Urban Retreat is proud to be featured in The Coast's 2014 Health & Beauty Supplement!

A restorative refuge in the heart of the city
Originally published in The Coast Health & Beauty Supplement, May 2014

A calm, muted oasis is probably the last thing most people expect to find on the busiest stretch of Spring Garden Road. Fortunately for Angela MacDonald and her clients, the stairs to her Urban Retreat Massage Therapy clinic allow clients to climb up out of the noise and the bustle, and emerge into surprisingly soothing surroundings.

“It’s a great location because it’s so central, it’s very easy for everyone downtown to come in,” MacDonald says. “We’re really lucky to have found such a quiet and peaceful location right in the middle of downtown.” The easy escape from a busy day in the middle of a busy city is what inspired MacDonald to name her practice Urban Retreat when she opened the location eight years ago. After a decade of practice as a Registered Massage Therapist, she says that while many people think of massage as a relaxation treatment first, the majority of her clients come to her for therapeutic treatment of a condition that is causing them discomfort.

“Probably 98% of people we see are trying to alleviate some sort of issue,” MacDonald says. “Even if they don’t think they have any physical concerns, we often get a closer look and feel and find something that hasn’t yet become an issue, but that can be treated now before it becomes a problem down the road.” Much of the treatment work that MacDonald and her associates do is preventative, and she finds many clients are surprised by how much better they feel after being treated for a condition they were unaware was developing. Many are simply unaccustomed to their bodies feeling truly well. “It creates awareness,” MacDonald says. “Our regular clients come to understand what it is to feel great. They can feel when issues start to arise that should be looked after before they are allowed to get worse.”

To improve physical conditions, MacDonald and the practice’s four other Registered Massage Therapists and Physiotherapist rely on a number of different treatment techniques. One common massage therapy treatment involves relieving knots, or what MacDonald calls myofascial trigger points, using myofascial release therapy. “Myofascial release is something I include in many of my treatments,” MacDonald says, “It’s massaging without oil to release restrictions in the connective tissue, or fascia. This is the tissue that wraps all of your muscles. It’s like a single, continuous piece of saran wrap that wraps everything throughout the whole body.” According to MacDonald, a restriction in one area can cause pulling and discomfort in another. Relieving these trigger points is often the first step in her clients’ massage therapy treatments. The list of physical ailments that can be treated using massage therapy and physiotherapy is extensive. “We see clients who’ve had headaches for weeks, sometimes even for years,” MacDonald says. “We treat a lot of back issues and neck issues, a lot of postural problems. We’ve helped runners and other athletes who aren’t able to get through their training because of muscle pains or restrictions.” While some conditions may be inconvenient or may cause a limiting of activities, others are even more problematic. MacDonald has helped many patients who have come to her seeking relief from debilitating pain and from numbness, as well as clients seeking treatment for chronic conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and other joint disorders. “Having the ability for our clients to consult with the clinic’s physiotherapist is extremely beneficial in speeding their recovery,” MacDonald says.

For clients who have discovered how well they can feel and who come to Urban Retreat for treatments that are more relaxing than reparative, one of the most popular choices is hot stone massage. “Hot stone is a great treatment. It helps to relax the muscles using the heat of the stones and a nice, firm pressure,” MacDonald explains. “People find it very soothing, especially the warm stones between their toes at the end.” Unsurprisingly, hot stone massage was incredibly popular over the long winter, however MacDonald insists that it remains popular through the summer as well. Not only are they relaxing, hot stone treatments can also improve circulation and boost immunity, making them very beneficial no matter the season.

While specially tailored treatments are available for every client, for expectant mothers the clinic also offers specially tailored massage tables. “We have pregnancy tables that allow expectant mothers to lie on their bellies,” MacDonald says. “Women get really tired of not being able to lie on their stomachs when they’re pregnant. These tables have cut-outs where they can lie with their bellies supported by a woven elastic band, which allows us to fully treat their backs.” These treatments are designed to provide long-term relief as well as immediate comfort. “Massage is important for everybody to do regularly, but especially when you’re pregnant,” MacDonald says. “You have so many new aches and pains and postural concerns. Massage makes all of these easier to manage.”

Not all of the treatments available at Urban Retreat use touch to provide physical relief. In the case of Reiki treatments, the goal is often to provide emotional balance, and the therapist uses no physical contact at all. “Reiki works with energy centres, to balance the energy flowing in and out through the chakras,” MacDonald explains. “People find it very soothing, in fact a lot of people will fall asleep during the treatment. Depending on the client, and on the kind of day they’ve had, it can be an incredibly helpful tool in our sessions.” MacDonald notes that no matter which treatment is most beneficial to the client, the clinic’s ability to direct-bill most health plans ends many sessions with an added dose of relaxation.

Determining the exact needs of every client, according to MacDonald, relies on good communication, natural talent and the ability to create a positive environment during the treatment. “When I opened I chose people to work with who were extremely skilled, but who also had a real love for the profession,” she says. “There’s a positive energy here that comes from the people who work here. You can feel it every day, and it’s the first thing clients feel when they come up the steps.”

—Blake Hunsley