Massage & Bodywork

July/August 2010

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body awareness BY BARB FRYE REACHING This column's discussion of body awareness has explored bending from the hip joints, increasing self- awareness, and standing on the whole foot for better balance and support. Let's shift our attention to the upper body and focus on reaching. Think about how often you reach during the day. Without this function, your interaction with the world would be very limited. Reaching is such a common movement that we're hardly ever aware of how we reach, but only of what we reach. As a manual therapist, you spend most of your time reaching to perform your work. In other words: you reach, you undrape. You reach, you lubricate. You reach, you apply pressure. You reach, you traction. You reach, you drape. Who knew there was so much reaching going on! Your shoulder girdle, for the most part, initiates the movement of reaching. Although it is a highly mobile joint, it has little stability in certain positions. Consequently, overexertion and repetitive movement can lead to shoulder inflammation or injury. As a manual therapist, if you principally reach from your shoulder, you risk developing a habitual pattern in which you continually overexert your shoulder's soft tissues (Image 1). This can lead to chronic tension and possibly thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which the brachial plexus nerves, C5–T1, in the thoracic outlet (the space between the first rib and clavicle) are compressed and/or impinged. Repetitive tension in the shoulder girdle can also lead to an overexertion of the muscles 104 massage & bodywork july/august 2010 and other tissues of the arm and hand. With this kind of poor body mechanics, it is easy to understand why so many manual therapists suffer from shoulder, arm, and hand pain and injury. The healthful alternative is to initiate reaching from the whole body, specifically from your pelvis, legs, and feet. Reaching with the whole body supports the action of the shoulder joint and improves reaching performance. When you include your lower body in the movement, you carry your center of weight forward and toward the focus of your reaching (Image 2). Your shoulder in this case is not generating the effort, but rather is transferring the effort generated by the lower body. This greatly reduces the chance of overexerting the soft tissues of the shoulder. SELF-OBSERVATION REACHING WITH THE WHOLE BODY REDUCES SHOULDER STRESS AND EFFORT Action. Stand comfortably and reach your hands out in front of you. Feel. Notice from where the movement is initiated. Ask. Do you move first from your shoulders? Your elbows? Your hands? Do you move first from another part of your body? If so, where?

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