Online massage booking        Find us on Facebook    Google+    twitter RSS

Massage Techniques – Static Strokes

Check out any massage teaching website or text book on massage techniques and you will come across a myriad of different massage strokes. For many newcomers, this can be confusing and daunting although once you realise that much of the confusion is the result of using different terms for the same strokes then you will begin to feel more comfortable with understanding and practising the various strokes. For example, one therapist may refer to trigger point therapy, another to acupressure and another to shiatsu. Yet they are all effectively talking about the same physical technique of applying static pressure to a specific point.
This article will just introduce some of the possible static massage strokes that are available. It is suggested, however, that if you do wish to learn and use them that you should enrol at a suitable massage teaching establishment so that you can understand in a safe and proper learning environment.
When we use the term static massage strokes, we are referring to the fact that the body part that is being massaged is stationary. We will discuss technique where passive and active movement is incorporated into the strokes in a later blog.

Effleurage strokes are the most common technique used by massage therapists and they are simply the flowing, gliding stroke along the length of body. It is used to spread lubricant (either oil or lotion), to warm up the muscles and to relax the recipient. The pressure applied and the speed of the stroke can vary considerably although it is rarely the case that effleurage strokes should be painful for the recipient. Generally the massage therapist will use their palms to perform the stroke although fingers, thumbs and forearms can be used depending on the particular body part being massaged. The strokes are performed along the length of the muscles, parallel to the muscle fibres.

Petrissage strokes are kneading techniques whereby a therapist will pick up, squeeze or wring soft tissue. For example, Petrissage of the calf muscle at the back of the lower leg is often used to warm up and relax the muscle. The therapists will use two hands and gently knead the calf with flowing action.

Static compression is simply the action of applying pressure at a particular point on the body without any movement from the therapist. Any massage “tool” (fingers, thumbs, knuckles, forearms or elbows) can be used to apply the pressure depending upon the specific body part and the amount of pressure required. Generally this stroke is performed to deactivate myofascial trigger points and pressure can be applied for as little as a few seconds or for as long as a couple of minutes depending upon how long it takes to achieve the desired therapeutic response.

Compression Broadening
Healthy muscles need to fully elongate and contract. With contraction, comes a broadening of the muscles as the sarcomeres within the muscle fibres overlap. A compression broadening strokes attempts to mimic this action (on a macroscopic level). To perform this stroke then you apply pressure to the relevant muscle using two massage tools and then slowly move the tools apart as you simultaneously stretch and compress the muscle. It is important not to have too much lubricant for this stroke as the objective is not to slide over the muscle.
As an example, the flat of the fists are often used on hamstrings muscles to perform a compression broadening stroke. The therapist will apply pressure with both fists side-by-side on the belly of the hamstring and then slowly move the fists apart across the muscle fibres.

Longitudinal stripping
This technique utilises a slow long gliding stroke parallel to muscle fibres in an effort to increase the length and elasticity of the muscle fibres. The pressure required should be sufficient to grip the muscle rather than glide along the superficial layers and can be bordering on the uncomfortable for the client. Any massage tool can be used to perform longitudinal stripping strokes and if you require more pressure then the tool chosen will use a smaller contact area.
The critical factor is the speed of the stroke. If the therapist works too quickly then the bodywork will be more painful and less effective.

Friction strokes can be a little confusing for the new massage therapist but once mastered then generally easy to perform and most remedial massage therapists would incorporate them at some stage during a session. A friction massage stroke moves adjacent superficial tissues in relation to the underlying soft tissue with a repeated forward and back or circular action. Any massage tool, fingers, knuckles, thumbs, elbows, etc can be used to perform the stroke and the important factor for the therapist to be aware of is that there is no movement of the massage tool relative to the skin. There is no gliding and the tool used maintains contact with the skin and moves it as the stroke is applied.
These strokes are typically used by massage therapists and physiotherapists for treating soft tissue injuries particularly where there may be scar tissue. The intention is to break cross-fibre bonds with the shearing nature of the stroke. However, it should be mentioned that research supporting the effectiveness of friction strokes is limited and some question whether it does achieve this goal.

By Richard Lane

Spondylolisthesis and Massage Therapy

Many people book in for remedial and therapeutic massage because of lower back pain. However, the causes of lower back pain can vary considerably and they are poorly understood. Massage therapy can be appropriate for a significant proportion of those who present with lower back pain due to muscular tightness and/or trigger points. However, massage therapists are not permitted to diagnose conditions and there are some patients for whom massage is contraindicated or for whom massage should only be performed under the direction of a suitable physician.

