volunteering in sports camps for disabled children, mainly cerebral palsy and child amputees. This later fuelled my desire to offer accessible services for disabled children, which I knew from experience are very difficult, and often expensive, to find.

In 2015 my world fell apart when I lost my two children. Uncontrollable grief, long-term depression and PTSD from the abusive marriage pushed me into four reclusive years. I had lost my identity, I was no longer a nurse or a midwife, I was no longer a wife, but above all I was no longer a mum. I had no idea who I was. I spent the majority of those subsequent four years drawing portraits, which all started from trying to draw my two children. It was my way of somehow coping and an outlet for all my anger and grief. I knew that if I didn’t find some kind of purpose that I wouldn’t still be here a few months later. So, I went back to what I knew and completed my Nursing Return to Practice course.

Becoming frustrated by having interviews and being told how much experience I had, but “you haven’t actually been working on a ward in the last six months”, I had to find something where I could still use all the knowledge I had gained. I was talking to a friend who was a personal trainer and he mentioned sports massage and that was my lightbulb moment. Within two weeks I was registered, and then ended up working at a franchise. Let’s just say that experience taught me everything that is wrong with the massage industry. So, I took the plunge and in February 2020 went completely self-employed. I have since completed endless training, which has been guided by my clients or my own personal experiences, and am now known as the medical one and the one who knows about trauma. That is the silver lining that I have had to find following years of domestic abuse. If I can use the most painful parts of my life to help someone else have the support that I didn’t have, then it has been worth it.

Could you describe the philosophy and therapeutic approach behind The Medical Massage Lady?

As it says on my website, I believe that every aspect of a person, their body, mind and spirit can benefit from receiving massage therapy. It is my aim to provide unparalleled, evidence-based massage therapy to restore, preserve and promote optimal health for my clients, while staying true to the values and standards I upheld as a nurse and midwife. As a therapist I must be able to justify the decisions I make in treating someone, or in a few cases not giving clients the treatment they have requested, because client health and safety is always the biggest priority. Accountability must be at the forefront of our practice, accountability to the client, to the industry, and to ourselves. Of course, we all want to earn a living, but I refuse to make money from giving inappropriate treatments or treatments that I am not qualified to do.

It is my mission to promote relaxation and offer therapeutic bodywork to support clients in their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing journey, while educating and empowering them to take charge of their own health. This is why I always try to educate clients, through my website, in appointments and in my self-help guides, about what causes their issues, exercises they can do to help, and even understanding their medical issues, because so often clients are bombarded with information in a ten minute doctors’ appointment, and often come away not really understanding. I was contacted once by someone who had stopped their gym activity and changed their job all because they didn’t really understand the MRI results or know how best to deal with a shoulder injury. Using my surgical knowledge, I was able to breakdown the points raised in the MRI report into plain English and help him to discover what he can and can’t do. Nobody had taken the time to do this for him.

How do your massage services differ from traditional or spa massages?

I have a very wide range of massage services. Obviously, I offer the standard types such as Swedish, deep tissue, sports, pregnancy etc, but I also offer some that are more specialised such as oncology, lymphatic, medical, post-surgical, trauma, TMJ therapy and of course the cerebral palsy massages. I also treat children for physical and mental health issues. These services are either extremely limited in my local area or not found at all.

I also bring in my nursing experience, for example in the pregnancy massages where I always take the clients blood pressure to ensure their safety. My clients really appreciate that I have the medical knowledge behind what I do and that’s why I get clients with medical conditions that we are told are contraindicated, or that others don’t know how to treat.

I also now offer rungu massage which originated in Africa and I believe is only offered by a few therapists in the UK, and with the oil I use for this, it is great as an anti-inflammatory therapy, so ideal for things like arthritis. Plus, I just recently started to offer medical grade CBD oil as an extra option and I believe I am the only therapist in my area offering this, benefitting those with anxiety and panic disorders, seizures, high levels of tension and much more.

