5 Bad Phyiscal Habits MT’s Develop

by Aug 18, 2020Injury Prevention, Massage Injuries, Preventative Exercises, Self Care0 comments

Chances are – if you’ve been a therapist for a while – you’ve had aches and pains in your neck, QL, thumbs, low back or shoulders at some point.

The simple answer?

There are some bad habits that we all have picked up along the way from working on many clients. . . habits that may feel normal or comfortable to your body just because they have become habitually adapted.

What they may be causing you might surprise you though. . . 

So keep listening and reading to find out what they are and how to resolve some of these pains!

The habits

My own bad habits

I continually preach self care – but I still have trouble with some of this. 

I am always on the pursuit of personal growth!

Something that I always had trouble with was using too much brute force and strength when completing strokes in the beginning of my career.

I’m talking purely arm and shoulder strength, and not using proper leg drive to push into the floor.

Yes. . .  I could pick them up off the table if I wanted to, but what good would that do for me when my shoulders and elbows ended up feeling like they would tear off or develop tendinitis in a few months?

Just looking at the logistics of using strength in that manner – the pros far outweigh the cons, so it isn’t worth it. 

This leads perfectly to the first point. . . 


1. Too much upper body strength and not enough body weight

Upper body strength

I will say that I don’t see this as much as other points on the list. . .

But it still bears listing!

It can wreak havoc up anterior shoulder musculature – all the while making the posterior shoulder muscles weaker and dormant.

This places a lot of torque and tension on those hands, wrists, shoulders and even neck. This can develop into tendonitis and other issues if not dealt with.

I know because I’ve been there. In my own example, I developed tendinitis in both biceps and pecs from using too much brute force.

It’s difficult being the one on the table!

If you are someone who does this regularly, then there are some ways to get around this.

First off, we want to think about redirecting that strength to our legs to build torque in between the ground and our feet.

This works best with carpeted floors, but it doesn’t have to be. All you have to do is have enough tread in your shoe to dig your foot into the ground and externally rotate the hip and foot.

The foot won’t move much but this is how your build torque and good tension in the hips.

In terms of your arms, you can push into your client with a bone stacked shoulder, elbow and wrist.

From here you can lean forward into the working arm and just move through your stroke.

To recap, dig into the ground, externally rotate the foot and hip to dig into the ground and lean into a bone stacked arm for your stroke. 

Not enough body weight

I know what you might be thinking. . .

What if I don’t weigh that much?

You can put your table down lower.

You can do more strength training and get that leg and upper body strength up. . .

OR you can reach out to Julie Marciniak over at North Carolina Ashiatsu training center to learn Ashiatsu. 

I really feel that Ashiatsu is a big missing piece for multiple reasons because your legs are a powerful tool in good pressure, good body mechanics and all around having more bodily strength.

If you’re using your legs for strokes, you are more likely to stay upright and neutral.

If you didn’t you would fall off the table.

For anyone having trouble using body weight, I would consider adding Ashiatsu to your arsenal. 

Back to body weight. . . Think of strength use like a nitrous oxide booster on a street racer. You can press that button for a boost of speed when you need it most. 

Strength should be used in this manner – on reserve when you need it.

All in all, completing your strokes and using your body weight with the suggestions in this first point will redirect the strength you use in your arms – to some of the bigger and stronger muscles that can handle that kind of load and give your arms the much needed break they need. 


2. too much use of thumbs

Did you know that your thumbs and other fingers can only handle about 10-15lbs of force?

Crazy right?!

That means that repeatedly doing squeezing or pinching techniques have the potential to quickly develop into other issues.

I use to enjoy pinching and squeezing as I always got good feedback from clients on it, but I found that my hands didn’t much like it all.

A few ways to combat this is to first use two hands to do these kinds of techniques.

You might be thinking – what the heck? What do you mean?

scoop and tiger claw

Close your eyes and picture the superior portion of the left trap for this example. Take your left hand and scoop underneath the anterior part of the trap and pull it back posteriorly so you can see more of that trap tissue.

“Take your left hand and scoop underneath the anterior part of the trap and pull it back posteriorly so you can see more of the trap tissue.”

Now take your right hand and glide down with either straight finger tips or tiger claw with your knuckles.

