Massage & Bodywork

January | February 2014

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technique THE SCIENCE OF MOVEMENT Using Push and Pull in Massage By Mary Ann Foster Massage therapists have an advantage over many other professions in that we can use our understanding of kinesiology to improve our body mechanics and prevent injury. Massage movements usually occur as closed kinetic chains, sequencing between the pressure of our hands on the client and the pressure of our feet on the floor. Pressure is often applied with pushing and pulling actions. To push and pull safely and effectively while giving massage, it helps to understand the biomechanics of each action. • Push places compression stresses on the body. • Pull places tensional stresses on the body. Push is a closed-chain action that loads the joints into axial compression, which engages weight-bearing muscles— the single-joint or small-area muscles close to the core. The weight-bearing muscles work in weak, yet sustained, isometric contractions that stabilize joints in a neutral position, independent of the multi-joint muscles that produce movement.1 Pull is also a closed-chain action, although it moves in the opposite direction of a push and is more work because it requires grasp, which engages more muscles. LEVERAGE, WHOLE BODY WEIGHT, AND NEUTRAL JOINT POSITION An efficient way to exert force in massage is by leaning into your hands, then pushing with your feet. Leaning with your whole body uses body weight to minimize effort while maximizing force. Leaning from the ankles maximizes leverage because it engages the whole body as a lever arm, and the longer the lever arm, the more efficient the leverage (Image 1). By studying early motor development, we learn that all movement patterns are some combination of four basic actions: yield, push, reach, and pull. Yield precedes push by relaxing the body and then modulating the gradual pressure exerted in a subsequent push. A push is more effective when body weight is first yielded into the hands. Applying pressure slowly allows a gradual compression of weight-bearing joints, giving you time to adjust into a neutral alignment. It also gives you more control and activates light contractions in core muscles, while leaving the multi-joint muscles free for movement. 104 massage & bodywork january/february 2014 1 2 Leaning into a push with the whole body. Pulling with hiked shoulders or a bent spine can lead to injury.

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