Basics Of Movement Ergonomics – Useful Tips For Massage Therapists
I have been in the profession for 11 years, also as an instructor for 8 years. My favorite field of study is the practical application of movement and breathing ergonomics, and I also give further trainings on these topics. My experience is that a lot of masseurs complain of various back, waist and other joint pains during their work. In this writing, I will try to give a meaningful answer to the root causes of classic “masseur diseases” and I will also write one or two practical tips that you are more likely to avoid…
If you’re a massage therapist, you may have experienced that in most massage schools don’t hear much about the term ‘movement ergonomics’.
Yet this is one of the cornerstones of a masseur’s long-term physical and mental well-being and effectiveness.
In most places, of course, they provide the general good advice, “Don’t bend over while you massage”. But this is all. And then somehow many masseur manage to get joint complaints.
The science of ergonomics
The concept of ergonomics is, with noble simplicity:
The science of working efficiently.
Since this is a fairly broad concept, you can safely unleash your imagination as to what it entails. But I also help.
It includes all the external and internal circumstances needed to be better and more effective in whatever you do.
In this way, part of more efficient ergonomics, for example, is that the tools and accessories you work with – e.g. massage oil, paper towels – be easily accessible. The outside temperature, the oxygen content of the air, also determines your efficiency; just like when you sleep enough before work or when you just haven’t.
It also matter how is your body posture while you work, especially under load. Matter how you move, and even matter how you breathe. This part of ergonomics is dealt with by movement and breathing ergonomics.
I have already written about the relationship between breathing and massage. Now, I’ll give you some helpful tips from movement ergonomics, on how to move when you’re doing some physically demanding activity, like massaging. You already know the classics, for example, don”t lift up a 50 kg cement bag by benting down, but to squat down on it.
You’ve also heard many times in massage schools that you support yourself with one of your feet while you massage. However, movement ergonomics is not just about that. This is not enough to be truly efficient, and nor will it protect your health in the long run. I will explain in scores the most important information for you below to avoid joint pain during your work.
Basic rules of loaded movement ergonomics
When working with any load, your spine should not twist or bend sideways, unless you are training specifically on your deep spine muscles. Your natural physiological curves are also should not to be too big or too small while you are pulling, pushing, lifting, or holding something.
Your spine is like a straw. The power can flow best in you if you don’t break it. Thanks to the anatomy (myofascial) trains, you are the strongest in physically, and your ability to stand and concentrate is also the greatest at this time.
Because your pelvis is attached to your sacrum, which is part of your spine, it must also follow the direction of movement of your spine. This means that you have to start all the movements from your hips, even the smallest ones, because you can move your pelvis with your hips.
Your pelvis should always look where your chest is facing, otherwise your spine will twist at the junction of your last lumbar vertebra and sacrum; and if you get too much load, then the trouble is already done.
The third rule is the most important, so I will explain this in more detail to understand its essence and importance. The previous point (i.e. moving your pelvis from your hips), can only be achieved 100% if you bend your knees somewhat; or if the direction of the movement requires it, you must also lift one of your heels off the ground so that one of your legs can turn. This is the only way for your hips and pelvis to follow the direction and changes of your current movement.
If you stand on the floor with your legs extended and your feet fully fixed, you will fix your hips, which will prevent you from moving your pelvis.
In addition, your ankles, and mainly your knees, also function as shock absorbers. However, this feature only works for your knees when they are bent, and for your ankles only when you lift your heels off the ground.
Normally, it is enough for one to work (either your ankle or your knee) as you already have shock absorption. The choice is also simple. The knee is a much better shock absorber than the ankle, and the thigh muscle – which holds it – is the strongest muscle in the whole body, much stronger than the calf, which holds the ankle.
The most important rule of loaded movement ergonomics, then, is: Both knees should always be bent so that your thigh muscles are loaded primarily, not your knee joints and waist. In other words, you should rather have buffalo-strong thighs, than hurt waist and knees.
If your sole is on the ground and your knee is also stretched, none of your shock absorbers will work. This means that you cannot dissipate the soil reaction force. This will overload your joints, and if this persists, it will have symptoms sooner or later.
Moreover, if you don’t have shock absorption, it will affect the rest of your body as well. Your movements with your upper body – including your hands – will also be more angular, and you will be able to perform less sophisticated, less concentrated, less sensual movements. In addition, your spine will be less secure if you don’t activate this system.
Your pelvis cannot follow your spine, if your knees extended and your feet on the ground; so your L5-S1 joint at the sacrum, as well as your SI (hip-sacrum) joint will be constantly irritated. This will make you have low back pain, which is one of the classic “masseur disease”.
In addition, if you do loaded work with a fixed hip, the head of your femur will also irritate the cotyle of your pelvis (where it connect) so you can’t avoid hip wear in the long run either.
If you bend your knees and let one of your heels rise off the ground, your joints in your spine will be safe.
So correct your foot posture during the massage, like this!
Do not tilt your pelvis. Instead, pull in your abdomen (about 45 degrees upwards) to create abdominal pressure. Let it push out your breasts and buttocks. The pressure push from each other your lumbar vertebraes, preventing your lumbar spine from collapsing.
In the absence of this pressure, your spinal discs become more and more compressed, which will result in segmental instability, and later discus hernia.
Meanwhile, pull your shoulders back and down and keep your head straight. Your shoulders will thus be centralized under load unless your pectoral muscles have shrunk. Try stretching with your head up and your shoulders down. This will tense your neck a little. Doing so will not allow your back and cervical spine to collapse. Furthermore, having your shoulders in place (middle and bottom) will give a healthy tension to the anatomy trains leading to your arms, so that they can function effectively and dissipate different load forces.
If your shoulders are in front and / or up, you will break these lines. Thus, the force you are working on cannot be dissipated properly and causes overload in your torso or your arms. This can lead to additional wrist, elbow, shoulder and waist problems.
So correct your body posture during the massage, like this!
Maintain and safe the posture formed along the previous points while the load lasts. In fact, strive for it afterwards, no matter how difficult at first, because these are the basics of everyday correct posture and movement, no matter how far we’ve come from this due to the defects of civilization.
Have a good practice!
Author: Sándor Nagy