I am also the only massage therapist locally who is offering a range of trauma services, allowing for various packages dependant on the client’s stage of recovery, and these include trauma massage, vagus nerve toning, breathwork, and as of the New Year, transformational workshops and meditation sessions. I am very open about my experiences of trauma and PTSD and this really instils trust in my clients.

As a certified oncology practitioner, I am also MASCED accredited in the early detection of skin cancers and melanoma, and so I offer free mole checks. Skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the UK and waiting time for dermatology appointments is often long, so by offering these checks, I am usually able to put someone’s mind at rest much quicker.

I have the backing of the largest medical centre in the area, oncology, gynaecology and cosmetic surgery consultants, the rape crisis centres and a couple of local domestic abuse charities. I am also a designated Safe Space for those trying to flee domestic abuse.

I think the main difference between my services and those in a spa, is my level of training and medical experience combined with my personal experiences of long term mental health issues, trauma, childhood disability and years of chronic pain from endometriosis. Plus, the treatments in spas and franchises tend to be standardised whereas mine are very much individualised. In my experience spas and franchises are often much more focused on the business side of things and being seen to be a certain type of professional. I would rather my priority was being human and demonstrating a more knowledgeable, open, compassionate and personal approach. Clients don’t want a handshake, they want someone they can trust and be vulnerable with.

Image photo of Sam Mishra

Photo credits to Fernando Corredor

Your website mentions specialized services such as trauma massage, oncology massage and cerebral palsy massage. How do these services benefit clients, and why are they so effective?

I know only too well how much PTSD can affect every aspect of your life and the first six months following any kind of trauma is usually the crucial period where either the nervous system is reset, or PTSD kicks in for the long haul. This is why I take referrals for those who have just fled domestic abuse or victims of sexual assault, to give them access to support, both on a psychological and physiological level as soon as possible.

Trauma massage can be carried out at any time and the effects are even greater when combined with the other trauma services I offer (breathwork, vagus nerve toning, somatic exercises, transformational workshop). Even for those with early childhood abuse which happened years ago, this type of massage can be helpful when someone is only just acknowledging their trauma. If the physiology is addressed then it makes it much more bearable to deal with the psychological symptoms. There is always a place for psychological therapies, such as counselling, but it doesn’t address what’s going on in the nervous system that is bringing about all of those are even greater when combined with the other trauma services I offer negative responses.

The trauma massage is so effective because it doesn’t feel invasive in any way and doesn’t place stress on the tissues, ie. it doesn’t overload the nervous system or overwhelm the client emotionally.

Even I managed to overcome my biggest physical trigger through massage and that has been life changing in terms of being able to have effective massages myself and in my relationships with others.

The oncology massage, like the trauma one, is also so effective because it doesn’t place much stress on the tissues, at a time when the client may be prone to high fatigue levels, anxiety, nausea and a whole range of other symptoms.

Unfortunately, there is still that wonderful myth about how massage might spread the cancer, which of course isn’t true, but some medical professionals have still not caught up with this truth, meaning that sometimes clients are put off such a therapy. Of course, massage is never going to treat cancer, but what it can do is relieve many of the symptoms of the cancer or its treatments, whether that be chemotherapy, radiotherapy or medication. In my experience as a nurse and as a massage therapist, if you can ease a person’s pain and anxiety, while offering a compassionate ear to offload to, that’s a good step forward in the battle, enabling the client to feel better equipped to deal with what may come their way.

The cerebral palsy massage really came about as a result of massaging my daughter to ease the spasticity and muscle contractures as well as helping her bowel to function more effectively. In the experience of my daughter, this meant that not only did she not require suppositories, which are pretty uncomfortable for an adult, let alone an 8 year old child, but she also started to walk unassisted, against medical expectation, albeit like a drunk stumbling out of the pub on a Saturday night.

