As a massage therapist, your hands are getting a constant workout. You may have experienced hand and muscle strain as a result of a heavy client schedule, or even just from practicing massage techniques as a student. Sore fingers and thumbs can be a particular problem when you’re working on sensitive areas, smaller muscles, or physical extremities like the hands and feet. In her article in Massage Therapy Canada, Shari Auth discusses the thumb strain she experienced in her massage career when she began treating a variety of foot-related issues like plantar fasciitis. While her thumbs seemed particularly effective at working out tension in the foot, the constant demand on her hands was exhausting and painful.
While all massage therapists must acknowledge the fact that theirs is a physically demanding profession, certain tactics are necessary to ensure you can continue working for a long time, without severe damage to your own muscles. Auth argues that “learning how to work smarter” is the secret for sustainability.
So what does “working smarter” look like? One trick she advocates is using the forearm for strong manual therapy and controlled pressure. Here are a few of the reasons Auth says she was initially feeling such problematic strain in her thumbs:
- The client wasn’t positioned optimally. You may be able to relate to her observation that for certain manual therapies the supine position doesn’t give the RMT enough leverage.
- She quickly realized that the thumbs are too delicate for performing the lion’s share of an intensive massage. While relying too heavily on thumb work, her hands were naturally becoming tired and strained from the efforts she demanded of them.
- She was focusing too much attention on the foot itself, when she needed to designate attention to the surrounding muscles like the calf as well.
She adjusted her therapeutic strategy in a few ways, including:
- Having the client lay in the prone position
- Using her body weight to sink downward into the foot tissue
- Using her forearms instead of thumbs to work the plantar tissue.
As a result, Auth was able to continue with effective, improved foot treatments while avoiding overuse of her thumbs and side effects like pain and stiffness. To complete her personalized method, Auth examined how to personally support and position the rest of the body as the therapist. Check out her detailed positions and protocols for a variety of foot treatments here.
Her exploration of her own therapeutic practices reminds us that we need to find techniques that achieve the ultimate pairing of our goals as RMTs; techniques that offer the best treatment for clients while preserving the muscle and joint health of practitioners.