Over the 25 years that I have been privileged to be a massage therapist I have learned zillions of techniques. I have graduated from the good old world of effleurage and hacking to the fancy- schmancy world of visceral manipulation and fascial nerve release.
Yet there are some moves that will always stay dear to my heart however many new techniques I learn. Moves that work every time, that get results and keep bringing your clients back for more. So get in your massage groove with my ‘high five’ list of top techniques.
Number 5: Amma Fusion
Amma Fusion is the term we use at Jing for our unique combination of Eastern techniques. Amma Fusion is a glorious mix of the best strokes from Thai massage, shiatsu and acupressure, all adapted for the table- based therapist.
Amma Fusion is wonderful as it can be used over the drape at the beginning of the treatment so your client really gets the sense that you are a unique therapist! The strokes are slow, deep and satisfying and often unlike anything the client may have experienced before.
Amma Fusion strokes are a great way of working deeper yet not harder and feel great for the therapist as well as the client.
• Palming the erector spinae (Bladder channel): Slowly palm down the erector spinae muscle on the opposite side of the spine to where you are standing. In Chinese medicine terms you are also working the Bladder channel with this technique. Leave the upper hand resting between the shoulder blades and work the other hand slowly down the back until it rests on the sacrum. You are simply using palmar compression to sink down into the tissues layer by layer. Then work down with the other hand in the same way before moving to the other side of the table and repeating.
• There are 2 different ways you can do this stroke:
• Standing by the side of the table in forward Tai Chi stance, leaning in with your body weight. (FIG 1
• Kneeling on the side of table in a “table top” position on all fours and using your pelvis to lean forward and achieve pressure through the arms. Make sure you keep your arms soft and relaxed; slight shifts of weight in your pelvis will allow you to work deeper in a comfortable way. The more you lean forward, the more pressure you will be able to achieve without pushing. If less pressure is needed, simply move your pelvis back a bit. FIG 2
• Double palming: You can also work both erector spinae at the same time by using a double palming technique while kneeling on the table in proposal stance (FIG 3) An alternative is to use soft fists which is a good option if the palming does not feel good for your wrists.
• Remember the dictum “Assessment is treatment and treatment is assessment”. As you are working, notice areas of tightness and spend longer on these areas, sinking into the tissue to start to release the muscles.
Number 4: Deep Rolfing style fascial technique with the fists
Learning trigger point therapy was the first big breakthrough I had in my massage career as it enabled me to start treating pain conditions successfully. However there were always some persistent pain conditions that would not respond to this approach. Learning good fascial work was another magical eye opener for me that enabled my work to progess to a higher level.
Fascial techniques address the body’s fascial system, that is, the 3D fibrous connective tissue that holds the body together and gives it shape. Most commonly taught massage techniques fail to address the fascia, thus denying practitioners a large piece of the puzzle when treating pain conditions. Fascial techniques aim to restore mobility in the fascia and soften connective tissue that has become rigid, with highly effective results.
Here is one of my all time favourite fascial strokes – a deep and effective way to melt the tissues all the way down the clients back. Who could ask for more?
• Remember not to apply oil or lotion when you do fascial work as it will render the techniques ineffective.
• Stand at the head of the table in forward tai chi stance with fists on back either side of spine. Make sure your outside leg is alongside the side of the table so you can take a small step forward as you work- don’t make the mistake of getting stuck behind the face cradle and having to bend your back.
• The fist should be in a soft and loose grip – imagine you are holding an egg in your hand that you don’t want to break.
• Keep your wrist, elbow and shoulder aligned and use the power
of your breath to draw a feeling of energy up from your belly on your in breath. On the out-breath visualise this qi shooting up your spine and down your arm like a stream of water flowing through a hosepipe. This visual will help you work “deeper not harder”
• Use your breath and body weight to gradually sink into your clients tissues; wait until the tissues soften and give way before you SLOWLY start to slide down the back; wait for the tissues to give way in front of you in a wave like motion. Do not force or try to work too quickly. You are looking for that wonderful gooey sensation of tissue release as you glide through the tissues – like a hot knife slicing through butter. Keep checking back into your body, arms and shoulders to make sure you are not forcing or tensing.
• Work down to the sacrum and then repeat two or three times until you feel you have achieved a good release of the tissues
Number 3: Myofascial Cross Hand Stretch
Okay okay- so I have to admit- I love the fascia! The myofascial cross hand stretch is another gem of a stroke that I use in each and every treatment. In fact some of my treatments are ONLY cross hand stretches and I have got some spectacular results!
• Cross hand stretches can be performed in practically every area of the body including back, legs and arms.
• As many folks have hurting or stiff low backs, using the cross hand stretch over this area will definitely be appreciated!
• Here’s how to do it: place your crossed hands adjacent to one another in the area to be released – they should be a few inches apart at this point.
• I find Tai chi stance is the stance of choice for this technique; have your arms straight but with a slight softness to the elbow so they are not ‘locked’.
• Sink down until you have a feeling of being on the deep fascial layers that runs around and through the muscles. Then put a stretch on this tissue so you have a sense of tension between your two hands – like a piece of material being stretched to a barrier. If you tune in with your sense of ‘listening touch’, after a while you will start to feel the sensation of the tissue starting to move beneath your hands. Make sure you maintain the stretch and “follow” the tissues until you feel a sense of softening and melting beneath your hands.
• This whole process takes around 3-5 minutes so you will need to be patient! Repeat cross hand stretches on anywhere that is needed. (Image: FIG 5
• Cross to the opposite side of the table to work the other side.
