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Components of a Massage Stroke

This is an excerpt from Sports Massage by Susan Findlay.

Direction

The choices of direction are longitudinal, transverse and circular. All strokes in all directions can be used on the torso, but longitudinal strokes applied to the peripherals should be deeper and stronger towards the heart and significantly lighter on their return. This is to mirror and work with the venous lymphatic return system. Transverse is also suitable for legs and arms. If you are using a smaller stroke such as friction, small, circular movements will not interfere with this system.

Pressure

Initially, you should apply light, superficial pressure to warm up the tissue and prepare it for deeper work as well as to assess the condition of the tissue and determine which areas need attention. Once the tissue has been sufficiently warmed up, you can apply deeper strokes. During and at the end of a treatment, it is always beneficial to flush the section that you have worked on as well as the surrounding tissue using effleurage.

Regardless of the degree of pressure you are using, you should massage in a thoughtful manner, feeling the various tissues under your hands and reacting to any adverse tension. Areas of tension might require you to slow down and ease off the pressure to get a favourable response. The deeper you go, the slower you should go. Following are areas that require less pressure:

* Bony prominences (e.g., vertebrae)

* Areas of less muscle mass (e.g., shins)

* Areas of greater sensitivity (e.g., chest)

* Areas that have underlying sensitive structures (e.g., the femoral artery behind the knee)

Therapist's Tools

The therapist's tools consist of the heel of the hand, fingers and thumbs (reinforced), assisted hand, fists, forearms and elbows. (Look ahead for basic techniques.) Elbows should be introduced after you have more experience and can use them with sensitivity. The most important consideration is to protect your hands and not to overuse them or hold tension in them. It is well documented that therapists with poor technique have short careers as a result of repetitive strain injuries that affect their hands, arms, shoulders and lower back.

Basic Techniques

The hands are the most important tool in a therapist's kit. They are sensitive, dexterous and versatile and can transmit all kinds of information about the condition of the tissue. When you start to train, from the first time you place your hands on a client, let your hands take over from your eyes. Hands tell you more than eyes do. If you have difficulty not looking at what you are doing, try either closing your eyes or wearing a blindfold initially to practise and get comfortable with the feel. Further information about movement and seeing through your hands can be found in chapter 4.

Avoid using your thumbs as much as possible. Allow them to be passive partners to your hands. It is possible to use the thumbs for specific work without putting excessive force through them or tensing them up during a movement and still be effective. How you accomplish this will be explained in the relevant technique sections.

This is an excerpt from Sports Massage.