Ep 230 - Dr. Joi Edwards: Bridging the Gaps: “The Rebel MT” with Allison Denney

A physical therapist performing massage on client while in prone position.

Dr. Joi Edwards had been a practicing physical therapist for years when she began to feel a pull into the field of massage therapy. She has since continued to expand her practice and her business into the wonders of cupping therapy and the rewards of teaching dissection labs. For this episode, Allison uncovers the magic behind Owlchemy Massage, Dr. Joi's ever-growing world of soft tissue manipulation, career transformation, and the healing arts.

Author Images: 
Allison Denney Rebel Massage Therapist
Author Bio: 

Allison Denney is a certified massage therapist and certified YouTuber. You can find her massage tutorials at YouTube.com/RebelMassage. She is also passionate about creating products that are kind, simple, and productive for therapists to use in their practices. Her products, along with access to her blog and CE opportunities, can be found at rebelmassage.com.        


Rebel Massage Therapist: http://www.rebelmassage.com

Rebel Massage Therapist:

My name is Allison. And I am not your typical massage therapist. After 20 years of experience and thousands of clients, I have learned that massage therapy is SO MUCH more than a relaxing experience at a spa. I see soft tissue as more  than merely a physical element but as a deeply complex, neurologically driven part of who you are. I use this knowledge to work WITH you — not ON you — to create change that works. This is the basis of my approach.

As a massage therapist, I have worked in almost every capacity. Massage clinics, physical therapy clinics, chiropractor offices, spas, private practice, as well as teaching . I have learned incredible techniques and strategies from each of my experiences. In my 20 years as a massage therapist, I have never stopped growing. I currently have a private practice based out of Long Beach, CA., where I also teach continuing education classes and occasionally work on my kids. If they're good.

website: www.rebelmassage.com

FB: facebook.com/RebelMassage

IG: instagram.com/rebelmassagetherapist

YouTube: youtube.com/c/RebelMassage

email: rebelmassagetherapist@gmail.com

Full Transcript: 

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0:00:48.5 Speaker 1: Dr. Joi Edwards is one of those rare gems who bridges the gap between her work as a physical therapist and the world of massage therapy. I'm always in awe when I stumble across a human like Dr. Joi. And I had the privilege of teaming up with her to present at the ABMP Fascia Summit back in March, but when I finally got to sit down and talk with her more candidly, what I found was that her love of bodywork and massage was genuine, inspiring and infectious. 




0:01:22.6 Dr. Joi Edwards: That just gives me all the warm fuzzies. 


0:01:26.1 S1: All the chills. 


0:01:27.5 DE: Yeah, I'm just [0:01:28.9] ____ I'm like "unicorns and sprinkles [0:01:28.9] ____ I like both," and massage is that for me, it is just... I couldn't have planned it any better, it just organically happened and I'm so grateful. 


0:01:41.7 S1: I was so grateful to sit down with Dr. Joi and talk to her about her career. She's a physical therapist, a massage therapist, a cupping practitioner, and she teaches dissection labs in North Carolina. 


0:01:53.5 DE: So my name is Joi Edwards. I go by professionally, Dr. Joi, I have my doctorate in Physical Therapy, and I am licensed as a massage therapist as well. I am originally from Seattle, Washington, but I moved, I migrated to North Carolina probably 20 something years ago. Maybe a little bit more than that, I'm aging myself. And so I currently work full-time as a physical therapist, but I incorporate massage therapy, and so all of my physical therapy techniques and treatments. 


0:02:29.5 S1: So, how exactly does a physical therapist come to the decision that they wanna go back to school and get their degree in massage therapy?  


0:02:37.5 DE: So, I was licensed as a physical therapist, well, long before I was a massage therapist, but as a physical therapist, I just found myself intuitively putting my hands on people, I just felt like I needed to. It was the joint. It was the tissue. It was saying... 


[overlapping conversation] 


0:02:54.0 DE: [0:02:55.0] ____ and with that, with maybe applying, I don't want to say non-specific but I was not trained yet in soft tissue manipulation. And so when I would put my hands on people I did what I thought, the tissue needed based on origins, insertions, and movement patterns I did what I thought was best. And they would, even before leaving patients would say "Wow, I feel so much better." Or coming back in, they were eager to come back in for physical therapy, which often doesn't happen, people don't necessarily look forward to physical therapy because it's usually painful and it's hard, but... And it wasn't just... I was noticing it wasn't one person, it wasn't five people, it was the majority of people that I would put my hands on, and their response was so positive and so immediate. 


