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Myths and Secrets of Deep-tissue Massage

Before opening my own practice, I worked in a spa. A deep-tissue massage treatment was more expensive than a Swedish massage, not only because the spa knew they could charge more for this, but also because the therapists hated to do it and the monetary incentive was an alluring perk. Most therapists at the spa were women who found performing deep tissue massage exhausting.


November 2, 2011
By Shari Auth LMT LACU

Topics

Before opening my own practice, I worked in a spa. A deep-tissue massage treatment was more expensive than a Swedish massage, not only because the spa knew they could charge more for this, but also because the therapists hated to do it and the monetary incentive was an alluring perk. Most therapists at the spa were women who found performing deep tissue massage exhausting.

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Use your forearm to perform the majority of the massage.



 

I was a young and ambitious massage therapist, and a full-time student. I wanted to make as much money as I could in as little time as possible, so I eagerly took all the deep-tissue clients.

Doing six deep-tissue massages a day, I quickly learned the importance of developing a massage technique that could make me a sought-after massage therapist, but protect me from injury and fatigue. Although athletic and young, no amount of strength could allow me to continue doing that much work and maintain balance and longevity. It was during this time that I discovered the secrets to performing effortless deep-tissue massage and realized a few myths about the practice, as well.

MYTHS OF DEEP-TISSUE MASSAGE

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Myth 1: Deep-tissue massage can only be performed by therapists who are big and strong.
Myth 2: Deep-tissue massage is exhausting to perform.
Myth 3: Deep-tissue massage is painful.

All of these statements are false. With the right tools and techniques, performing deep-tissue massage can be effortless for practitioners of any size to perform, as well as relaxing for clients to receive. I designed the Auth Method of Forearm Massage to help professional massage therapists enjoy longer, healthier careers. The Auth Method is a massage technique that takes the practitioner’s well-being into account, as well as that of the client. It feels effortless to perform and great to receive. Below are seven Auth Method secrets to performing effortless deep-tissue massage.

Secret 1 – Use your body weight instead of muscular force to engage the tissue.
It isn’t necessary to push into tight tissue. Instead, just lean against the tissue. Use your body weight – tight tissue will melt under the pressure. Pushing is exhausting and runs the risk of working too deep. Any therapist, no matter how strong, will be fatigued by the end of a day spent pushing through tight tissue, whereas leaning against tissue takes no effort at all – it’s just like leaning against a table. It’s actually relaxing.

Secret 2 – Work on a massage table low enough to drop your body weight onto your client.
In order to effectively use your body weight to engage the tissue, make sure your table is at the appropriate height. If you’re rounding through your back, the table is too low; if your shoulders are up around your ears, the table is too high. When working the sides of the body, make sure you are standing slightly away from the table, so you lean forward onto your client’s body. When working the front or back of the body, make sure the table is low enough to allow you to drop your body weight down onto your client.

Secret 3 – Use your forearms.
Use your forearms to perform the majority of the massage. Reserve your hands for long effleurage strokes, polishing off fingers and toes, and massaging the neck, face and head. Massage the back, hips, arms, and legs with the forearms. There are many advantages to using the forearms; with practice they can become just as sensitive as the hands. (See “Benefits of Using Your Forearms Instead of Your Hands,” on page 18.)

Secret 4 – Be patient, and work layer by layer.
If you use your body weight instead of muscular force, your forearms will naturally drop down to the first layer of tight tissue. As that tissue releases, you will drop down to the next layer of tight tissue. If you work patiently layer by layer, your clients will not resist and will experience a pain-free, yet deep, massage. If your client resists your pressure, you are working too deep; ease up on your pressure to find and massage the most superficial layer of tight tissue first. Likewise, if you aren’t feeling the tissue releasing under your touch, you may be working too lightly. Don’t be afraid to drop your body weight onto your client – you may be surprised at just how much of your body weight your client can comfortably accept. If leaning into your client is new for you, and you fear hurting them, practise with a partner who can give you good feedback.

