One of the rules of body mechanics for massage therapists is Line of Force. This rule stipulates that all of the transfer of movement from the body of the massage therapist to the client is done with the therapist’s body in a single line of force. This is done by aiming the hips in the direction of the movement, as well as shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. Stacking the joints, as it were.
The primary benefits of Line of Force are greater efficiency in transferring energy and decreased risk of injury. Every turn or bend in a joint wastes energy as the force has to change direction, thus our bodies have to exert more effort to maintain a non-stacked posture. In addition, stacked joints are more stable, as the torque applied to rotated or flexed joints increases the chance of injury. We work smarter, not harder, with good posture and line or force.
A corollary to the Line of Force is the Hierarchy of Power. It says that the tranmission of power via the Line of Force decreases the more joints we travel from the hara, or center. Stacked fingertips cannot transmit as much force as knuckle, palm, forearm, elbow. Or in the legs, the hierarchy is toes, plantar surface of foot, heel, knees. But the increase in power is bought a decrease in palpation ability. The fingertips are vastly more sensitive than the skin covering the olecranon process of the ulnaris bone (although with lots of use and practice, it does become much more sensitive).
Similarly, the broad, flat surface of the forearm is ideal for certain types of strokes, just as the fingertips are perfect for highly detailed work. Every tool has strokes for which it is best suited. It’s sometimes fun to play around and see how to achieve the desired therapeutic result by using different tools and strokes. Something else I like doing is trying to shape my hands to match the shape of the muscle, especially if all I am doing is very obliquely angled strokes. Strokes where my arms are almost completely parallel to the client’s body are excellent for this hand-shaping.
The forearms are great for things as simple as effleurage, and into deeper work, like myofascial release-type therapies. One thing I like to do is open up the erector spinae by pinning the thoracolumbar aponeurosis down with one forearm, and with the other engaging the muscle tissue of the erector spinae in a superior direction, and applying moderate pressure, stretching the muscle apart.
Applying these two important concepts to bodywork marshals a therapists’ energies, and keeps us safe. We are much less tired and sore at the end of the day, and our careers can be long and with fewer injuries.