Why Therapists Need To Strengthen Antagonist Muscles

by May 13, 2020Injury Prevention, Massage Injuries, Self Care0 comments

This is a group of muscles that I would say is highly underutilized as far as self-care goes for therapists. 

. . . and in my opinion is a key factor in relieving injury, pain, chronic holding pattern and tension related to being a massage therapist. 

A quick anatomy recap. . . 

You have 3 main groups that are responsible for movement and stabilization, agonist, antagonist and stabilizers.

Without these, movement simply wouldn’t be possible.

Your agonist is the primary mover in a muscular contraction, the antagonist is the exact opposite, it will relax when the agonist is working, and stabilizers are responsible in assisting in stabilising the agonist muscle.

Take a bicep curl. The two heads of the biceps are the agonist movers. They put the forearm into flexion to complete the contraction.

Your triceps act as antagonist to oppose the action by relaxing. Without this contraction-relax relationship, a full contraction wouldn’t be possible.

So how does this apply to you, and how is it involved in pain? It may be debatable but heres what I think; most pain experienced when talking with other bodyworkers are areas like low back, shoulder joint, and wrist most times. Just like with anyone else that works a full time job, we tend to do the same repetitive movements day and day out.

Even with proper posture, holding patterns can occur and it is most times inevitable.

Even if you didn’t have a job, just sitting on the couch or anything that you do the most can result in a holding pattern.

This is even exacerbated by improper posture and body mechanics. We are the product of what we do multiple times in a day. 

So what’s the common demoninator?

The inactivity of the anatagonist muscle groups play a pivotal role in this. In other words. . They are under-worked, under-exercised and in some cases dorment.

You’ve seen this in your clients that sit in office chairs for 8-12 hours, 5 days a week. Their pecs are chronically contracted from anterior flexion and abduction and I believe that their systems, in an effort to correct this, tries to form knots that try and shorten the antagonist fibers and pull the scapulas back into position.

This defense mechanism created by your body means well, but this just causes your client to have more pain and tension in the end. This ultimately can lead to things like frozen shoulder, rotator cuff issues, thoracic outlet, and carpal tunnel type symptoms.


How therapists can combat agonist tightness

Aside from doing what we know best, which is lengthening those agonist fibers, there needs to be some emphasis on strengthening the opposing side as well. 

i.e. Tight pecs = strengthening traps/rhomboids and lats.

There is so much work and demand that we place on these agonist fibers that you may not really realize.

All of those techniques and common things that we do? Slow myofascial strokes, pushing through the floor to build torque and pressure, lifting massage tables. . .

These are all things that we do every single day, multiple times a week, and by a single year, it isn’t any wonder that we are in pain.

A good idea is to strive to do more work or exercise for your antagonist fibers than the agonist. It may be hard to calculate that, but overall, if you have a tendancy to use things like your pecs, delts, quads and biceps a lot, try to strengthen those opposing muscles in the same frequency.


I want to hear from you! 

What are some common pain areas that you possess as a therapist? Leave your comment below and let me make some recommendations to help! 


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About Me

My name is Zack Mayfield and I am in the constant pursuit to help each and every therapist achieve strength, better self-care and longevity in their career!

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