Freeing the Heart

By Dale G. Alexander, LMT, MA, PhD
December 14, 2011

Freeing the Heart

By Dale G. Alexander, LMT, MA, PhD
December 14, 2011

The central question is, what can we do as massage therapists to stem the tide of cardiovascular disease? Heart disease is a progression that expresses itself in many forms, lowering the quality of life for millions and is the cause of death for a citizen in this country every 60 seconds.1

My premise and clinical experience suggests that we can literally create more space for the heart within the thorax. This is achieved by increasing the suppleness and length of the soft tissues both within the chest and those of the outer wall, enhancing the mobility of the thoracic joints, and by reducing the pressure within the cavity itself.

The heart expands and contracts to send blood out over approximately 60,000 miles of vessels.2 By creating more room for the heart to expand, potentiates its capacity for gathering together and pushing more blood. The quantity of blood and the strength of the push during the contraction phase are both assisted by reducing the resistance to the heart's expansion phase. Something this simple can make a significant contribution.

Our touch, when guided by intention, perception and knowledge can truly make a difference.

In the book, The China Study, the author cites a study of autopsies done during the Korean War that identified that all of the 22-year-old young men in the study showed the beginning signs of moderate to severe heart disease.3 A rather chilling reference for us to consider that the progression of heart disease actually can begin this young. Yet, it offers us an anchor point in our awareness that most of our clients would benefit from our attention to "freeing the heart."

Let's begin with a method for quickly assessing the tension and pressure of the chest.

With your next 10 clients:

  1. Softly depress their chest on either side of their upper sternum, toward the table.
  2. Then compress the sides of their ribs toward the midline, first one side, then the other.
  3. Next, slide your hands and fingers under their back and lift the rib angles.
  4. With their knees bent, contact the medial costal arch and softly glide it laterally (do both sides).

With each palpation, memorize the quality of the resistance to your palpations. The reason for assessing 10 people is to develop a continuum for your kinesthetic memory. It's a random sampling. You might want to do this same thing with an infant, a child, a teen, various adults and, people in your life that are over 60 years old to further develop your kinesthetic awareness to establish a continuum of what healthy distensibility of the thorax feels like.

It's been my repeated experience that resistance to compression, pliability, and distensibility, just beneath the breast area between ribs 5 and 6, is the most significant tip-off that the heart is unable to expand to its fullest capacity. This becomes even more significant if either side of the diaphragm muscle resists lateral excursion.

As our profession has so many different technique orientations, my intention in this series will be to outline the most critical perceptual, kinesthetic and anatomical reference points that my clinical experience has demonstrated to be effective in "freeing the heart."

One of my galvanizing experiences that prompts me to write this series is the feedback from a client in his 80's that his cardiologist had "never seen a left ventricle" that had been enlarged for 30 years shrink back to its normal size. The client has been seeing me on a regular basis since his mid-70's. None of us can promise or even assert with confidence that such functional changes will happen, but my clinical experience suggests it is possible.


  1. Risky Business - Heart Disease
  2. National Geographic, "Healing the Heart," February, 2007,Vol. 211, No.2.
  3. The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Thomas M. Campbell II, First Ben Bella Books, 2006.