Massage therapy as a profession can be brutal on the joints of your arms and hands, especially your fingers, thumbs and elbows; these joints usually suffer the most abuse.
If you have pain and dysfunction in these areas, excessive joint compression can be a factor—but most often the cause of problems is simple: chronically overused and over-tight arm muscles that pull on where their tendons attach at these joints, causing inflammation (tendinitis) and functional misalignment.
When your arms and hands don’t work, you don’t work.
Massage Therapists in Pain
When I worked as a sports massage therapist, my lack of a daily maintenance routine stunted my career and limited my effectiveness. By the time the pain in my arms and joints became obvious, the latent, building tension already had been there for months. Silly me for thinking I was somehow immune.
Just because your muscles don’t obviously hurt yet doesn’t mean they aren’t already tight and restricted with under-the-radar tension and limited range of motion. That’s the downside of being a hands-on therapist and also the irony—your own muscles get tight while you provide relief to your clients’ tight muscles.
Daily Maintenance for Arms and Hands
If you use your arms and hands every day, you need maintenance every day to get back full range of motion. Just as brushing your teeth daily is virtually mandatory for good oral health, it’s best to have a daily maintenance routine to regain range of motion in your arm muscles, simply and easily.
How can you deliver an effective self-care technique without fatiguing yourself or taking the time and expense of going to another massage therapist for relief?
Here’s my suggestion for do-it-yourself arm and hand massage—without special tools.
You need two things to successfully maintain arm muscle range of motion: the right technique, and a tool to apply that technique easily and efficiently without fatiguing the hand and arm that do the applying.
This technique I suggest has many names, depending on what therapeutic discipline you may have trained in; it is widely regarded as one of the best for relieving the muscle fiber and fascial adhesions that limit range of motion. You can call it Myofascial Release, Trigger-Point Therapy, Active Release, Pin (or Tack) and Stretch, and several others.
No matter the name, they all have this in common: finding the sore (trigger) spot, holding pressure on the sore spot, then slowly and fully stretching the muscle that has the sore spot while maintaining pressure—all while maintaining a level of pressure that feels like useful pain or a hurts good sensation.
Now that we’ve established the technique, time to describe the tool. You’ll save wear and tear on your applying hand and fingers if you can amplify your efforts with a tool.
Let’s use a simple found object as our tool; it can be anything that has heft, weight and mass; has a slightly pointed aspect as well as a rounded feature; and can fit into your hand easily.
I find that a tennis, lacrosse or golf ball just doesn’t have the heft and mass to easily put pressure on those trigger points, so I prefer to use a small, 2-pound dumbbell, a rounded rock, a large food can—anything that offers pressure through its weight and mass instead of requiring you to exert muscle pressure onto the spot with your upper body.
Roll It Out
Here’s how to use your simple tool for arm and hand self-care:
- Place your forearm on the edge of a table, allowing your hand to drape over the edge so you can stretch the muscles in your arm by moving your hand at the wrist.
- Using your other hand, roll your tool slowly and gently over your forearm muscles, looking for those pesky trigger points; then apply the myofascial technique described above—find a sore spot, put pressure on it and stretch the muscle that has the soreness.
- Find sore spots anywhere from your thumb to your upper arms and apply the same technique.
A few minutes of arm and hand maintenance per day will make all the difference in the quality and length of your career.
Terry Cross is a holistic health practitioner and founder of The Armaid Company, which manufactures the Armaid self-care tool he invented. He also invented the Rolflex self-care tool. Cross’ company operates out of DownEast Maine; he invites those traveling to coastal Maine to come and visit.