Massage therapists often use force, or additional pressure, to work deeply on clients.
Using an elbow to work deeper layers may achieve a result in tissue, but at what cost to the therapist?
Instead of relying on the massage therapist’s physical effort, Kinessage uses physics, the extraordinary communication system of the kinetic chain and their individual components to effect change in tissue.
Simple movements are used to kindly and efficiently clear excess tension patterns and reset muscular balance, thereby saving the therapist’s body and energy.
“The other day, I was working on a client who had been in an industrial accident,” says Linda Hedquist, who owns Healer Within Natural Therapies in Fairfield, Iowa, and has used Kinessage in her practice for four years.
“He had pins in his ankle and that leg would frequently get locked up—and I was having a hard time getting energy moving, so I used some Kinessage moves to get the patella moving,” she adds. “People tell me all the time they love the neck work and shoulder work; or when someone is really locked up in their sacrum, I can just go in there with Kinessage and open that up.”
Like most therapists fresh out of school, I started a new practice eagerly anticipating helping many people. Equipped with education in Swedish and deep tissue massage, 20 years of business experience and a healthy, fit, 40-year old body, I felt ready.
I also worked part time at a hotel that contracted with professional sports teams, and worked on call for a country club and resort. It became obvious to me I was most interested in therapeutic work. I loved figuring out how to translate client expressions of “it hurts when I do this” into anatomy and muscle actions and then develop a strategy to address the issue.
Of my two primary massage skills, deep tissue was more effective, but there was one minor issue: My body did not appreciate the work. In fact, the harder I tried to clear a 350-pound linebacker’s problems, the more tension and pain I started to accumulate. My wrists, neck and back frequently pleaded for ice and Epsom-salt baths.
I realized if I didn’t find a smarter way to work, either I wasn’t going to be effective or my body wouldn’t be able to bear the brunt of this work I loved. This wasn’t a good place to be one year into my new career.
Because the body is designed for movement, I thought I could somehow use it to do the work instead of me. This began my dive into a greater understanding of human movement, the communication of the kinetic chain, and how to use the kinetic chain to clear and reset the body. I was my own guinea pig and my pain was my laboratory.
I took a course in Myofascial Energetic Massage that really resonated. Working via layers supported my belief that massage could feel good and be effective. My passion for anatomy led me to create an on-body shorthand to work more expediently. The final piece was a stretching component.
This combination comfortably and easily cleared my pain. It then became a matter of translating my new system into working on clients. Performing massage became easier, more effective and more fun.
One day, while listening to some massage colleagues discuss their own injuries and pain, I had a revelation: Putting all the pieces of Kinessage together, I had stayed pain-free and comfortable, despite seven more years of working six days a week.
I realized this method wasn’t meant just for me and my clients, but needed to be shared so that many massage therapists and clients could receive its benefits.
The components of Kinessage are integrated in order to allow the massage therapist to work with less effort for more efficient results. Let’s look at those components.
Forms of Energy
Movement requires mechanical energy. Mechanical energy is the ability to perform work or exert force on another body; potential energy is energy ready to be used; kinetic energy is energy in motion. In locomotion, the body constantly translates energy between position (potential) and movement (kinetic) for the most efficient use of energy.
Think of a roller coaster perched at the top of its highest peak. By virtue of its position, it has potential energy—but when it gets to the bottom of the hill, it has none. Instead, kinetic energy pushes the car to its next peak. (Source: Oatis, Carol A. Kinesiology: The Mechanics and Pathomechanics of Human Movement, Second Edition, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2009; pp. 910-911.)
Kinessage applies the use of movement generated from the therapist’s feet through her body and hands, as well as through the client’s body, to save the therapist’s energy. Additionally, it helps diffuse the mechanical load typically absorbed by the therapist’s body in more static forms of massage.
How the therapist moves is an integral component of the treatment, yielding greater ease, better body mechanics, more energy and less opportunity for therapist injury.
The Kinetic Chain
Movement in the body occurs through the kinetic chain, which is composed of the nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.
In essence, the nervous system serves as the relay system. The central nervous system (CNS) acts as general processor of neural information. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) acts as a two-way carrier of impulses from sensory, or afferent nerve; receptors in skin, muscles, tendons and joints to the CNS; and motor, or efferent, nerves conduct impulses from the CNS to the skeletal muscle fibers. (Source: Floyd, R.T., Thomson, C. Manual of Structural Kinesiology, 16th Edition, McGraw-Hill. 2007; pp. 51.)
Receptors are a study in themselves. For simplicity’s sake, this discussion focuses on those used in Kinessage to facilitate tissue-tension reduction and nervous-system repatterning once restrictions have been cleared.