You can glide upward superiorly towards the neck or laterally towards the deltoids. Both these tools and directional force feel great without at all affecting your thumbs.

“Take your right hand and glide down with either straight finger tips or tiger claw with your knuckles.”

If you’re having trouble picturing these further, don’t worry. . . I will make a youtube video demonstrating this whole episode so you can physically see it!

Thumb fortification technique

The second way to take some pressure off the thumb is to fortify the thumb for trigger point techniques. You can do this by placing the thumb on the trigger point and putting the opposite hand’s open palm on top of the working thumb and push into it that way. 

You don’t have to push down with the thumb at all, just let the other hand do all of the work.

From here you can do transverse friction or gliding friction with the pushing hand, all with that thumb underneath.

The moment I started doing this, it saved me years of wear and tear on the thumb. 

3. Bending over in flexion

Bending over to do specific work ihis isn’t inherently bad if used sparingly, and if done with a proper hinging pattern, but I see a lot of therapists that are more kyphotic, rounded and bent over. Think hunchback of notre dame.  

This places a lot of tension on those posterior discs and erectors which can lead to disc issues later on. Couple this with lifting limbs and tables improperly, you can develop issues quickly. 

I can see why therapists use this, as it is effective, but this episode would be inneffective if I didn’t give you a suggestion on how to do things differently, right?

I posed this question of bad habits in my Facebook group Successful Bodyworker Community, and one of our member’s responses was this very issue.

My answer to this is again, is the split power stance, which I mentioned earlier in the first point.

This is a really effective alternative to bending over because your spine and hips are completely stacked on top of one another.

At this point your body is a complete efficiency and energetic machine.

This does multiple things: 

  • First off, you are better able to engage your trunk and abdominal muscles, protecting your spine in the process. 
  • You have better use of your body weight to be able to lean into your client, which basically gives you free pressure to use without more use of your muscles
  • This split stance will take pressure off your erectors and posterior discs because you are more upright
  • And finally, you will use less elbow which may not be perceived as feeling the best for some clients. This isn’t true for some of the masochistic clients haha, but if you use a soft fist with your knuckles, and tops of your fingers, it will give your clients smooth yet deeper pressure without the pointy feel of the elbow. I really enjoy the feel of this myself over the elbow. 

4. Looking down at your work

I get it, you want to see the amazing work you are doing.

The redness in our client’s tissue.

The blood rush to the subcutaneous skin.

The elastic feeling of loosened muscle.

But this can – like the lower back – places a lot of pressure on those posterior cervical discs and upper portion of the cervical trap.

I know I’ve mentioned this in a past episode, but for every inch that your neck is lower than neutral, you will add ten pounds.

All of you tech neck folks out there, your head is 60lbs now!!

A simple and effective fix to this is just simply keeping the neck straighter but having the eyes fixed on a focal point above eye level. 

I believe that this can also create more sensational awareness because you won’t be able to physically see what their tissue is doing, so you will have to pay attention to the tone of their muscle and what it is telling you.

I sometimes keep my eyes closed to really get the best use of my senses. 

5. Favoring one side

I still constantly see therapists leaning to one side when doing strokes and this can really tighten up those QLs and obliques on one side and can lead to other dysfunctions in the body.

Aside from being mindful of the position of your hips, you can also strengthen the opposing QL by doing a sidelined side bend and holding that position for 5-10 seconds per repetition.

This will really strengthen the opposite oblique and QL and help to redirect those neural pathways to even out your hips. 


summing it all up

If you have ever developed any one of these habits, I hoped this episode helped you to realize it and give some good pointers to change these habits so you can stay a therapist for many more years without the aches and pains that these habits can bring you.

We covered:

  1. How the split power stance utilizes the use of bodyweight so you dont have to rely so much on upper body strength.
  2. How fortifying the thumbs with the other hand and using the scoop and tiger fist techniques can give your thumbs that much needed break.
  3. How staying more upright, again, with the use of split power stance can help take tension off of your erectors and posterior discs.
  4. Why focusing on something a bit above eye level can help your posterior neck tissues. 
  5. How the side bend can help correct QL and oblique tension from favoring one side.

Have you developed a bad habit and not sure how to correct? Drop a comment below!


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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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