Massage Malady #2: “Distractor Spinae”

Today’s massage malady: Distractor Spinae. This is the unfortunate condition in which massage therapists become SO ENTHRALLED by the spine and the surrounding tissues that other structures are all but ignored. Latissimus dorsi? What’s that? Rotator cuff… that’s in the ankle, right?


This happens for a reason, of course. There is a ton of feel-good muscle around the spine, especially if you count trapezius. When people think of massage, they think of getting their erectors ironed out and getting some superior trap petrissage. Your clients may have forgotten that they have other parts too.

All the more reason to branch out! If you can regularly include areas of the body that other massage therapists either glance over or skip entirely, you can differentiate yourself in a crowded market. If you’re just doing what everyone else is doing, why should a client request you specifically?

Moreover, you’ll be helping your client gain some new body awareness. Over the course of the massage, you’ll be telling a story about their body that they’ve never heard before: That the shoulders are connected to the neck, and the scapula is connected to the ribs!

Of course, this will require stepping out of your comfort zone as you experiment with the more lateral portions of the back and shoulders. It may also be a bit scary to work on areas that clients aren’t expecting; this will pass as you start getting good feedback, usually in the form of, “wow, what is that? Why does no one ever work there?” Start with friends who aren’t afraid of speaking their minds.

Do you regularly work with the rotator cuff, quadratus lumborum, latissimus dorsi, and the lateral ribs? If not, why not? Hit me up in the comments!

6 thoughts on “Massage Malady #2: “Distractor Spinae”

  1. I’ve recently started working on QLs … they seem to crave attention in just about any body! Pin and stretch glutes has become part of what I include in a 1 hour massage. Also, I have no psoas fear after watching the Massage Sloth video on iliopsoas and practicing on a few clients. I really like to recommend easy to do and remember stretches to my clients. There are a bunch of far out “stretches” on You Tube I would definitely not recommend and if you could link to ones you’d use with your clients (or demonstrate yourself) it would help!

    1. That’s definitely on the short-list, Lindy! I’ve got about 5 or 6 stretches that I recommend. They’re effective, easy to explain, and clients actually do them. I’ll try to have that up within… I’m gonna say 6 weeks! Thanks for the reminder, and good on you for branching out!

  2. I admit I sometimes pretty much ignore the spinae muscles! I have so many clients who have told me that they’ve never had the QL worked, the lats, the rotator cuff group, etc., that I rarely have time to focus on the spinae group. I also finally got brave enough to drop my table and try out your lazy massage methods. Not always for me, but I am now getting up on the table for those clients who need more pressure or myofascial release. I use so many of your techniques now!!! Keep those videos coming!I’d love one on piriformis, glutes, IT band…whatever you do is sure to be awesome.

    1. Jennifer, that’s so cool to hear! I really like that you’re incorporating elevating yourself instead of dropping the table. That’s a great alternative, though one that’s not always feasible for me (I’m lanky and unwieldy like a newborn deer).

      Keep me posted on how you progress! It sounds like you’re going to be giving a very different massage at the end of the year than you did at the beginning. May every year be like that for all of us. 🙂

  3. I had a client who had been seeing both myself and a chiropractor for a couple of months, but he was only getting temporary relief from his lower back pain. After reading up (probably on YOUR site!), I started working on the QL on his left side and he got MUCH better!! Simple technique…world of difference! My clients also comment on the arm and neck stretches I do…our school taught those as a normal part of a massage but many clients say they’ve never had that done. Again, simple techniques, great responses!

    1. That’s awesome, and a great example of the big changes that can come from a little extra knowledge about the body (and the courage to out it into practice). Rock on.

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