Number 2: Power Effleurage
Massage therapists are often taught that effleurage is a light, fast and superficial stroke to be used only at the beginning of a treatment to ‘warm up the tissues’. Yet viewing effleurage in this way is to minimize the potential of one of the most powerful strokes in your massage toolbox.
At Jing we teach you how to develop your standard effleurage stroke from “fluff and buff” into what we call “power effleurage”. In this way your Swedish massage becomes Super Dooper Swedish; not just a superficial stroking but a powerful treatment in itself that will have your clients lining up for more!
I have three top tips for transforming the effleurage that you were taught into a more powerful and deeply satisfying stroke.
• Use correct body mechanics: For a good power effleurage from the head of the table you will need to be in a forward Tai chi stance (see FIG 6 ).
• Slow down! Slow down your speed of your usual stroke by a factor of ten. Yes- really – ten! Work slowly, deeply and thoughtfully. Slower is ALWAYS better in massage and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise!
• Lean into the tissues-If you have got your stance right you will be able to lean into the stroke as you move down the body. This will enable you to give a deeper more powerful massage without hurting yourself or your client.
Power effleurage from the head of the table
This is an amazing stroke to add into your treatments and your clients will love you for it:
• Stand at the head of the table in forward Tai Chi stance with soft hands placed either side of spine. Make sure your outside leg is alongside the side of the table so you can take a small step forward as you work- don’t make the mistake of getting stuck behind the face cradle and having to bend your back.
• Keep this stance and glide down either side of the spine using your body weight to work into the erector spinae muscles with your hands. The focus will be on your palms but the whole hand is in contact with the body, moulding to the contours of the musculature.
• Glide down to the low back with the stroke, working slowly and deeply then come back up with a light return stroke and repeat. Breathe out as you work down the body and imagine energy flowing down your arms with each out breath.
• Make sure you look softly at the client’s feet while working rather than staring at your hands. As I often joke in class “The X ray eyes don’t help!”. Starting fixedly at your hands while working means that you rely less on your sense of touch and just give yourself a neck ache!
Number 1: Trigger point therapy for the quadratus lumborum
It’s hard to have a real number one in the massage charts as all the 5 strokes mentioned here are ones I use in practically every treatment with great success.
However I have a great fondness for this move as it was the very first technique I used that dramatically enabled someone to move out of pain.
Janet Travell, founder of modern trigger point therapy describes trigger points in this muscle as the most overlooked cause of low back pain. My clinical experience over the past 25 years suggests that this statement was not mere hyperbole on Janet’s part and certainly since that time I have been able to help hundreds of clients attain a reduction in low back and other musculo- skeletal pain through using precise trigger point therapy as an important component of my treatment approach.
• There are several steps to treating trigger points in this muscle effectively:
o Treating the transverse process attachments of Q.L: To treat the transverse process attachments of Q.L. your focus needs to be underneath the erector spinae group that lies superficial to this muscle. To treat the transverse process attachments, stand face on at the side of table and apply pressure at a 45 degree angle between the iliac crest and 12th rib. Hold static pressure and treat any trigger points you find for 8 -12 seconds. Explore this small space by orienting your fingers slightly towards the 12th rib or iliac crest. Your focus is underneath the bulk of the erector spinae toward the mid line.
o Treating 12th rib attachment: Turn your body so you are in Tai Chi stance facing the head. Use thumbs to hook underneath and treat the insertion point of Q.L on the 12th rib. Use static pressure first, treating any trigger points, then use cross fibre friction if appropriate
o Muscle stripping the entire Q.L. muscle: Turn your body so you are facing the feet in Tai Chi stance. Muscle strip the side of the Q.L. using thumbs or supported fingers, working towards the iliac crest.
o Treat the inferior attachment point on iliac crest: Now treat the lower portion of Q.L. that attaches under the iliac crest. Make sure that you push your thumbs under the bone and work from lateral to medial with static pressure and cross fibre friction
• Follow up this precise work with a deep power effleurage to the Q.L. with the palm of your hand working from superior to inferior. In forward Tai chi stance work down the side of the Q.L. with the heel of the hand, gently pushing into the iliac crest at the end to stretch out the muscle.
So there you go – my all time top five massage strokes that get results, make your massage unique and keep your clients coming back for more. Try them out in your clinics and let us know how you get on!
Want to learn more?
If you are interested in the techniques above then there is no substitute for our great hands on workshops. You can learn all of the techniques above (plus many more!) on our 3 day Foundation course in Advanced Clinical Massage. Next dates are Fri 8-Sun 10 December and Friday 2- Sunday 4 February in Brighton.
About Rachel Fairweather and Jing Advanced Massage
Rachel Fairweather is author of the best selling book for passionate massage therapists – ‘Massage Fusion: The Jing Method for the treatment of chronic pain”.
She is also the dynamic Co-founder and Director of Jing Advanced Massage Training (www.jingmassage.com), a company providing degree level, hands-on and online training for all who are passionate about massage. Come and take part in one of our fun and informative short CPD courses to check out the Jing vibe for yourself!
Rachel has over 25 years experience in the industry working as an advanced therapist and trainer, first in New York and now throughout the UK. Due to her extensive experience, undeniable passion and intense dedication, Rachel is a sought after international guest lecturer, writes regularly for professional trade magazines, and has twice received awards for outstanding achievement in her field.
Rachel holds a degree in Psychology, a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work, an AOS in Massage Therapy and is a licensed massage therapist.
Tel: 01273 628942