One such condition for which massage therapists should be extremely cautious is spondylolisthesis. If you think or suspect that a client may be presenting with spondylolisthesis then you should consider that the massage is contraindicated.
Spondylolisthesis arises from a stress fracture in the vertebrae, most typically in the L5-S1 region and occurs when one vertebra actually slides forward relative to another because of the fracture.
Activities that cause repeated flexion and extension of the spine are considered to be risk factors for the development of spondylolisthesis. Gymnasts, butterfly swimmers, weightlifters, for example, are particularly susceptible. In addition excessive lumbar lordosis is often considered to be a contributing factor as the greater curvature of the spine can place increase loads and the tilt angles at various parts of the spine.
Clients who present with spondylolisthesis will likely complain of dull pain in the lower lumbar or upper sacral areas and this pain will normally occur after the person has been performing the repeated flexion/extension activities. If a therapist tries to palpate the area then pain levels can increase if there is anterior forces being applied to the spine that can further contribute to forward slipping. X-rays or MRI scans may be required to confirm the presence of an anterior slipped vertebra.
Treatment for spondylolisthesis will normally begin with rest and refraining from carrying out any activities that flex/extend the spine. Some physical therapists may suggest bracing of the back to prevent further movement. It is likely that some strengthening and flexibility training may be incorporated into a rehab programme and it is at this point that a massage therapist is most likely to become involved. Under direction, the therapist may target muscles that have become hypertonic in response to compensating for pain.
However, a word of caution is that hamstrings will often tighten in those who are suffering from the condition. The reason for this is that they are effectively trying to rotate the pelvis posteriorly and minimise further vertebral slipping. Releasing tight hamstrings in spondylolisthesis patients would generally not be recommended, particularly in the early stages of rehabilitation.

By Richard Lane

Pregnancy Massage in the First Trimester

Massage for pregnancy

If you ring to book for a pregnancy massage and mention that you are in the first trimester then there are many therapists who will refuse to accept your booking. Day spas often will include on brochures and promotional materials that you should not come in for a massage if you are in the early stages of pregnancy.

So it appears as though the massage industry supports the view that massage during the first trimester is not safe.

However, for many women this is just not the case and there are no scientific reasons for healthy women not to get a massage during the first trimester. Indeed often women will receive bodywork without even knowing that they are pregnant.

The reasons for the varying positions on first trimester pregnancy massage stem from a misconception that massage can, in some cases, lead to miscarriage. This view is inaccurate and there is no causal link between massage and miscarriage. Whilst the prevalence of miscarriage is greatest in the few months of pregnancy, in general, the actions and the activities of the women will have no bearing on the likelihood of her suffering from an unfortunate miscarriage. Basically if it is going to happen then it will happen as the miscarrying embryo is typically chromosomally abnormal and not viable. Infections and diseases may be other causal factors. Exercising, stretching or having a massage, however, does not contribute any risk towards a miscarriage.

If a miscarriage does happen within a short period of having a massage, assuming that the massage therapist has not acted outside of their scope of training, then it is fair and reasonable to declare that having the massage was not the reason for the miscarriage. Whilst a woman may very well question what she did and didn’t do in the days before the miscarriage, in the long run hopefully she will be able to understand that what happened was going to happen regardless and she should not assign any blame to her (or others) actions.

Most massage therapists do understand this point, yet a significant proportion are still reluctant to perform a first trimester pregnancy massage. Their position is that they do not wish to be put into a position of the woman associating a miscarriage with any massage. This is very much a personal choice of an individual therapist and no therapist should ever be put into a position of providing massage services when they are not entirely comfortable to do so. Some clinics may make a similar decision on behalf of all therapists, more out of a misguided fear of litigation.

Whether a woman actually feels like having a massage during the first trimester though is a separate question. Nausea, morning sickness lethargy, breast tenderness, etc may act as negative influences and make her not want to get a massage anyway. However, this is a separate issue to whether she can get a massage or not.

Before booking in for a massage with a suitably trained therapist, we would also suggest that you discuss your intentions with your doctor just to ensure that there are no issues which may mean that pregnancy massage (at any stage of the pregnancy) is contraindicated.

By Richard Lane