Body mechanics rules can save your body, but there’s an important caveat here: Since massage therapists come in different body types, have different conditions or injuries, and massage in different ways, no one rule will work for everybody all the time.

Body mechanics rules can save your body, but there’s an important caveat here: Since massage therapists come in different body types, have different conditions or injuries, and massage in different ways, no one rule will work for everybody all the time.

So, if you want to massage pain-free, you need to experiment with the rules, and maybe break one or two.

Asymmetrical stance

Textbook Work Posture

Have you ever looked in a massage body mechanics textbook to check out the correct work-posture? I bet you see something like this:

The MT’s back is neutral (not flexed or extended) and they are in a lunge stance, using legs and body weight to generate force. Beautiful, right? Joints are aligned and the upper-body is not straining. But try doing that the whole massage. You know, as well as I do, it doesn’t work.

Massage is a dynamic, not static, event. You get tired. The client’s arm gets in the way. You can’t generate enough force in a lunge stance on a thick client who wants deep pressure. The list goes on.

You need other options, but your brain keeps sending you back to the “correct” work posture. You continue to try and fit a square peg into a round hole or you completely give up and your body mechanics turn into a dumpster fire.

The problem is not you; it’s that you have not been encouraged to experiment with the rules so that you can figure out your best work posture for each work situation. Let’s start that conversation right now.

Bad and Good Work Postures

Are there bad work postures?

PIC #2: Long-term work posture (lunge, low table leg against table)
Long-term work posture

Well, any work posture that hurts your body is a bad work posture. But what if a so-called bad work posture doesn’t actually put you in pain? Is it a bad work posture then?


“Is there a bad work posture?” is a bad question.

It makes us choose sides. It sets us up for failure because there can only be a right or wrong answer, which leaves us no room to experiment.

Instead of viewing work postures as good and bad or correct and incorrect, we should view work postures as short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Versus Long-Term Postures

A short-term work posture will cause pain sooner than a long-term work posture. That means you don’t want to hang out in a short-term work posture for too long. For example, if you’re hunching over to work an area, you’ll want to change that work posture before something in your back or neck starts to ache.

Wide Stance Lighter Pressure
Wide stance, lighter pressure

A work posture in which you can massage efficiently and effectively for an extended period of time without being in pain is a long-term work posture.

Ultimately, you want to be in long-term work postures as much as you can during the course of a massage.

What are some long-term work postures?

Long-Term Work Postures

The textbook lunge stance that is pictured above is a long-term work posture because it allows you to generate maximal force with minimal strain to your body.

Unfortunately for me, that work posture ceased to be an option when I switched from forearms to fists due to shoulder and neck injuries. That’s when I broke some rules and experimented with other work postures that are unlikely to be found in a textbook, like this one:

PIC #2: Long-term work posture (lunge, low table leg against table)

Parallel foot stance
Parallel foot stance

See how my legs are leaning against the table? I’m supporting my body with the table. I can stay in this work posture for a long time.

Here’s another long-term work posture that you probably won’t find in a textbook.

Again, the table is supporting my weight and I can easily maintain a neutral back.

This next work posture is basically the opposite of the lunge work-posture.

It’s a parallel-foot stance. Since my feet are parallel to each other, I can’t push from a back leg to generate force, like I could if I were in the textbook lunge stance. But I don’t need leg power in this stance because I can use my body weight to generate force.  

I love this stance because it allows me to get over the client’s back and work precisely in the lamina groove with my knuckles and massage tools.

One hand face right
One hand face right

When I’m using my knuckles, I consider the parallel foot stance a long-term posture because I can hang out in this position a while before I feel discomfort. When I’m using a massage tool my back needs a break from this posture every now and then.


Because the massage tool puts my body in a slightly different position. Overtime, that position can cause minor discomfort in my lower-back. So, before I feel any discomfort, I switch into another work posture for 15 to 60 seconds, like the one-hand work posture below.

In the one-hand work posture, a long-term posture, I’m using the table to support my body weight which makes it easy for me to straighten up my torso. Once my back feels refreshed, I’ll switch back into the parallel foot stance and continue my journey along the lamina groove. 

Could I switch into a short-term posture, a posture that I don’t want to be in too long?

Short-term posture trap posture (standing)
Short-term posture trap posture (standing)


Remember, short-term doesn’t mean “avoid at all costs.” It simply means “not too long”. By the way, if you stay in any work posture long enough, it will cause you discomfort. So, the key to avoiding pain from being in any one work posture too long is to get good at the work posture dance (switching up your work postures).

The Work-Posture Dance

Here’s an example of how the work-posture dance changes as the massage mission changes.

Taro wants a little trapezius work, so I start to work his upper trap while standing:

Okay, I agree that it’s not the greatest work posture because my back is in flexion and I’m not supporting my body weight—it’s a short-term work posture. But I chose this posture because I hadn’t planned on working Taro’s traps for long. However, I soon discover that Taro’s traps need more work than I thought, and I switch into this stance:

Short to mid-term work posture traps (standing, arm supported)
Short to mid-term work posture traps (standing, arm supported)

My leg is leaning against the table, helping to support my body weight, and my arm is resting on my knee, which takes the tension out of my shoulder. This is a supported work posture, and it’s much easier on my body than the prior work posture.  

Taro likes the trap work and he asks me to spend more time there, but my body is getting tired of standing. Is there an easier-on-my-body work posture?


Now, my legs and back are relaxed. My arms are supported; so there is little tension in my shoulders. I’ve struck gold. I can be in this work position forever.

Make Your Work Postures Work for You

It’s not helping your cause to massage pain-free if you’re feeling guilty for having “bad” body-mechanics.

Long-term seated supported work posture for traps
Long-term seated supported work posture for traps

Instead of viewing a work posture as good or bad, view it as short-term or long-term. When you do, you give yourself permission to experiment with any work posture.

Short-term work postures are fine when you don’t need to be in one position for a long time. If you want to use a short-term work posture for an extended period of time, periodically switch into other work postures for 15 to 60 seconds.

Long-term work postures are postures where you can massage effectively and efficiently for long periods of time without being in pain. My favorite long-term work postures include postures where I can use the table (and/or client) to support my body weight and straighten my torso.

Try to be in long-term work postures for a majority of the time during a massage and avoid work postures that immediately cause you pain.

Remember: Pain-free doesn’t happen in a textbook. It happens in your massage room. Have at it and have fun.

Mark Liskey

About the Author

Mark Liskey, LMT, CNMT, 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