I know very well how limited NHS resources are and it is often down to the parents to top up their child’s therapy alongside physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Accessing private therapy is often expensive and may involve journeys of a couple of hours or more. The combination of my personal experience, my midwifery and the in-depth anatomy from my sports training has enabled me to offer an affordable and accessible service, and I am in the process of taking up an offer from Demelza Children’s hospice to volunteer some time to the children and their parents.

Can you share more about your qualifications and training, as well as your expertise? What sets you apart in terms of specialized knowledge and skills?

I have maintained the nursing mentality when it comes to training, ensuring that I complete a few courses each year, plus this is important in terms of maintaining my registration and demonstrating to clients that I am a competent and trustworthy professional.

Many massage therapists who aren’t sports trained may only have a level 3 diploma, depending on where they have worked. There’s nothing wrong with that but if you are wanting to meet the increasing demand for clients with medical issues and injuries, you need to do more, and you need to be able to provide an evidence-based service.

I have a long history of study days as a nurse and midwife, two degrees (Nursing and Midwifery), nine diplomas (Swedish massage, Sports massage, Pregnancy massage, colon massage, Trigger Point therapy, oncology massage, aromatherapy, Indian head and lymphatic drainage), plus various other CPD courses and certificates, including IASTM, scar work and breathwork.

I am also MASCED accredited in the early detection of skin cancers and melanoma, and I am accredited by the IGCT as a course provider. I will also be gaining my CNHC registration which means I will automatically be recognised by medical professionals, although that is already pretty much the case.

I have also built on my own personal experience, undertaking various training courses for the management of trauma, massage therapy for victims of sexual abuse and some more in-depth training with the internationally recognised National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine, led by some of the leading experts in trauma.

I am currently undertaking a much more intensive breathwork facilitation course with the internationally acclaimed Alchemy of Breath. It is through this training that I am not only developing on a professional level, but I am also having to address my own traumas, which can only enable me to better serve my clients, because I would have done the work myself.

I believe that my dedication to both my personal and professional development is one more thing that gives my clients confidence in coming to see me. Together with my medical background, they know that they can expect a high standard of care.

Do you have any notable success stories or testimonials from clients who have experienced significant improvements in their health or well-being through your medical massage services?

I have seen numerous success stories and positive client reviews, but the following are probably the ones that have had the biggest impact.

My youngest client with cerebral palsy, who has just turned four years old, has been accessing weekly massages for approximately 8 months now, to complement the work with the physiotherapist. In that time, he has started to interact more, make more attempts to communicate verbally, he is lifting his head and rolling, he is pushing objects away with his feet more, and his spasticity has reduced, resulting in improved grasp. He is also able to release a lot of gas that builds up from the tube for his medication administration, reducing the amount of bloating. Even the physiotherapist has commented on his improvements.

The trauma work, for me, is always going to hold a special place in my heart because the impact of any trauma is usually life changing and completely overwhelming. I have one client who has been particularly resistant, having suppressed memories and events for years, but with some patience and a lot of hard work on her part, she has gradually started to put the pieces together and understand herself more, without overwhelming herself or aggravating her other medical issues. I see the various ways that clients are releasing their trauma on a weekly basis, and while it can be uncomfortable to see someone go through that, it is such a positive step for them in their transformation, and also a privilege for me to be trusted with their vulnerability.

I had a rape victim referred to me very early on following the incident, and she hadn’t told any of her family what had happened. She was very reluctant to come for massages, knowing that she would most likely be triggered, which of course she was but we dealt with it. When I first saw her, she was completely numb and couldn’t imagine ever being able to come to terms with what had happened, let alone ever have a relationship again or be able to tell her family. I think the biggest compliment I received from her was that she actually felt safe during our sessions. She said that her sessions with me enabled her to regain control and to find healthy ways to manage not only her emotions, but also the physical issues related to the trauma, that she hadn’t even been aware of.

