Many of the joint replacement patients at Saint Francis Medical Center that Don Miles works with have never had any experience with massage. Miles, a massage therapist at Fitness Plus and microbiologist at the hospital, donates his time every Thursday by giving free massages to patients who have recently undergone replacement surgery.
Miles says the techniques he uses appear to be very helpful to patients because massage helps them relax after their bodies and minds have gone through a great deal of stress.
"In research that's been done, open heart surgery patients saw significant differences in how fast they healed when undergoing massage therapy," Miles says. His hope is that massage works in the same way for the joint replacement patients.
Miles, who lives in Jackson with his wife and also runs a private massage therapy practice out of his home, describes himself as a person who is always trying to learn new things.
"I'm still learning a lot as I go along and work with different people," Miles says. He says his interest in health began as a teenager. He later obtained a doctorate in microbiology and taught college for three years before settling into the position of microbiology supervisor in 1981 at the hospital's laboratory.
Miles says he knew he wanted to work with people using shiatsu, where he applies pressure to points on the body to relieve tension, but there is just something about working with people through regular massage. Still, he incorporates aspects of shiatsu with the regular neck, hand, shoulder, arm, leg and foot massages he offers to patients.
"I try to work with all the tools in my toolbox when I have people on the table," he says. "If they sign up for an hour's massage, I usually try to push about five minutes of the basics so they can get a feel for it, and I explain what I am doing as I work with it, and I've never had anybody say they didn't like it. It's for educational purposes, really."
Miles' massages are completely optional to patients, but Miles says he feels that the more a body is relaxed, the better it can heal.
"Someone once asked me what I thought the most important thing about massage was, and I said that if I had to pick one thing, it would be presence. Me being totally focused on you, as a body, as an individual, as a person, without any outside thoughts, totally focused and being aware, getting feedback and being able to use my energy and physical body in order to help you," he says.
"Patients love the massages," says Amy Brentlinger, coordinator of the joint care program at the hospital. "Many have never experienced one, and they are a bit trepidatious at first, but then they like it."
Pat Todd, a patient at the hospital from Piedmont, Mo., who recently underwent a total knee replacement, received a hand, arm and shoulder massage from Miles before her discharge to go home. Todd was enthusiastic about the massage and listened carefully as Miles talked about reflex points and reasons for stiffness and pain in other parts of her body besides the area where she underwent surgery.
"The exercises I did in physical therapy loosen you up, but this really gave me a relaxing feeling. But, you are still on edge anticipating pain, so this helped a lot," says Todd. Todd and another joint replacement patient, Glynda Jackson, both say Miles' massages helped them overcome nausea caused by medicine they took post-surgery for pain.