Background: I’ve had back problems since I was in my 20’s, an inheritance from my father’s side of the family. Over the years I’ve sought relief via doctors and chiropractors, pain patches and daily stretches. Then in my early 50’s I discovered massage therapy—and my massage therapist, Marilyn Fumagalli.
I’ve been going to her ever since, both as a preventative measure, and, more urgently, after one of my several bike accidents and especially after that one horrible car crash in Los Angeles in 2005.
Marilyn’s massages are one of my not-so-secret ways of remaining healthy as I age. And so I’d like to introduce you to her and to what she has to say about massage.
1. What is your professional title and training?
Massage Therapist and Bellanina Facelift Massage Specialist.
I attended both the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, completing a certification program in Massage Therapy in 1989, and also the Bellanina Institue in Ann Arbor, MI, where I completed a teacher certification program in the Bellanina Facelift Massage in 2006.
2. What is your current position?
I am in private practice as a massage therapist in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.
3. What drew you to your work as a massage therapist?
I read “Diet for a Small Planet” as a high-schooler when it was first published in 1971, and Adelle Davis’s, “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit” and “Let’s Get Well,” both published in 1965. The idea of “environmental vegetarianism” introduced me to the alternative health lifestyle and affected my life journey from then onward.
After college, I took a mini-class in massage therapy at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy in Chicago, IL in preparation for attending the Chicago College of Naprapathy. (Naprapathy is a system of treating disease that employs no medications, but uses manipulation of muscles, joints, ligaments, etc., to stimulate the natural healing process.).
But when I went to submit my application, the College had closed, in response to legal challenges from the traditional medical establishment. (Note: The College reopened in the late ‘80s, having received licensing approval from the State of Illinois.)
So in 1988, I enrolled in the 14-month program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, the only massage school in the Midwest at the time, to see if I was comfortable working on the bodies of strangers.
During my studies at CSMT, there was emphasis on the scientific study of anatomy and physiology, which formed our approach to working on the body’s musculature. We became “soft tissue specialists” and I saw first hand the efficacy of massage therapy.
For example, Sports Massage gave athletes an “edge” towards their personal best and decreased recovery time post-event. Deep Tissue Massage addressed substantial change in holding patterns in the physiology directly affecting a client's health and wellness. Very often debilitating injuries were successfully managed for some of those who tried massage therapy as a method of pain management.
As a student, I completed clinic hours as a volunteer at the White Crane Senior Center in Chicago. Again, I saw first hand how the reach of massage therapy eased breathing and anxiety in an elderly man who climbed onto the massage table wheezing. For those seniors who are often isolated and seldom experience positive touch, the impact of massage therapy was evident in the smiling faces from techniques that helped them relax, have an overall sense of ease, and sleep better.
4. How many of your current clients are 50 years or older? How long has that percentage been a part of your practice?
My practice includes clients who began with me in 1990, with about 60% being 50 years of age and older. Joint pain and stiffness is the major chronic health problem in this aging population — much of it coming from decades of active lifestyles that have taken a toll on their body. Even so, many of them are much healthier, more agile, more physically confident, have less falls, are on less medications, and look younger than their peers. All of them attest that edge as a result of consistent massage therapy over many years.
5. In your work with older clients, what are the major chronic health problems you see in this population? Especially those you think are related to lifestyle?
Falls cause the major shift from being active to suddenly being physically restricted. Because of this, I emphasize to my clients that physiologically massage therapy is considered exercise. Muscles are toned, circulation is improved, neuromuscular fascination is enhanced, and the body gains flexibility and balance. All of this helps prevent falling.
There is much documentation supporting massage therapy and its direct impact on the immune system and skin health. It does so by increasing blood flow and delivering vital nutrients to the physical structure of the body, including organ function and nerve response. When clients feel confident in their physicality, they are able to remain active in their later years and this active lifestyle supports muscle strength.
As clients continue to age, my approach to their massage therapy often changes. These clients enjoy a slower pace with less pressure and more emphasis on comfort. I proudly accept the title “Queen of Comfort” given to me by one client who, in addition to others, have benefitted from how I support their position on my table with bolster pillows, blankets, thermal adjustments, and a clean, safe environment.
I do see clients who are physically restricted because of an accident or illness. Some of these clients have advanced terminal disease and come for massage therapy as beneficial end-of-life respite from medical treatments in clinical settings. When the inevitable happens and I attend my client’s funeral, family members tell me that massage therapy was a blessing to their loved-one as the only relief from stress and pain.
6. If readers unfamiliar with massage therapy want to know more about it, what books, articles, or websites might you recommend?
There is good reading material on clinical research and the benefits of massage therapy on the American Massage Therapy Association website at this link: https://www.amtamassage.org/findamassage/health_conditions.html
I am a fan of a series of books by Robin McKenzie on simple techniques you can do at home to ease pain. A good one to start with is “7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life: How to Rapidly Relieve Back, Neck and Should Pain”. There is information on my web site about specific modalities.
The web address is: http://www.amtamembers.com/marilynfumagalli
I want to thank Marilyn for participating in this interview process, and add just one more thing: One evening, after one of my Marilyn massages, she and I went for a beer afterwards, something we enjoy doing once or twice a year. Later, as we hugged good-bye, I could feel in her slightest touch the full weight of her “healing hands”--even outside of the massage room.