Danielle Portinga tells me how she left the mortgage world, forged new ground in therapeutic bodywork, and her love of dog sledding.

Danielle and I decided to have lunch with our meeting, and the Red Robin off 694 and Lexington Avenue seemed like the perfect spot. After our food was ordered and the table suitably rearranged to fit my laptop, we easily fell into conversation.

Essentially Massage is different than almost every type of massage and physical therapy clinic because Danielle combines multiple techniques to help clients heal. “We’re not a spa,” Danielle explained. “We’re in-between chiropractic and physical therapy. Physical therapists teach people how to strengthen muscles, but they aren’t able to do hands-on working with the body. Chiropractic’s goal is to work on joints and alignment with a focus on small lever muscles while we focus on a greater variety of musculoskeletal groupings.  Physical therapy and chiropractic care are both important. We help with the in-between to make both more effective.”

I was immediately intrigued and began asking more questions. What was Danielle’s background? What compelled her to combine so many techniques? “I was a physical therapist dropout,” she laughed, “Because I saw there was a gap in care for people that had muscle injuries and patients who aren’t able to see a physical therapist without a prescription. The goal of physical therapy is to teach people and get them on their way. That being said, if an issue comes up again, they have to start over and go through the whole process with their doctor.”

Impressively, Danielle also went to school for massage therapy, but it was always a stepping stone to further her education and learn new techniques. The freedom Danielle has in her practice allows her to pinpoint the issue and find the best course of action. I shared a story about my husband’s back troubles when we were first married. He had sciatica, which is when the nerve from your back going down your leg is pinched, causing sharp, shooting pain. He had two bulged discs. We went to the chiropractor, acupuncturist, and physical therapist. Nothing was working, and it was starting to look like extensive surgery with metal plates. In a last-ditch effort, my husband saw a massage therapist in Northeast Minneapolis, who declared the problem wasn’t bulged discs, but piriformis syndrome, a different medical issue that can also produce sciatica. Two sessions later my husband was 90 percent better, off Vicodin, and essentially back to his old self.

Danielle nodded thoughtfully. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do something beyond physical therapy. They can’t diagnose, so if the therapy the doctor prescribed isn’t working, there isn’t much to be done. Again, physical therapy is really important, but as you’ve just said, sometimes it isn’t the solution.”

The process at Essentially Massage can vary due to the wide range of tools at the disposal of Danielle and Katie (her other therapist), but a client’s first session includes muscle testing, postural assessment, range of motion test, determining if there is scar tissue, and anything else that might be needed. Once Danielle determines the problem, she decides on what treatment would be best. “We also use deep tissue massage,” Danielle said, “But we use slow velocity, slow pressure that allows the body to relax enough. Our clients leave and they’re fine. They feel tired like they’ve exercised, but not beat up.”

I asked her if there were any stories she could share about clients who’ve seen improvements. She smiled and nodded her head. “We’ve had multiple people scheduled for carpal tunnel surgery and then after a couple of sessions, they were able to cancel. We’ve seen a lot of patients for fibromyalgia and they forget why they are coming in and it’s because we’re working on range of motion. We never tell people to stop taking their medication, but sometimes people feel like they’re able to because their pain has decreased or improved and they are able to reduce their need for pain management medications under the care of their doctor. We work with people who’ve been in car accidents and can’t get out of bed. And after a while, they’re able to go back to work and get a cup of water. That’s why I do this type of therapy.”

With tangible results, personal care, and a unique approach, I understood why Danielle has such a successful business. It didn’t surprise me to learn Danielle started her business because nobody was offering the care she wanted to give. I was surprised to learn that after dropping out of physical therapy, she entered the mortgage industry, on a dare no less.

“I was a loan officer during the time of Denny Hecker,” she began. “It was during the boom, before 9/11, and it was very different. After that, everything changed, and it was not ethically something I wanted to be a part of anymore, and I wanted to get out.”

Curious, I asked if she was referring to the corrupt dealings that lead to the housing market crash in 2008. “Part of it. There was this idea that ‘everybody deserves a home’ but the problem is, not everybody can afford a home. It used to be that we’d sit down with a client and explain what debts they needed to pay off and then they’d be like, ‘Okay great. I’ll be back.’ But instead, it was the instant gratification. There were no checks to see if people’s incomes were what they said, and people were opening up brokerages in their basements. You didn’t have to be certified.”

My eyes widened. It seemed absurd to think about, and seeing my expression, Danielle continued. “I wanted to be in a field where people were held to an ethical standard and help others with their health.”

I nodded, deeply appreciating Danielle’s strong moral code, and thinking how her clients were in good hands because they worked with someone who had high integrity. Shifting gears, I asked Danielle to tell me how she likes to spend her free time. “I have two daughters, a 14 and a 17-year-old, and we like to go on adventures. I bring my youngest to do dog sledding, rock climbing and kayaking. I went to college in Duluth and got into dog sledding with the outdoor adventure club. You’ve got this nice buildup of chaos. The dogs are barking, impatient, but as soon as they take off it’s silent and they’re happy as can be.”

I was amazed because I never met anyone who’d gone dog sledding before. Do Danielle and her daughter do competitions? “No competitions,” Danielle said, “but we did meet a woman who’s done the Iditarod 17 times. There’s the junior version which is only 187 miles,” she said with a knowing look, “And she said my daughter should start training. I’m like, ‘Nooo! I don’t’ want her to get eaten by a polar bear!’” We both laughed.

“We go a few times a year and then go up in the summer to work with the dogs. You feed them, water them, practice putting on the harness, exercise them. There are about 30 dogs. If I’m not working, I’m probably up north.” When I asked if she would ever want to move up north, Danielle said, “Absolutely! But I’m not sure I know what I’d do up there. I certainly can’t have a practice.”

Typically, the dogs Danielle and her younger daughter do about ten miles a day, working and pulling. Danielle said, “I remember the first time I brought my daughter up and she’s like, ‘I’m not going to have fun.’ But we drove down the tree-lined dirt road, and as soon as she saw the dogs she said, ‘Oh. They love it.’”

Adventuring up north sounded like a lot of fun so I asked if there were any other activities they like to do. “We’ve done hatchet throwing,” Danielle said. “If it looks like fun and mildly safe, we’ll try it.”

We spent some more time chatting about her daughters and their interests as we casually ate some fries, until I looked down at the clock and realized we were over time. While we waited for the check to come, I asked Danielle what her thoughts were for the future of her business. “Eventually, I’d love to find another therapist open to learning new techniques,” she said without having to think. “I want to create a new program for our clients that we can work with them in health, personal training and massage all at once. I don’t want ten therapists, but it would be great to have four amazing therapists. Possibly add a location. But the business is what I want to be,” she said satisfied. “I leave my work at work, and love what I do. I will say that the MetroNorth Chamber was one of the best decisions for my business. I met some awesome physical therapists and chiropractors, and I get to work directly with other great people.”

If you’d like to contact Danielle you may do so by calling 763-528-8557 or to schedule appointment, you can use their handy online scheduling system by clicking here.