Spa Treatments: Tech-Busting Services

Savvy spas embrace innovative treatment methods to combat those technology-related maladies cropping up among today’s über-connected clients.

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These days, a vast majority of our daily needs are just a click, text message or app away. From online dating and shopping, to Skype conferencing and instant messaging, technology seems to make navigating life’s day-to-day machinations much easier. However, these handy-dandy, high-tech tools are not doing our bodies any favors. Using computers, cell phones and handheld devices on a regular basis takes a real toll, leading to concerns such as carpal tunnel syndrome, facial sagging (known in the industry as “smartphone face”), eyestrain, posture problems and, from all that ferociously-paced texting, sore thumbs.

In fact, spa owners have noted that the most common client complaints—pain in the neck, shoulders, back, hands and arms—are often directly related to these 21st-century essentials. “I’d say 95% of our client base has issues stemming from our modern lifestyles; they’re in their cars commuting, sometimes for an hour or two, then sitting at a desk for seven to eight hours, and going home only to get on their computers again,” notes Lacey Hoffman, director of massage for the Los Angeles-based Burke Williams Day Spa chain.“These habits lead to the major issues we hear about at the spa.”

Fortunately, many spas are assuaging these clients’ symptoms by offering services that specifically address the common issues surrounding digital dependence. Here, DAYSPA checks in with several facilities that employ old-fashioned healing approaches to combat modern-day woes.

Having a Hunch

An infamous 2009 study by the Council for Research Excellence stated that American adults spend 8.5 hours per day looking at screens, from computers to televisions. No doubt that number has risen even higher since then. But maintaining the posture required to gaze screen-ward leads such oft-sedentary clients to suffer from rolled-forward shoulders, hunched backs and stiff necks. To combat such symptoms, Burke Williams created the 20-minute Dot.com ($20), a massage enhancement inspired by input from the spa’s senior techs. The customizable upper-body service incorporates clay heat-packs to prepare muscles for deep-tissue work, as well as special tools such as a stretching wand and therapeutic ball that help to open up the pectoral area (as hunching over can shorten muscles in certain areas).

To help prevent bodily strain between services, therapists recommend daily stretching and self-massage with a therapeutic ball. And clients have reported positive results, including improved breathing and elimination of tension headaches. Perhaps best of all, the Dot.com does a good job of increasing awareness about massage as an effective solution for total-body wellness.

“We found there was a fear of deep-tissue treatment, but this massage introduces clients to a more therapeutic realm,” says Hoffman. “The tools and techniques we use are not very invasive, yet they are still effective in addressing work-related injuries and stress.”

In addition to offering professional treatments for immediate relief, cross-promoting a fitness component can be fundamental in keeping clients’ symptoms at bay over the long term. New York-based Exhale Mind Body Spa, with 20 locations nationwide and in the U.K. territory of Turks and Caicos, suggests regular workouts and yoga sessions to keep one’s chronically hunched spine supple. The brand’s staff also promotes improved posture and daily movement, as well as prescriptive meditative and breathing exercises designed to help curb stress. Laura Benge, national spa director for Exhale, recommends simple morning stretches, plus yoga and core workouts a few times each week, to help balance the body and mind.

To help prevent bodily strain between services, therapists recommend daily stretching and self-massage with a therapeutic ball.

“During the hourlong yoga class we offer, clients are not attached to their mobile devices,” notes Benge. “They may walk in harried, but they walk out transformed because they’ve disconnected. We teach clients the importance of taking time for oneself.”

Alisha Lalji, owner of EM Luxury Spa in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, agrees that spa owners should recognize the mind-body connection as a crucial component to eliminating issues stemming from technology overload. “In today’s world, many seek help for a condition called Repetitive Strain Injury, which originates from poor posture while working in front of computers, driving and doing repetitive tasks such as texting over extended periods of time,” explains Lalji. “Physical symptoms include pain in the hands, wrists, neck, back and shoulders—and this pain relates to psychological symptoms, including stress, anxiety, panic and frustration.”

To combat this multifaceted condition, Lalji developed the Deep Flow Massage (60-90 min./$240-$400) which combines bodywork, alignment and mindfulness with energy healing, and incorporates a cocktail of modalities including Swedish, deep-tissue, reflexology, shiatsu, reiki, sports massage and joint release. If problems don’t diminish with this physical approach, she recommends hypnotherapy massage to target stress-related emotional issues, or somatic healing, in which the muscles are instructed to move without conscious control. Lalji asks clients to note when they experience pain or other symptoms—perhaps at a certain time of day, or only while at work—to better determine the emotional source of their physical side effects.

