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Hand Health + Low Back Pain

Because of the active and physically demanding nature of their career, massage therapists need to emphasize physical self-care. Being mindful of your body posture and having the knowledge to treat yourself can keep you healthy and practicing for years to come.

Massage and Hand Health

As a massage therapist, your hands are your tools, so an injury to your hand or wrist can be particularly damaging to your practice. According to Dennis Price, a massage therapist from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, some of the more common hand injuries for massage therapists include pain in the thumbs and tendonitis in the flexor tendon. These injuries are commonly treated by massaging the muscles, however Price says they are often the result of nerve entrapment. For example, if pain in the thumb is the result of nerve entrapment, Price could treat the pain by releasing the client’s trigger points in the back. Treating the trigger points for pain can often to lead to greater long term improvement

Price believes that not enough massage therapists properly warm up their muscles and joints before administering massage. Simply flexing and extending the hand will get the blood flowing and the fluid in the joints moving. Performing these simple movements before a session will warm up the muscles in your hands and help prevent injuries.

According to Price, new massage therapists are particularly susceptible to injuries as they are not properly conditioned for a professional workload. New students often jump from one hour of massage per day to six. Price equates this to running a marathon after minimal training. In order to stay healthy over a long career, massage therapists need to slowly build up towards a professional workload.

In the process of massage therapy, Price explains, your flexors will naturally become stronger than your extensors which creates a muscle imbalance. Strengthening your extensors through exercise can ensure balanced muscles and healthy hands. Good exercises for strengthening your extensors include wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. While holding a weight, start with your wrist limp (either palm up or palm down) and then raise the weight so that your wrist is parallel to the ground. Your hands are your tools and keeping them strong, balanced, and conditioned is an effective way to keep yourself practicing massage therapy.

Yoga and Low Back Pain

Massage therapists are at high risk for musculoskeletal disorders because of the awkward static postures they are required to hold for significant amounts of time. Luckily, some of the most common injuries for massage therapists are easily treatable with an at home, self-care routine.

There are many studies that champion yoga as a remedy for lower back pain. According to Lisa Sandquist, a restorative yoga instructor from Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago, techniques like back bending and twists can be used to treat low back pain because of the type of movement they engage. Back bending poses include a simple bridge and upward facing dog where you lie flat on your stomach and use your arms to push your chest into the air. Twist poses include the two knee spinal twist pose where you lie flat on your back and bring both your knees to your side so that your upper legs are perpendicular to your body. Even something as simple as relaxation poses can be beneficial. For hand and wrist pain, Sandquist recommends lying on your back with your arms elevated by a few blankets or pillows.

As for preventative measures, Sandquist believes awareness of how you are standing is a good way to avoid pain. Are your feet turned inward? Do you lean more often with one side of the body? Where is the weight on your feet? Being aware of your posture and weight distribution can help keep you healthy.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 issue of Massage Therapy Journal (mtj).

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