After four sessions, she felt able to tell her family what had happened, after two months, she was able to sleep without reliving what happened, and after 7 months, with the help of counselling, she was ready to enter a relationship, to trust again and to experience someone new touching her without fear. This really was life changing and I believe, as does she, that without the sessions, she would have undoubtedly developed severe PTSD.

Tell us about your greatest career achievement so far.

For me to have come this far in the face of so much adversity and trauma in itself is a huge achievement, but I have been extremely blessed in receiving twelve awards over the last two years, and being nominated for a few more.

I have received the Top Rated award through my booking system for three years in a row now and this has been based purely on client reviews, and I am proud to say that I am the only one in my area who has received this.

I have also received seven Kent Health and Beauty Awards (2022 – Bronze for Health and Beauty Champion of the Year and Complementary Health Practitioner, and Silver for Contribution to the Community and Inspired Achievement). This year I did one better, receiving the Gold for Contribution to the Community, and Silvers for Complementary Health Practitioner and Health and Beauty Champion of the Year.

I was also recognised by the Lux Resorts and Retreats Awards this year for Best Medical and Trauma Massage Therapist in the South East, and was a finalist at the Kent Women in Business Awards in the category of Women’s Champion.

I am also a finalist for Best Salon Team with my colleague Cleo Campbell-White, an advanced aesthetician at the national Beauty and Aesthetics Awards in a couple of weeks, and I am nominated at the SOS Awards next year for Community Champion and Holistic Therapist of the Year, as well as Women’s Champion, Community Champion and Professional Achievement at the Kent Women in Business Awards 2024.

The validation for me personally, having pretty much given up on life a few years back, and the evidence that this provides for my trauma clients who also feel that they will never overcome their traumas, is incredible. I’ve always said that if I was going to win awards for anything, it’s always great to hear that you’re good at your job or you have a successful business, but I feel more honoured to be recognised as someone who puts people first and who serves their community, and I think I’ve managed to achieve that.

I also had four articles published with an international association.

If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be and why?

Approximately 65% of people seeking massages now are doing so for medical issues or sports injuries rather than that bit of pampering, yet the basic training still doesn’t reflect this, teaching that some issues are contraindications, when actually with the right knowledge, massage can be very helpful. Of course, I wouldn’t expect that massage training should cover every medical condition, but certainly there are some more common conditions that clients will present with, that could be given more attention.

Plus, it has been my experience and that of clients, that therapists in spas and franchises are often being trained by people who do not have the experience or knowledge to do so. Consequently, we see therapists, even sometimes with quite a few years of experience carrying out completely inappropriate treatments, and I certainly witnessed this happen on a few occasions, to the detriment of the client’s health, even after they had been advised of absolute contraindications.

Even though therapies such as massage are natural, it is still very possible to do harm to a client if you are working outside of your competency level. Plus, even if a client has all of their tension reversed in one session, the likelihood is they will return to their life and their habits that have contributed to that initial tension, so if you don’t educate them about how they can take control of their health and try to bring about some change, then the issue is going to come back. If you don’t understand the injuries and conditions they are presenting with, how are you going to offer a safe treatment or educate them about how to help themselves?

I see it all the time in therapy groups on social media, where therapists are saying that they’ve had a client wanting massage for a particular condition, and asking how do they treat it? Well, if you’re having to ask this on social media, then you shouldn’t be treating it. It all comes back to accountability and working ethically and within your competency level.

This is why I started to offer the training courses, which have a much more medical focus and give the student the knowledge and the physiology they need to understand these common conditions and injuries. The first thing potential students often ask is whether there is a practical element. In some of the courses there is, but it’s all very well having a new practical skill, but if you don’t have the knowledge to be able to apply it appropriately, then what’s the point? My courses offer the knowledge and understanding to be able to offer clients those self-help measures, and also to be able to ask the right questions and adjust their treatments using the techniques they already have.

Image photo of Sam Mishra

Photo credits to Fernando Corredor

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