0:03:45.9 DE: Whereas before maybe it was a rotator cuff tear, and I wanted to do range of motion with them, they were very guarded, they were giving me the side eye like "You're gonna do what?" But then I will put my hands on them, and then we would go back to the range of motion, and even watching their eyes like "Are you seeing this?" And I'm like "Yeah, I'm seeing it. Are you seeing it?" It was just, it was amazing. And so I never... I don't think I consciously made the effort to say "Okay, I'm gonna be a manual therapist," but it just kept happening like that, and to a point... And I said "I need to go to school, I need to learn more, I need to figure out what I'm actually doing, what I need to be doing. I want the objective education." 


0:04:31.1 S1: I tend to think that a lot of massage therapists wonder if they can go back to school and further their education, whether it be exploring physical therapy or occupational therapy or acupuncture. Dr. Joi's decision to become a massage therapist was no less impactful and stressful to her career, her family and her future. 


0:04:51.0 DE: I will say this, it was a long way to get me to go to school, the first time I attempted to go to massage school, my two kids were young, and we discussed it as a family, and even though it was deep in my heart as a family, I took a step back and we decided that it wasn't a good time. I hurt from that later, I didn't know how much I wanted it, but it kept poking me and I said "Okay." So, the second time I tried to go back to school, I went through financial aid, the education, the orientation, I was like "Yes," only to find out when I first... The first day of class, school actually started an hour earlier than what I was originally told, and it was already a stretch for me to make it. I think I was driving almost an hour to get there, and I was just barely on time, so now it being an hour earlier, I couldn't make it. So, I had a conversation with my boss at the time, I said "Hey, I wanna do this thing. I wanna go to massage school." 


0:05:56.3 DE: And he just gave me the worst... If something smelled horribly bad phase ever. And he was like "You wanna do what?" And I was like "I wanna go to massage school." He just could not get it. Regardless, I said "I wanna go," I need to either... I told him I could come in on the weekend. I could come in an hour early. I could stay an hour... Whatever I needed to do, I would do to make it work. And he purposely told me no to every idea I had. And I remember him saying "If you want to go to school, you'll have to use your vacation." And he just glared at me and waited for my answer, and I took a minute and I nodded and I digested, and I said "Okay." And he said "Okay, what?" I said, "Okay, I guess I'm gonna exhaust my PTO 'cause I'm going to school." 


0:06:47.5 S1: And so she did. Dr. Joi took her vacation hours and followed her heart. 


0:06:53.4 DE: That was my third attempt at going to school, but it just kept... I can't even explain it, it just stayed on my brain and my heart and my soul, and I could not shake the fact that I needed... Like my soul needed to be in school. 


0:07:13.1 S1: So, having been to both physical therapy school and massage therapy school, I was curious to hear what Dr. Joi thought about the differences between the two, and if she thought that massage therapists should necessarily further their education or get more letters behind their name. 


0:07:31.6 DE: I don't think massage therapist necessarily need to aim to go to physical therapy school. I think for us as a family, as a massage family, I think that more research needs to be done. I think we are intuitively amazing, I think people that cannot even touch me, but that can feel that energy and tell me what's wrong. Oh my goodness. You can't really teach that. You know, and I think we as massage therapists, we just have it, whatever it is, we have it, but in order for the medical masses to realize just how awesome we are and we already know that we are, we have to show them objectively, and we have to do research to say "We think we're amazing, so we did this research study and guess what, we are amazing," but we need to do more evidence-based research in order to just propel our profession, I think forward. 


0:08:35.3 DE: Massage therapists are some of the most intelligent, grounded, educated people that I've ever met. I think you can teach almost anybody to be a good therapist, whether it's a physical therapist or a massage therapist, you can't teach being a good person, you just... You can't teach that and you have to be a good person to be able to be a good therapist, and I think as a whole, we just have it, I think massage therapists just have that. 


0:09:07.5 S1: While Dr. Joi is one of the few physical therapists who incorporate massage therapy approaches in her practice, she also implements the use of cups and cupping therapy, as a matter of fact, she not only uses cups, she teaches cupping therapy to practicing bodyworkers as well. How Dr. Joi stumbled into this modality is one of happenstance, advocacy and self-discovery. 


