High-Tech Relief

MAUREEN SCHUMACHER'S HANDS HURT. NO wonder—as a busy executive and member of today's tech-obsessed generation, she's constantly tapping her fingers on her computer keyboard, laptop, Blackberry, iPod, and cell phone. "My hands are overworked," she says. As director of LeSpa, the new spa at the Sofitel Los Angeles, Schumacher saw opportunity in those achy fingers and introduced a "Taming Technology" treatment, which includes a 15-minute hand massage plus manicure. "We stretch the hands, fingers, and wrists, and we massage the palms, extending up the forearm," Schumacher says. The price is $15 more than the regular manicure.

As a hotel that caters to business travelers, Sofitel attracts its share of guests who, like Schumacher, suffer not only from overworked hands but also other new millennium maladies like "Blackberry Thumb" and "Tech Neck." The names of these 21st-century workplace woes may sound sci-fi-flippant—or like something from a teenager's video game. But the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand pain caused by spending hours balancing a cell phone against the ear, hunching over a laptop, or typing on a keyboard are real, and spas are the natural place to seek relief.

 Modern technology can cause soreness and stress in fingers, hands, and wrists, creating a stress-relieving niche for spas.
Modern technology can cause soreness and stress in fingers, hands, and wrists, creating a stress-relieving niche for spas.

Treatments for Techies

Treatments for this new generation are often relatively short (typically fewer than 30 minutes) and are usually geared to on-the-go guests, targeted to specific areas rather than the entire body, and dubbed with cute and catchy names. Services to relieve the newly discovered but apparently widespread ailment called "Blackberry Thumb" are especially rampant. For example, Pure spas at Hyatt hotels around the U.S. feature the Blackberry Balm Hand Massage ($80, 30 minutes) with natural blackberry powder, while the Ritz-Carlton Spa at Amelia Island (FL) offers guests the Berry Friendly Hand Massage ($50, 30 minutes). The Berry Thumb Conditioning ($65, 30 minutes) at The Spa at Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, AZ, includes thumb exercises and stretches. Hashani Spa at Starr Pass Resort in Tucson offers a Berry Break Massage ($65, 30 minutes) that incorporates warm towels infused with blackberry scents and blackberry tea. The latter treatment is also offered to small groups near the hotel's meeting room.

But thumbs aren't the only body part to feel occupational pain. LeSpa's Stiletto Pedicure ($75, 60 minutes) includes an additional 15 minutes of heavenly foot rubs and scrubs. Spa Marquis at Marquis Reforma, a high-end business hotel in Mexico City, offers a Power-Point Massage ($98, 50 minutes) that concentrates on back, neck, and shoulders, as well as the Carpal Tunnel Massage ($65, 20 minutes), a hand treatment that targets pressure points. At Habitude, a Seattle day spa, clients opt for the spa's signature Neck Relief massage ($58, 30 minutes), which also concentrates on the shoulders, arms, and back. "A large majority of our massage clients come in with inflammation around the shoulder blades and complain of chronic neck pain," says spa director Edie Huerberg.

With almost a quarter of its clients working at nearby Microsoft, Paule Attar Salon and Spa in Seattle caters to people who spend much of their time staring at a computer monitor. Among its treatments are a High-Tech Massage ($77, 60 minutes) and Mouse-Pinky Hand Treatment ($38, 45 minutes), which includes a manicure. Interestingly, according to the spa menu descriptions, these treatments are identical to the traditional hot-stone massage and deluxe manicure—only the names are different. Yet, since introducing the tech versions, the spa has seen an increase in lunchtime clientele, and the number of male clients has increased from 20 to 28 percent, says owner Heinz Mikulka.

At the new Golden Door Spa at Naples Grande Resort & Club in Naples, FL, spa director Robert Vance has introduced Weary Hands Rejoice ($115, 50 minutes). "This treatment includes a combination of stretching, massaging, and pampering—not only for your hands, which do most of the work, but also your arms, shoulders, and neck, which also feel the pain," Vance says. The spa also offers Clear My Head ($75, 24 minutes), designed as an add-on treatment, which is a head-and-scalp massage for workplace stress. "It stimulates circulation, frees the mind of tension, and eases discomfort from the cacophony of digital demands," says Vance. "It also helps promote hair growth, to replace the hair that clients have been pulling out over the week."

Not Just For Geeks

Because such treatments are geared to a particular group of spa-goers, Vance compares them to maternity massages. But high-tech treatments appeal to a much wider clientele. "It is important to ensure that guests don't consider them as something just for business professionals," he says. "Our challenge is to not market the treatments to a single demographic. The benefits resonate with anyone who spends part of his or her day checking email, responding to correspondence on their Blackberry, navigating their music collection on an MP3 player, or just playing video games."

But business travelers remain the raison d'etre and primary focus, which means they represent a prime opportunity for hotel and resort spas that cater to incentive groups, conventions, sales groups, or meeting-goers. It's smart to display treatment descriptions on cards in guestrooms or in information packages that travelers receive upon check in. "I highlight our high-tech treatments, as well as our men's facial and neck-and-shoulder massage, on a sample 'teaser' menu or in a personal letter that I distribute to meeting planners," Schumacher says. "Or I may place a note in the room, highlighting our treatments for business travelers. By offering these services, we can better connect with our guests. They feel we understand them and what ails them, and they see that our spa keeps up with the times and adapts to suit their lifestyle." Maryann Hammers

Maryann Hammers is a Los Angeles-based travel writer. The former editor-in-chief of Spa magazine, she has written for a variety of publications, including Fitness, the Los Angeles Times, Pilates Style, Shape, and Town & Country.