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Massage Today
November, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 11

Body Mechanics: Back to Basics

By Teresa M. Matthews, LMT, CPT

Have you ever played softball or baseball? Have you ever heard a coach tell a young player the proper way to field a ground ball? If the young player does not continue with the fundamentals of fielding a ground ball properly, they might not make it in years to come as a ball player.

At first, it might not be easy to get into the right body position, but the player needs to repeat the body mechanics to perform well. We are not much different from that ball player.

Many authors have written massage texts and other books about proper body mechanics for massage therapists. They are our coaches! Getting the basic fundamentals of a proper stance and application of the stroke will allow massage professionals to work smarter, not harder, while avoiding occupational injury, stress and burnout. The term body mechanics is used to describe the optimal alignment of our body for free-flowing movement. Ease and efficiency of movement will protect us from unnecessary stress and pain. Work-related injury is a major reason why bodyworkers drop out of the massage industry. I have seen bodywork professionals develop bad habits in their treatment room over years of practice and find themselves injured or even retiring.

kid playing baseball - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Table Height

As a general rule, your fingertips or first knuckle should reach the top of the table when your arms are hanging at your sides. If your table is a little short, you want to widen your stance. A bad choice is to bend at the waist and develop low back fatigue. A table that is too tall will cause you to use upper muscle strength. We do not want to muscle our strokes.

When clients ask for more pressure, it is more about the application of the force and using the least amount of physical effort, without poking and jabbing. The joints need to be stacked and stable. Instead of leaning at the waist and reaching forward, let your hips bring your hands through the stroke. I find that being low in your stance allows the stroke to be at the proper angle and the depth applied without muscling it.

What You Can Do

Using your body in the most efficient way might mean that we have to strengthen our legs and core. Having a solid base, our body mechanics will take the stress off our back and arms. Two of the most common stances are the horse stance and the lunge position. Using these stances, the power and balance comes from the legs and core. The horse stance can be strengthened by performing a wall squat. The lunge position can be strengthened by doing, that's right, a lunge. For core strength, I suggest a plank. This is an isometric exercise holding a push up position.

The Position of Your Feet and Head Does Matter

Your feet should face the same direction of force being applied to the body. Low back pain will result if your foot is externally or internally rotated, such that your pelvis rotates. Your head should not drop to look down at your work, as you will experience neck, shoulder and low back tension. If your torso is twisted, you could feel muscle ache, fatigue, shoulder or low back pain. You will also want to keep your shoulders square in your stance to avoid twisting your back.

Keeping a straight back and neutral neck helps you avoid injury. Many therapists bend over a lot during their massages and use their strength to apply pressure to their clients. If you're using good body mechanics, your pressure doesn't come from your strength, it should come from your body weight. If you're bending at the elbows, your strength is coming from the wrong place. Changing old habits can be difficult, but as you improve your body mechanics, you'll notice that you'll feel less fatigue while you work. Using good posture will help you have a long massage career ahead of you.

Appropriate body mechanics must be maintained to provide adequate pressure throughout the massage. A massage professional using proper body mechanics should be able to effectively provide 15-30 massage sessions a week without excessive fatigue or pain. Take appropriate action now so you can have the long career you desire.

Teresa M. Matthews, fitness expert and world champion athlete, has 30 years experience in the fitness industry. She is the president and founder of Health, Wellness & Fitness Professionals, Inc. and is the owner of Arlington School of Massage and Personal Training in Jacksonville, Fla. She is a sports massage instructor for the Florida State Massage Therapy Association and was awarded the FSMTA 2009 Sports Massage Therapist of the Year award. Teresa travels the country teaching self care and wellness classes. Contact her by e-mail at with questions or comments.


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