0:09:33.0 DE: So, I was working part-time as a physical therapist, I was working full-time, but then I had a part-time job too, the part-time job was because I just really liked working with my hands. After I became licensed as a physical therapist, it took me five years from there to get my specialization in orthopedic manual therapy, which is what chiropractors do, joint mobilizations, and so I took this part-time job because there was a woman, a physical therapist, she's amazing, that was only doing hands-on treatment, which 20 years ago was unheard of that anybody would do, just hands-on. And she had... I was amazed, she had built a successful practice just with hands-on treatments, and I was like, like it just blew my mind, and I wrote her a letter and I'm like "I don't know if you're even hiring, but I think you are dope. I need to get on and I need to be over there." And she was like "Come by and we'll talk," and so anyway, so she gave me the part-time job, and it was a weekend, and I was helping out, I was seeing a patient that wasn't my patient, I was just helping out. 


0:10:36.6 DE: And so, it was shortly Asian descent, a little bit broken English, so there was a bit of a language barrier. And I said "I read the chart," and we still had paper charts back then. I said "Okay, it's your back, I see what's going on." I said "Go ahead and disrobe. I'm gonna step out, and I'll come back," and she kinda says something "No, no, no," like I don't need to leave the room. But I had turned my back 'cause I was gonna walk out and she said "No," I had turned back around and she had already taken her top off, so her back was to me, and I stopped in my tracks and I was like... She was covered in bruises. Oh my God, these horrible bruises, and I'm pretty fresh out again, so this is earlier on in my career. And in PT school, they do say "You may have to be someone's advocate, you may have to fight for them, something may be going on," so I immediately put on my superwoman cape, and I'm like "Oh, she's being abused." And so I'm telling her, "No, no, no, we don't have to do the treatment, let's talk. I see there's something going on." 


0:11:42.1 DE: And again, her understanding of English is a little bit difficult, and I'm clearly just rambling, she waves me off and she's like "No, no, no." And I keep saying "No, you know, I can call a hotline, there are places that I can take you right now," and ultimately she tells me "It's cupping." I'm like "What? It's what?" And so she tells me a little bit about it, so enough that it pacifies me, but it intrigues me at the same time, so then I go home and I read on whatever this cupping thing is, and so I read about it. And again, I've always been interested in eastern medicine, one of my biggest goals is to go over for a few months and be able to just sample all of these beautiful, "alternative" treatments, but these eastern medicine treatments. So again, it spoke to my heart and I started... I think I bought my own cups and I started playing around with them, and then I have scoliosis and I've had it from childhood, and at the apex of my curve, I tend to get tension and pain there, and over the years, I've tried Tylenol and this rub or this exercise, or this brace and yada yada yada. And nothing really worked. 


0:12:54.8 DE: And then one year, after I got so heavy into the cupping, I was gifted a cupping session, and I went and it was just very unassuming. There was a wonderful person, she was barefoot and I thought, oh, okay. Because again, I'm kind of young, wet behind the ears. And I'm like "What's this cupping thing?" And she puts a couple of cups on me, takes them off, and I'm on the table like "Really? This is cupping. This is cupping?" And she takes the cups off and I stand up and I feel like the weight of the world has just dropped off of my shoulders and my back, and I'm like, I'm moving around, I'm like "No, it can't be." Like it was only what 30 minutes, it can't be. And I go home, days, weeks, months later, I still feel good, I feel the best I've ever felt from any treatment in my life. If I felt this good, I've got to learn how to do this so I can make other people feel like this. 


0:13:58.6 S1: If you follow Owlchemy Massage on social media, you can see Dr. Joi's love of cupping and how they seem to almost be an extension of her own hands. 


0:14:07.7 DE: I think because it's not forced for me, it's like, what can I do with it? It's like, I have cramps right now, well, where does it hurt, what do the cups do? Will they tend to increase blood flow? Or... Adhesion, and I put them on, and I mean, literally almost every day I am cupping myself or cupping a patient or cupping my family, like it is just part of me. 


0:14:28.9 S1: So, Dr. Joi is a physical therapist, a massage therapist, a cupping therapist, and the name of her business is as unique as she is. 


0:14:37.8 DE: My mom still says alchemy. Isn't it alchemy? I'm like "No, mom." And she's like "Oh," she just laughs. I think she's doing it on purpose now, she just laughs every single time. So, alchemy, A-L alchemy is in short, the magical transformation of dot dot dot. When I sat and I thought about, again, what we as a whole do, people, clients come to us in some way, shape or form broken, a broken form of themselves, and we intuitively, and I think compassionately help to put them back together and magically transform them into a better state than they came in before. And so at some point I knew I wanted to transition from being strictly in the clinic to either education, books... Something revolving around education though. And so an owl to me stands for wisdom and learning. And I think, again, going back to how I just honestly feel about massage therapists, that there's just an intuition and a soul and an openness that is almost out of this world to me, and so changing it and putting the O-W-L on, was for all of that. So, Owlchemy Massage. 


