A deep-pressure glide stroke feels great to the person on the table; however, for the massage therapist, gliding with palms can hurt wrists and gliding with forearms can stress shoulders. Fortunately, there’s a way to glide with minimal impact to both wrists and shoulders.
For a significant part of my 30-year career as a massage therapist I was able to glide with my forearms even though I had shoulder issues. Eventually though, my shoulder issues caught up with me, and I needed to find a new way to do massage.
I found the answer in a massage tool.
Lean to Generate Force
The first change I made was to replace gliding with forearms with gliding with fists. Next, I lowered my table. The lower table allowed me to transfer my body weight onto the client and, thus, use my body weight to generate force. The lower table also allowed me to keep my shoulder, elbow and wrist joints in alignment as I leaned. When I massaged this way, there was no pain in my shoulder joints.
Leaning with arm joints in alignment worked well when I was applying static pressure, but when I started to glide, I felt the shoulder pain again. Why? During the long stroke I was reaching. That meant that my wrists, elbows and shoulders were no longer in alignment as I leaned.
Short Stroke Massage
I fixed this problem by stopping my glide stroke just before my arm joints were no longer in alignment. Then I took small steps until I was in a good position (wrists, elbows and shoulders in alignment) to start the stroke again. I would continue with this short stroke technique for the entire length of the stroke.
With some practice, the short stroke technique became second nature and my shoulders felt great; however, there was one more challenge with using my fists to glide: They were too big to glide between the scapula and spine. To address this problem, I experimented with different hand configurations. Eventually, I found a couple that fit nicely in the scapula-spine pass, like double-knuckles.
I really liked gliding with the double-knuckles through the scapula-spine pass, but I wanted even more precision—and that’s when I reached for a massage tool called the round-tip L-bar.
Round-Tip L-Bar Glide
I was introduced to the round-tip T-bar when I was training to be a neuromuscular therapist. It’s an excellent tool when working over clothing because the round plastic tip easily slides across fabric. I used this tool a lot when doing chair massage.
I also used the round-tip L-bar when doing skin-to-skin massage, but on a limited basis because I’d grip the L-bar tightly when applying deep pressure, and that hurt my hand.
Why would I grip the round-tip L-bar tightly?
Think about using a screwdriver. The harder the screw is to turn, the tighter you grip the screwdriver. The same is true when you need to ratchet up the pressure with a massage tool. To keep the tool upright and stable, you naturally tighten your grip.
But I had changed my massage style from then and when I leaned into the massage tool, like how I leaned into my fists, the massage tool stayed upright because it was pinned between my hand and the tissue I was working on.
I added a guide finger (or thumb, knuckle or fist) next to the tip of the massage tool. That massage tool wasn’t going anywhere. Now I could relax my tool-holding hand as I glided the round-tip L-bar through the scapula-spine pass with all the focused pressure I could ever want.
At this point, if you’re wondering if a low table is a requisite to gliding with a round-tip L-bar, the answer is no. As long as you can pin the massage tool with minimal strain to your upper body, you’re good to go.
Here are my favorite round-tip L-bar glides:
• To glide with precise pressure in the lamina groove, first use your guide finger (I use a thumb) to find the spinous processes of the vertebrae.
• Place the round-tip of the L-bar next to the spinous processes in the lamina groove. Start gliding.
• You can use your guide finger to palpate the spinous processes so that you don’t bump up against them.
• If you find an area that you want to apply ischemic compression, just stop and lean.
• If you come to an area where you want broad pressure, use a loose fist as your guide finger and lean more into your loose fist than the massage tool.
The round-tip L-bar is not reserved for just the back. You can use it everywhere on the body.
• When the client is prone, pick a side and stand at the client’s feet.
• Place the round-tip L-bar at the bottom of the calf just above the Achilles.
• Next, start to glide up. Pay attention to your body weight. If you lean with all your body weight into the calf, it’s probably going to be too much pressure. To regulate your pressure, lean some of your body weight into the table.
• If you’re working on someone who uses her hands for a living, you’re going to want to try the forearm glide with the round-tip L-bar. Just like with the back, you can be as precise or general as you like by simply changing your guide finger.
• For precise gliding when the client is prone, put your thumb next to the tip of the round-tip L-bar and start gliding from just above the wrist to the top of the forearm. You won’t need all of your body weight to do this glide; in fact, lean most of your body weight into the table, then gradually direct more of your body weight into the massage tool while monitoring your client’s reaction.
• For a broader glide, use a fist instead of a thumb for your guide finger.
If you want to save your thumbs when working feet, the round-tip L-bar is your answer.
• While the client is supine (or prone) place the round-tip L-bar in the arch of the foot. Keep a thumb next to the round tip and start gliding.
• If you’re sitting, lean in using the weight of your torso to apply force.
• If you’re standing, try putting a knee on the table to support your arm. This will take the strain out of your upper body.
I’m Not the Only One
Recently, I was teaching a massage tools class. I asked the massage therapists which massage tool they liked best. The round-tip L-bar was the winner, hands-down. Weeks later I asked one of the massage therapists how she was doing with the round-tip L-bar. She said, “Great. It’s a game-changer.”
I knew exactly what she meant. She could now take this massage tool into any massage and glide with precise or broad pressure at any pressure request or requirement effectively and effortlessly. In other words, she could make more money by seeing more clients, without hurting her body or putting herself in pain.
Round-Tip L-Bar Gliding in a Nutshell
To get competent with a round-tip L-bar takes some practice and some basic instruction.
• First, put a guide finger (thumb, knuckles, fist) next to the massage tool to stabilize it.
• Then lean into the massage tool to apply force. If you want to apply less pressure with the massage tool, direct some of your body weight into the table.
• To glide, take small steps so that your arm joints are aligned.
• If you’re sitting when gliding, lean in with your torso to generate force.
Learn how to use the round-tip L-bar and you’ll be able to do more massages without trashing your body. As you experiment, you’ll come up with your own glides.
About the Author
Mark Liskey is a massage therapist, massage CE provider and author of “The Pain-Free Massage Therapist,” a body-mechanics strategies and techniques book for eliminating pain in the massage room and extending massage careers. You can access free, instructional body-mechanics videos at painfreemassagetherapist.com. Read his article, “Stacked Vs. Unstacked Joints: The Body Mechanics Study that Matters.”