Secret 5 – Work the area of real tension and pain, not just the area where the symptom of pain is.
Where the client feels pain and the source of that pain may be different. At times, clients will ask you to pound away on an area of tension such as the lower back. These areas may be so locked up that you feel you need a sledgehammer to soften them. I find that after I work the hips, the lower back releases. The client may not have been aware that their hips were tight because they were feeling the pain in their lower back. Oftentimes, the client can’t take very much pressure at the true source of the pain. So, instead of spending a lot of energy pounding away at a symptomatic area, treat the source of the tension instead – this requires less energy from you and is more effective for your client.

Secret 6 – Put a muscle on a stretch to work deeper without working harder.
When you put a tight muscle in a position that stretches it, the massage work you do on this area will be intensified – but not because you are working harder. By putting the muscle on a stretch, it comes more taut and more sensitive to massage.

Secret 7 – Practise good body mechanics – be grounded in the legs and relaxed in the upper body.
I attended acupuncture school shortly after finishing massage school. In acupuncture school, I was introduced to a non-violent form of martial arts called Qi Gong. Qi Gong couples movement with breath. In Qi Gong, the body can be likened to a tree with imaginary roots coming out the soles of the feet, the legs strong like tree trunks, and the arms loose and bendable like tree branches blowing in the wind. This is how you want to feel when performing massage: strong in the lower body, with the knees bent, and relaxed in your upper body. Keep your back straight, core engaged, and chest open. If working in a bent-knee stance is new for you, you may need to lower your table a notch. In my workshops, I teach simple Qi Gong exercises to encourage healthy body mechanics while massaging. Body mechanics are the key to our career longevity. Good body mechanics make performing massage effortless and keep our bodies feeling good. With good body mechanics, performing massage can keep us in shape rather than being a constant source of pain.

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The forearms
are more durable than the hands, fingers, and thumbs; increasing your
use of them can translate to increased career longevity.


 

Use the breath
For most people, the breath is subconscious. Most don’t really think about their breath unless they are doing yoga, pranayama, or some other practice that involves breath awareness. So, we will often find our clients holding their breath on the table. Slow, deep breathing relaxes the mind and body and is, therefore, a crucial tool for bodyworkers. Encourage your client to breathe, even if it means breaking a relaxing silence. Ask your client to breathe under your hands or into an area that you are working on. This increases circulation to that area and also relaxes your client. As your client focuses on their breath, they are meditating, whether they realize it or not. Use their breath as a helpful and effortless tool for deeper release of both mind and body.

BENEFITS OF USING YOUR FOREARMS INSTEAD OF YOUR HANDS

  • Durability –  The forearms are more durable than the hands, fingers, and thumbs, so you will be able to work longer on your clients with less wear and tear on the more delicate joints of the hands. This means increased career longevity.
  • Increased surface area of contact – Because the surface area of contact is broader when using your forearms, you can massage more of your client in less time. This is especially useful when working on larger clients and larger muscle groups.
  • Perfect tool for using your body weight – When you lean on your desk at home, do you lean on your thumbs? Probably not. Chances are, you lean on your elbows or forearms. Forearms are naturally great for leaning into the tissue. The forearms provide a sturdy base for your body weight, providing you with more leverage during your massage.
  • Less “pokey” than elbows – Elbows are sharp and “pokey,” but forearms are broad and smooth. Be sure to use the upper forearm, which provides more leverage than using your middle or lower forearm.

There is much talk in the massage community about building a successful practice, but what does it matter if you are too tired, too burned out, or even worse, injured? Learn to work smarter. Take your own body into consideration as well as that of your clients. By using the forearms in addition to the hands, massage therapists gain another tool for performing massage. More tools means more options and, hopefully, a longer career.


Shari Auth is a licensed massage therapist and acupuncturist, and is certified in the Rolf method of structural integration. She is the creator of the Auth Method and has a full-time practice in New York City. Auth teaches continuing education workshops and has two instructional massage DVDs, Auth Method of Therapeutic Massage: A Guide to Using the Forearms and A Guide To Side Lying Position. For DVD & workshop information, please visit www.authmethod.com. For information on her practice in New York city, please visit www.shariauth.com.


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