0:16:17.4 S1: In all of the faces and facets of what she does, Dr. Joi's own wisdom is deeply rooted in her love of the healing arts. 


0:16:28.1 DE: Life to me is just so beautiful. When I sit and I think about it, like the fact that I'm even here, I'm just so grateful that I was chosen to be here. And I think for me, life is happy and I just... It sounds cliche, I just want people to be happy. And so when you talk about "I had a knee replacement and it hurts obviously, or broke this or rotator cuff that." It's not the pain. For me, it's not the pain, that's the thing, it's not... Well, they walk funny, it's, that person cannot squat down to pick up their two-year-old, their new grand baby, or they can't walk with their husband anymore because of the pain. So, my favorite part about what we do is improving the lives of other people, improving the quality of life and getting them closer to happiness, because for me, that's what it's about. If I'm hurting and I'm unhappy, I am not the best mother for my children, I am not the best spouse, I am not the best child, I am in a whole different realm of crappiness, and that cycle mentally and physically, well, it just is vicious. 


0:17:47.0 DE: And so my favorite part about what we do is that we make people inside, outside holistically, feel better and we definitely improve their life, that is my most happy point ever. I would have never guessed that I would have the platform that I do now, but for me, I had posted something the other day, and it was a little bit of slang, but it was like the flex for me, so the power, the benefit isn't that I'm a good massage therapist or that I'm a great massage therapist. Is that... Or it was specifically about cupping, but it's about the people that come in my class, they now are the dopest cupping therapists ever. And for me, I just love that I'm a conduit, I can teach them these things that they didn't know before, and then they can go and cup these clients and improve their qualities of life. So, to me, it's just that holistic totality of it all that we are actually improving lives, and it just makes me so, so happy. I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be. This is my calling. 


0:18:55.7 S1: And if all of this wasn't enough, Dr. Joi teaches dissection labs as well. Having co-presented with her at the ABMP Fascia Summit, I knew she was a good teacher. This, it is clear to me is the perfect piece to fit in the Owlchemy Massage business umbrella. 


0:19:13.0 DE: So, in PT school, we had the complete year of cadaver anatomy, and after I graduated, once I was on the floor and working, when I would try to think about the quadricep muscle or the rectus femoris, I immediately went back to what I saw in the cadaver lab, as opposed to what I saw in a book. The cadaver lab was just a lot more tangible for me, the concepts, the palpation, remembering the thickness, the Fascia, what else moved? And so that helped me, I think, so much after I graduated, and again, when we talk about massage therapy and we know that we're awesome, do I think that we need all of this, go back to school, higher learning? No, not necessarily, but I think that classes like cadaver anatomy are so beneficial to us, and I sat and I thought about it, and really I just said, I want to be able to bring this to us. So, when I market, I market to massage therapists. Other people are welcome to come, but to me, I wanted to bring that just because I thought it was just so beneficial for me that other people would get that same benefit from it and maybe have not had that opportunity in the past. And so it was a big thing for me to be able to say "Okay, let's do this." 


0:20:38.7 S1: And now with all of this experience and wisdom and passion for the craft under her belt, I asked Dr. Joi, what advice she might offer herself as a new therapist. 


0:20:49.9 DE: Be yourself, be yourself. And it's okay not to know. I feel like in physical therapy, and this is again just my personal opinion, that in physical therapy, there is a bigger... Almost disconnect [0:21:05.5] ____ that says, we have to know these things. We have to know everything because we're doctors, you know, and I have these initials, and so I can't let Allison know that I don't know this, so I'm gonna act like I know it, even if I don't know it. I'm going to treat this patient and say that they're better because I can't let Allison know that I don't know this part, and maybe this patient would benefit from seeing someone else. 


0:21:32.6 DE: And so I feel like, I would tell my younger self "You don't have to conform to that school of thought that the most intelligent person in the room is the one that admits that they don't know and they're willing to learn." And I think sometimes you become a product of your environment, even if it's unwillingly, I think I didn't become that person to say "Well, you know, I know this," and I didn't try to fake the funk, but I didn't willingly ask questions to things that I did not know, I would just go and study on my own. Whereas I think there's just a lot to be learned from people around you that have done these things, but the ego sometimes gets in the way of a lot of things. 


0:22:16.6 S1: Dr. Joi Edwards has clearly set aside her own ego and wanders curiously and passionately through the world of soft tissue manipulation. Her determination to hear what the body is telling us is one that continues to drive her practice and her teachings. If there is anything we can glean from her journey, it is the magical idea that there is always more to know. 


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