Teaching Muscles Creatively and Effectively


Q & A With Joe Muscolino

Joe Muscolino, a massage educator for more than 24 years and the author of eight major publications, is a featured speaker at AMTA’s upcoming Schools Summit, February 17 - 18 in San Francisco. His session “Teaching Muscles Creatively and Effectively” will show participants how to effectively teach muscular anatomy and kinesiology. Get a sneak peak of Joe’s program below!

Why is it important for massage therapy students to have a fundamental basis in kinesiology terminology and musculoskeletal content?

The foundation of clinical orthopedic massage requires critical thinking—and true critical thinking can only be achieved if the therapist has a solid foundation in kinesiology. Understanding normal and healthy anatomy allows the therapist to be able to reason through healthy physiology and, in turn, better understand pathologic anatomy and physiology. With this foundation, the therapist is then better equipped to assess and appropriately treat different conditions through critical thinking. 

In other words, if students spend the time to memorize anatomy, they can then critically think through physiology and pathophysiology assessment and treatment. Concrete examples of this premise will be described during the workshop.

Describe your approach to teaching muscles in the classroom.

I believe in a multi-faceted approach. Although the core of my class is taught through auditory techniques, I also believe that including visuals in the classroom is essential. Incorporating kinesthetic learning is also critical to learning muscles. However, there can be a downside to kinesthetic learning.

I believe that the all too common approach of teaching muscle actions and palpation through rote memorization is an extremely big mistake. Muscle actions and muscle palpation should never be memorized. Students should always be shown how actions and palpation protocols can be "figured out." Following this approach promotes the development of critical reasoning skills. Critical reasoning skills are necessary for the therapist to be successful in a clinical orthopedic work setting.

What are some of the challenges you face in teaching massage students?

I am not sure if there is any one clear challenge that teaching massage therapy students poses compared to teaching other college-level students. As a rule, massage students might be a little more fearful of science, which makes it even more important to teach science in a manner that is both clear cut and straight forward. I believe that it is possible to be simple AND thorough. If the big picture is given, students can learn more content and grasp that content more easily. It all comes back to having a solid foundation of how muscles function.

Having said all this, massage therapy students are often very passionate about learning and love to get involved. They are often kinesthetically-oriented, which is a plus when teaching palpation. 

How will this knowledge help massage students better succeed when they begin practicing in the real world?

If the therapist is going to have a clinical orthopedic practice, then understanding muscles is a requirement. Critical thinking skills are essential to accurately assessing and applying appropriate treatment techniques. There is a dizzying array of treatment techniques out there. Having a solid foundation in kinesiology will equip the therapist with the ability to choose the right technique for the right client.


Dr. Joseph E. Muscolino  A massage educator for more than 24 years, Muscolino is the author of eight major publications, including The Muscle and Bone Palpation Manual, Kinesiology and The Muscular System Manual. He runs numerous advanced study workshops, as well as Anatomy in Clay® workshops, cadaver labs and in-services for massage therapy instructors.

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