Many aspects of kinesiology for massage therapists are inherent and many massage techniques are ultimately designed to restore movement.

Movement is all around us and is an integral part of life.

Kinesiology is defined as the study of human movement from the viewpoint of the physical sciences.

The term is derived from the Greek words kinesis, which means movement, and kinein, which means to move.

Kinesiology’s focus is on science-based principles in order to understand how and why movement occurs and the factors that can limit or enhance people’s ability to move.

Kinesiology is often confused with biomechanics, which is defined as the application of mechanical principles to living organisms.

In actuality, kinesiology is an umbrella term that encompasses various disciplines including biomechanics and other areas of study, such as exercise physiology, motor behavior, sport psychology and adapted physical education.

Applied kinesiology

There is another application of the term kinesiology, which is utilized in the modality called applied kinesiology.

This system utilizes manual muscle testing to evaluate structural, chemical and mental aspects of health.

The modality arose from the chiropractic profession in 1964 when chiropractor George J. Goodheart, Jr. noticed that the muscles that did not meet the demands of a muscle test did not have a congenital or pathologic abnormality, but instead had a postural distortion.

These manual muscle tests can also be used to evaluate an organ or organ system through a relationship between a specific acupuncture meridian or energy pathway and that organ or system.

Before we continue, we need to clarify which approach we are going to take.

The information discussed in the remainder of this article will focus on the approach from the physical sciences perspective and, more specifically, equating it to movement within the musculoskeletal system.

(We will not discuss the applied kinesiology approach.)

Massage and movement

Movement and massage therapy go together naturally.

When we look at the roots of massage therapy, we find that the combination of massage techniques is ultimately designed to create, enhance or restore the movement within various systems of the body.

Many aspects of the incorporation of kinesiology for massage therapists are inherent in our massage education.

We are taught to use certain strokes to release the tissue in order to enhance movement.

We learned the origins, insertions and actions of the laundry list of muscles that we received in our first term of school.

By understanding them, we were able to look at the body from the perspective of movement and how it was supposed to move and what structures might be involved when it didn’t.

There are two main areas where we will utilize kinesiology and massage therapy: assessment and session enhancement.

Assessment

The first area is during the assessment of the client. Some of these assessments may have been part of our original schooling, such as range of motion, postural analysis, manual muscle testing and orthopedic assessments.

Having a command on utilizing these tools will give us valuable information on the movement patterns and any movement restrictions a client may be experiencing along with which muscles may be involved.

One system of movement analysis that is becoming more popular in the massage profession as an assessment tool is the Functional Movement Screen.

The Functional Movement Screen was developed by physical therapist Gray Cook and athletic trainer Lee Burton, PhD., for the purpose of applying a simple grading system to basic movement patterns in order to identify functional limitations and asymmetries.

The Functional Movement Screen consists of a series of seven tests that require a balance of mobility and stability:

  • Deep squat
  • Hurdle step
  • In-line lunge
  • Shoulder mobility
  • Active straight-leg raise
  • Trunk stability push-up
  • Rotary stability

These seven tests represent fundamental movement patterns and are designed to create an observable measurement of basic motor and stabilizing movements to help identify when clients are using compensatory patterns during their normal activities.

This system of movement assessment was developed for and is primarily used in the athletic and rehabilitation setting by physical therapists, athletic trainers and strength coaches.

In identifying weaknesses in movement patterns, specific exercises can be given to correct the imbalances.

Since massage therapists do not prescribe exercise, how is this tool useful to us?

Remember, muscle weakness can stem from more than just a lack of strength in the muscle.

The presence of trigger points in the muscle can cause an increase in tension, along with inhibiting the neurological activity of that muscle.

Fascial restrictions can lead to limited range of motion and adaptive shortening.

By recognizing the asymmetries in these basic movements, we can relate them back to which muscles and fascial patterns are involved, allowing us to address the dysfunction from a soft-tissue standpoint.

Once we have performed our assessment of the client, we can also incorporate kinesiology to enhance our treatment.

The question may arise, “How does incorporating movement enhance effectiveness?”

The main principle deals with movement re-education.

When pain occurs in the body, the brain eventually shuts off communication with the affected area to avoid the sensation; however, the faulty movement patterns, because of the original dysfunction, remain.

When communication is restored through massage and movement, the muscle function will return to normal and the dysfunction will be removed.

There are additional benefits to incorporating movement.

Shortening a muscle during a stroke can help desensitize a trigger point or reduce the tension-related restriction that occurs when it is lengthened.

When incorporated into fascial work, heat is generated internally and externally, helping the matrix change to a fluid state faster.

Active movement can also enhance the lengthening and broadening phase of contraction.

Finally, pressure penetrates deeper because the density of the tissue increases due to the contraction of the muscle.

Therapeutic purpose

The beauty of incorporating kinesiology is it is not an all-or-nothing discipline.

Depending on your comfort level, you can start slow by adding such things as a range-of-motion assessment to your initial intake, as well as other techniques, such as the orthopedic assessments and Functional Movement Screen, as your confidence grows.

As far as using movement during massage, the easiest way to incorporate it is to add some techniques each session.

Apply them to a few of the muscles you identified in the assessment and find out what works and what doesn’t.

While movement can and sometimes is incorporated into various types of massage, it would primarily be a technique that is utilized on a clientele that has some sort of pain, lack of movement or specific soft-tissue concern.

With this type of work, the client is often active and will be in more than just the standard one or two positions.

When movement is used, the strokes tend to take on more of a therapeutic purpose than you may find in a relaxation massage, and the intent takes a different focus.

Client benefits

No matter what new skill you become trained in, it will not be useful unless you are able to incorporate it into your practice.

To inform of this new skill, first and foremost you need to be able to clearly and concisely convey the message of why you are doing this and what the benefits are to the client.

With existing clients, literature around the office about this approach can be a good conversation starter.

You may offer free assessments to your current clients, with the idea they will spread the word and refer new clients to you.

It will also allow them to see improvements, reinforcing that they should receive regular bodywork. Mail outs, either paper or electronic, are a good method to spread the word effectively.

It will be easier to incorporate the hands-on techniques because you can just begin to add them to your treatment.

Depending on what type of work the client already receives, there may be some education that is necessary before they are added.

For new clientele, an effective way to educate them on this approach to massage is to give presentations at everything from health fairs and trade shows to service organization meetings to fitness centers.

Incorporate demonstrations to give the audience a better idea of the techniques used and their benefit.

Utilizing advertising that directs potential clients to a website where detailed information is available is also an effective technique.

Packages that include an assessment are a nice option for both existing and new clientele and will also show them the benefits of regular massage work.

Hopefully this article has given you some insight into how kinesiology is an integral part of massage and some new avenues you can take to incorporate into practice.

About the Author

Steven Jurch, ATC, LMT, has more than 17 years of experience as a massage therapist and athletic trainer. He is director of massage therapy for the Women’s Tennis Association and has worked in professional and international sports as well as the clinical setting. He wrote the textbook, Clinical Massage Therapy: Assessment and Treatment of Orthopedic Conditions, and teaches continuing education through Cortiva Institute.

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