The Life Doctor

WHAT DOES the modern hairdresser do to draw clients back more frequently? Lower the price? Offer free hair advice? No, what Stuart Phillips in Covent Garden did was to offer every client a free head massage with their shampoo. "Many of our customers," says Stuart, "used to come every eight weeks and now they come every five. Some come especially for the massage. "

Instead of the usual haircutting experience which adds to our already stressed-out lives - the neck dangling dangerously on a cold porcelain bowl, eyes bulging as the blood rushes to head, the burning hot water which then becomes too cold - instead of all that, every customer gets a scalp rub. The salon, unsurprisingly, has grown from nothing to a client base of 6,000 in three years.

Massage is ever more popular and increasingly necessary. The coolest thing is to have an on-site masseur visit your desk at work. Cool because it's quick; 20 minutes and it's over. And you don't have to take your clothes off. (Nothing counters the effect of a massage more, I find, than the fear that the masseur is laughing at your cellulite.)

On-site massage company Vital Touch gets booked months ahead. Of their customers, 72 per cent say their work has improved as a result. But what does a massage do? "It allows toxins to clear quicker," says Vital Touch director Suzi Cinalli. "It's great for hangovers, headaches, eases pain and tension and leaves you feeling re-energised."

Suzi brings her own massage chair. You sit, face down with your cheeks stuffed into a blue, face-sized ring doughnut and try not to dribble. Her massage is so vigorous that I wonder if I'm not feeling better afterwards simply because she has stopped thumping me. But it's a good pain. By the end my heavy shoulders feel lighter and I feel an unfamiliar surge of optimism pump through me. For the rest of the day I feel great. I almost sign up for the rest of my life. But it's pounds 15 a go and one must balance the effectiveness against the financial stress of yet another attempt to achieve inner calm. So can massage make a difference in the long term?

Katherine Stubbs, Chartered Manipulative Physiotherapist at Physioworks in London, says massage "is beneficial to a degree - touch is soothing. Anyone can give a massage that's effective. Professionals can provide a more thorough massage, but it won't help the underlying problems if posture is the problem".

The underlying problems of head, neck and shoulder tension are caused by different muscles tightening and being immobilised due to stress and inactivity. If we try and counter day-long inactivity with a manic gym session at the end of the day, this can make things even worse by leaving us vulnerable to injury.

"If you need a weekly massage, you might ask yourself 'why?'" says Katherine. "There are things you can do to prevent the kind of muscle problems that makes a massage necessary." Namely: 1. Stick a piece of tape from each shoulder blade (scapula). Get someone else to stick it on when you have your shoulders healthily held back. Then, whenever it feels overstretched you will know you are slumping your shoulders.

2. Every 15 minutes stretch your arms.

3. Gently stretch your neck by twisting head from side to side slowly five times.

4. Set your computer to remind you every 20 minutes: "check your position".

5. Look at your parents' posture. Let that be your incentive. You will be that and worse unless you do something about it.

The Vital Touch, tel: 0171 704 6025. Stuart Phillips is on 0171 379 5304

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