Even as an experienced MT, it’s easy to forget proper body mechanics—although they are key to giving an excellent massage as well as protecting your own body from injury.
The images shown in this article depict an incorrect way, and then the correct way to position your body while giving a massage. I’ll also talk about things like protecting your thumbs, using your forearms, and not putting too much pressure on your lower back.
Proper body mechanics begin with your massage table — so we’ll start there.
Set the Right Table Height
If you know your clients and their needs, you want to make sure your table height will optimize the sessions. If it’s someone who needs some deeper work, you might want to adjust it a little lower than normal.
However, my perspective is that we always have the table at a height where we’re not going to be leaning over the clients so much. In other words, adjust it so that your shoulders are resting, and that when you’re applying pressure you can use the entire force of your body, not just your shoulders.
This will allow you to use your entire body, as opposed to just your arms, your wrists and your shoulders, which is typical of most massage therapists — they forget that they can use their entire body to put pressure into their work. I find typically that students set their tables too low. Then what happens is they’re really not using their entire body.
The other thing that is very important for body mechanics is the proper use of leverage. When you’re setting the table, you want to make sure you are able to place both feet very comfortably in a position where you can use your entire body. Test to see what height is going to be good for you.
Watch Your Back
Massage therapists want to do a wonderful job. And when they put their earnest effort into either a site-specific massage or just in general, applying effort to the spine, I see that the lower back is usually the place where they have the biggest problem.
That’s because therapists usually position the table too low; they’re trying to put a lot of pressure into the work. And as a result of that, it’s a natural tendency that we have to lean over and place more focus where we can gain the strength, which is our lower back; using the lower back in this way wears it out. Use the whole body.
Protect Your Shoulders
The shoulders are also an area of concern for massage therapists, because what happens is they tend to use the shoulders and the elbow, the muscles in the arms and wrists and hands, as opposed to allowing the body to create the pressure they need. They use too much of their shoulders, which affects their neck and their spine.
The most common problem I see with students is neck and shoulder issues, because they’re trying their best to get over the site-specific area, using their body over the client’s body in a way that is not in line with proper body dynamics. They’re not using their entire body, and they tend to forget that that’s a very important tool.
Use Your Forearms
The forearms are really wonderful when you’re using a gliding technique along the erector spinae group, certainly the shoulders. Gliding is a very wonderful fascia technique; it should work with light pressure and slow movements. The fascia releases even more than with deep pressure, because the fascia really holds the muscle, and when fascia goes into a state of relaxation and starts releasing, the muscles will release in a deeper way.
And About Those Thumbs …
The thumb is a great tool for massage; nothing could ever replace the quality of hands in massage. A lot of times massage therapists will try to use a lot of thumb, just one posture. And what happens is they usually use the tip of the thumb.
The goal is to alternate: You can use the tip of the thumb, but then you want to try to also use the knuckle of the thumb. And then also the side of the thumb, which has a really nice gliding site-specific type of traction that’s very good. Allow your thoughts to guide the pressure.
Stretch Before, After and While You Work
Proper body mechanics should always include some form of stretching for the massage therapist while they’re doing the massage. They could be working on the shoulder area and also stretching the back of their leg. You can always find a way of stretching an arm, or a spot, or lower back, or the leg area, or the foot.
What I like to do is if I’m working on someone, maybe I’m working on their calf, I’ll be standing in a proper position to let the energy flow into the massage and into my body. And I will open my toes, close my toes, stretch my calf by placing my heel down a little bit more while I’m doing the work. You’re not taking away from your client by doing a little stretching while you’re doing your work.
Also, it’s really important for some stretching to be part of your regimen, both before the day starts and after.
About the Author:
Billie Topa Tate is the founder of MSI Wellness Center in Evanston, Illinois. She has maintained a successful practice for over 20 years and is an eighth Degree Reiki Master Teacher, certified massage therapist, cranial sacral graduate, meditation teacher and Native Elder – Mescalero Apache.