Mechnoreceptors are sensory receptors that respond to mechanical pressure. They communicate information relative to touch and vibration in the skin, or pressure in subcutaneous tissue and around joints, tendons and muscles.
Proprioceptors are located in muscles, tendons, joint ligaments and capsules. Recent research also indicates their plentitude in fascia. (Source: Floyd, R.T., Thomson, C. Manual of Structural Kinesiology, 16th Edition, McGraw-Hill. 2007; pp. 48.)
Proprioceptors relay information about their structures relative to body position, muscle tension, position and activity of joints. Together, mechanoreceptors and proprioceptors serve as a system of coordinates used by the brain to plan and execute movement. (Source: Van der Wal, M.D., Ph.D., J. “The Architecture of the Connective Tissue in the Musculoskeletal System—An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter as to Proprioception in the Locomotor Apparatus,” International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. 2009; Vol. 2, No. 4.)
That system is listed here according to function:
- Muscle spindles monitor muscle fiber length for overstretching.
- Golgi tendon organs monitor the amount of muscle tension.
- Articular, or joint, receptors monitor pressure, acceleration and deceleration, as well as joint strain.
Collectively, articular receptors provide continual feedback about the position of the body and limbs, joint angle and rate of movement. The brain integrates this feedback to automatically adjust motor units to provide appropriate muscle tension to perform the desired joint movement. (Source: Smith, L., Weiss, E., Lehmkuhl, D. Brunnstrom’s Clinical Kinesiology, Fifth Edition, F.A. Davis Company. 1996; pp. 94.)
Nociceptors are free nerve endings, the main peripheral receptors of the body’s pain-analyzing system. (Source: Turchaninov, R. Therapeutic Massage: A Scientific Approach, Aesculapius Books. 2000; pp. 75.) They are activated by noxious stimuli that can cause tissue damage.
As the nervous system uses sensory and motor receptors to plan and execute movement, Kinessage intentionally uses movement to reduce tension and increase range of motion by taking advantage of the same feedback loop.
Activating Golgi tendon organs, overloading receptors through gentle movement, and using reflex arcs for quick release within tissue reduce muscle tension. As tension is reduced, joint receptors are employed to recalibrate the nervous system relative to normal tension or movement patterns.
The critical component to productive results—and clients being surprised by deep, effective work that doesn’t hurt—is staying under the radar of the nociceptors. That means keeping pressure, as well as the amount and rate of movement, below the threshold of nociceptor activation to avoid guarding and the inflammatory response.
Utilizing the nervous system significantly reduces therapist effort and achieves faster results.
Bones As Levers
The skeletal system acts as scaffolding in the kinetic chain. It provides attachment sites for muscle tendons; its bones serve as levers. Joints are the fulcrums across which movement occurs. The muscular system is the force that moves bones, or levers, across joints, or fulcrums. Muscles apply force via insertions to their bones to cause, control or prevent movement in the joints they cross.
Levers are used to create leverage, or mechanical advantage. Of the three classes of levers, class 2 levers create the greatest mechanical advantage with the least effort. (Source: Dail, N., Agnew, T., Floyd, R.T. Kinesiology for Manual Therapies, McGraw-Hill. 2011; pp. 58.
Leverage is gained in Kinessage in several ways:
- Translating energy generated from the feet, through the body and hands, combines the body’s many levers into one long lever with increased velocity of energy, similar to a pitcher generating a high-velocity pitch that starts from his windup.
- Combining the therapist’s movement with movement of the client’s head or limbs, both of which are levers, takes advantage of gravity and inertia to reduce the effort required to release restrictions in the tissue.
- Arcing or rotating bone levers brings deeper tissue up to the therapist’s fingertips rather than the therapist digging down through the tissue and incurring unnecessary wear and mechanical load.
Kinessage is effective for relieving acute and chronic pain, rehabilitation and increasing range of motion, as well as treating repetitive-use or sports injuries, joint issues, plantar fasciitis and scoliosis. (Watch a video of Kinessage in action at massagemag.com/kinessage.)
This technique is applicable to office workers, professional athletes and is especially appreciated by baby boomers who want to maintain or reclaim an active lifestyle. The body’s design for movement is an extraordinary set of tools available to you to care for yourself as you care for your clients.
“I can’t do things that will do me in,” says Linda Hedquist, who is 64 years old. “I just think this is the way it’s going; that we are starting to work smarter, using [the nervous system and physics] rather than brute force and a lot of pressure. I think that’s the wave of the future.”
About the Author
Kathleen Gramzay, LMT, NCTMB, is the developer and National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved continuing education provider of Kinessage Massage Through Movement and Kinessage Self Care for Therapists.
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