Talking Points

Although once considered a luxury or in-case-of-emergency item, these days cell phones are a communication staple and “necessity” without which many people feel naked. However, constant attachment to cell phones can lead to a variety of skin issues including sagging skin and acne breakouts.

“Keeping the head bent forward all of the time creates sagging from the gravitational pull, shortens the neck muscles, and pulls down the jowl area to create a drooping jaw line over time,” says Carol Behrens, an esthetician at Beauty Collection in West Hollywood, California. She combats these tendencies with a microcurrent treatment, and a signature facial that incorporates two tightening masks to mimic a “mini face lift.” Behrens also educates clients on further services and tools that help combat sagging skin, from injectable fillers to handheld microcurrent machines available for home use. (She suggests using these at-home devices for five minutes each day to help prolong her treatments’ targeted results.)

Acne is another common side effect of avid cell phone use. As most people don’t clean their phone screens regularly, the average smart phone is a breeding ground for bacteria. At Exhale, phone-related breakouts are controlled with the Smart Peel service (60 min./$195), which revives the complexion via a peel application, facial massage and bacteria-busting extractions.

Janis Chakler, owner and esthetician at Janis Chakler Skin Care in New York City, says it doesn’t take long for her to identify a client with a classic case of “phone face.” “Many of my older clients have acne from using their phones, and it’s always on one side of the face,” explains Chakler. “When I ask, ‘Do you use your phone on that side of your face?’ the answer, nine times out of 10, is yes.” She encourages clients to counteract the problem by regularly cleansing the skin with an antibacterial product, or by using a headset to avoid skin contact.

Helping Hands

Skilled texting and typing talents may seem like fine art, but this rapid handiwork can prove hazardous to digits, leading to soreness or inflammation in the thumbs and, in some cases, even carpal tunnel syndrome. Which is why Bruce Schoenberg, CEO of New York-based Oasis Day Spas, developed the Blackberry Hand Massage (60 min./$75). The service was inspired by feedback from one of his massage directors as well as common complaints among spa guests.

“We saw many people developing carpal tunnel and pain in the thumb joints and wanted to specifically address these issues,” recalls Schoenberg. Now, mini versions are incorporated into the spa’s massage services; therapists ask guests about their concerns and what kind of work they do, which often points to overworked hands.

“The massage therapist targets the thumb pads and joints, and also advises clients on corrective usage, minimizing their texting, and/or using ice to reduce swelling,” explains Schoenberg. “We don’t offer the hand massage as an add-on—it’s part of the service, designed to make a difference in the health and wellness of our guests.”

Michelle Schasser, owner of Calming Effects Health Spa in Kimball, Michigan, also reports plenty of carpal tunnel-related concerns at her spa. Schasser’s interest in therapeutic massage spiked when a client survey revealed that guests were seeking this type of pain relief. She added area-specific massage to target such issues, an endeavor requiring an extensive intake form to help therapists determine the most pressing concerns; and Schasser herself trains employees on helpful techniques to address them.

“Each client is different, so no one gets the same treatment, but repetitive injuries from computer and mobile device use are common,” she says. “We frequently combine different techniques for different areas of concern.” Meanwhile, for relief between spa visits, she recommends stretching, plenty of hydration (which prevents muscles from tightening), and taking regular breaks at work to ensure movement throughout the day.

Therapists ask guests about their concerns and what kind of work they do, which often points to overworked hands.

Easy on the Eyes

When it comes to technology-related wear-down, the eyes have it. Thanks to looking at computers and handheld devices for extended periods, they too suffer from strain, and the skin around this delicate area is prone to early signs of aging.

When Chakler noticed that many clients were suffering from crow’s feet caused by squinting in front of screens, she added the It’s in the Eyes treatment ($90), which brightens and plumps the eye area and serves as an ideal add-on to any facial. During the service (recommended in a series of six for longer-lasting effects), oxygen delivers a potent serum along with argireline, which “mimics Botox without the side effects,” says Chakler. “It’s not permanent, but it’s a great quick fix with amazing results—clients love it.” To help extend results, she recommends clients use a serum that offers the same ingredients, but in a less-concentrated formula for at-home upkeep.

Beauty Collection’s Behrens soothes clients’ overworked peepers by offering treatments that incorporate a chamomile-infused eye solution. And to prevent additional stress on the area, she advises clients to wear proper eyewear at the computer to minimize strain and squinting.