Category Archives: Massage Tips and Tricks

Massage Tutorial: Serratus Anterior (and its friends)

Does your massage client have rib pain? Would you like to work with the thoracic region more thoroughly? Here’s how I go about it.

Something that I hope to demonstrate with this video is an approach that was years in the making—instead of working on specific muscles, or stripping longitudinally or transversely, I’ve started to embrace the torso as a whole. By hooking in and dragging the thoracic region in different directions, purposely changing the shape of the client’s body, I’m able to work with the many muscles that criss-cross the region while acknowledging the holistic three-dimensionality of the upper body.

Let me restate that in a way that’s less weird: I’ve found clinical value in working more broadly with the thoracic muscles. I used to isolate them, stripping and compressing muscles that I thought were responsible for low back pain, or chest pain. By broadening my approach and moving beyond origin and insertion, I find that my clients get a better sense of how their torso is put together, and they tend to stand up with tangible results: Being able to breathe easier and stand taller. Even if these are temporary (and they are), that change demonstrates that such things are possible. It lets the client know that touch and movement are capable of making them more comfortable in their own body. ... continue reading.

Massage video: How to keep clients from helping with limb movement

It can be hard to work with a massage client’s limbs if they’re trying to help you move them, or if they’re unconsciously holding them in place. Here are a few strategies for dealing with this phenomenon:

I think that communication is key, which brings me to an important point: The word “relax.” This is something that I’ve been commanded to do on more than one occasion as a massage client, and… there’s nothing relaxing about it. It can actually make me feel a little indignant, because I thought I was relaxed!

Instead, I like to focus on the body part, and acknowledge that tension is often unconscious. “See if you can let this shoulder be loose. You might not even know that your muscles here are contracting, and that’s normal.” If it’s impeding your massage, you can try having them consciously contract those muscles before releasing them, allowing your hands to sink in as they do. “Did you feel those muscles let go?” Over time, you can help your clients become more aware of their own chronic contraction. ... continue reading.

Massage Technique Video: The “Mother Hand”

This week I have a deep tissue massage technique video for you:

This is about using a “mother hand”: A broad and comforting hand applied while doing other techniques.

But that’s easy for me to say. For new massage therapists, having two hands doing two different tasks can be quite the juggling act. I remember how taxing it was to keep my feet moving, my posture not-terrible, and my hands conforming to the surface of the body, all while anticipating what my next move would be.

As I mention in the video, this is something that takes time. There’s an interesting phenomenon called automatization, wherein the cerebellum recognizes frequently repeated tasks over the course of many repetitions, and slowly takes over those tasks from the cerebral cortex. This is what allows you to tie your shoes while humming the theme song from Game of Thrones: the automaticity of the behaviors reduces the amount of attention needed. ... continue reading.

Fibromyalgia and Massage: How to Help without Hurting

What is fibromyalgia, and how should we deal with it as massage therapists? Should we press directly on tender points, or avoid them? Should we use deeper pressure, or only lighter work?

If you’re completely unfamiliar with this condition, it means widespread pain that isn’t related to injury or overuse. If you’ve got fibromyalgia, a lot of your body hurts, and no one can quite tell you why. There are no lesions on MRI or CT scans, there are no strains or sprains; you just hurt. On top of that, there are other common symptoms: Poor sleep quality, fatigue, memory problems (often described as “brain fog”), and depression. You can read more at this Mayo Clinic article.

Fibromyalgia tends to be cyclical, with many sufferers noticing periods of flare-up and remission. Your clients will have bad weeks and good weeks, and finding out where they are in that cycle can help you determine how to proceed. More on that in a second. ... continue reading.

Massage Tutorial Video: Working with Mature Scar Tissue

How do you work with a client with older scar tissue? Here’s a video about my strategy:

I talk about some myofascial-inspired techniques for working with scar tissue, but mostly I discuss my general approach.

When I work with an area with extensive scarring, my primary concern is with the client as a whole. When someone has a visible/palpable area of past trauma, it can be easy to become hyper-focused on the region. While plenty of direct work may be warranted, this can leave the client feeling dissected, and it can feed into the narrative that this is their “bad leg” or “bad shoulder.” Certainly focus in, but always integrate the area back into the bigger picture.

Conversely, it can be tempting to avoid an area of past trauma. With a burn scar, or hip replacement, or amputation, we might feel like treating the area carefully. While I like this impulse (I think we should always approach the body with kindness and care), it can also unconsciously feed into a stigmatizing narrative where the site of past injury feels like “that thing” rather than “me.” ... continue reading.