Have you ever received a massage and your therapist finds an area of tension you didn't know was there? Maybe they asked if you did a lot of driving this weekend, if you are right handed, or how long you have been at your desk job? Questions like this aren't as random as they may seem in the moment. Massage therapist work on many people and conditions throughout our career and we find patterns that tell us about our clients. These patterns can tell us what you do in a day, some of the habits you have, where your discomfort or chronic pain may come from, and how best to work with those muscles. Here are some of the common things your therapist can tell about you during a massage!
What Type of Work You Do:
If your job requires you to sit at a desk, stand, or hold specific positions, these habits will show up in your body. Therapists can tell if you spend most of your day sitting at work because of tension in your lower back and shortened hip flexors; where as someone who stands may have tense calf muscles and are prone to locking their knees. Many occupations like hair dressers, dentist, massage therapists, and construction workers, among others, may show more upper body tension due to the type of movement they perform in their tasks. There are many different postures and patterns that each job presents. Other professionals may hold tension differently throughout the day depending on their movements.
Texting and Computer Use:
We all love our technology and the connection it give us to events and people that matter in our lives. Therapists can tell if your job or favorite past time involving being in front of a computer or texting on your phone. Those who spend hours in front of a computer for work or fun have distinct posture. Computer and phone use often creates tension in our forearms and fingers from the small repetitive movement of key tapping or typing with our thumbs. In addition many Americans slouch while on the computer and have forward head posture while looking at their phones. That strains the neck and postural muscles in the mid upper back while shortening the pectorals.
I like to call this posture Computersaurus Rex.
Driving Long Distances:
The small movements we make have the largest effects on our bodies. Similar to texting or typing, driving also requires small muscle movements. Those who drive for long periods of time make many small adjustments using their right lower leg and foot muscles to operate the break and gas pedals. This causes tension in the lower leg that can cause discomfort in the arch of your foot, upper leg, and hips, as tension leads to compensation patterns
Carrying Babies and Toddlers:
If you have a little one that you pick up or carry around often your massage therapist will notice this in your posture. When carrying babies and toddlers we have a tendency to lean our weight on one leg and raise that hip to support them, while we lean to the opposite side with our torso. This leads to chronically shortening the muscles on the baby carrying side and stressing the muscles on the opposite side. We also raise our shoulder when contracting the shoulder and arm muscles to support and carry the baby which causes neck and shoulder discomfort.
Previous Muscle Injury:
When a muscle is damaged the tissues that heal create a different texture. Often scar tissues will feel restrictive as it is more fibrous and lacks a lot of the elastin that allow regular muscle tissue to expand and contract. This scar tissue often adheres to surrounding structures further reducing range of motion. Therapists who work on these areas can feel the structural difference and the restricted movement from older injuries. When there is a new injury or surgery, massage can help during the healing process by helping the tissue fibers align allowing elasticity to be retained while reducing adhesion to surrounding structures.
Ribs Out of Place:
Massage therapists learn both the skeletal structure and the muscular structure of the human body in our training. When a rib is out of place or your hips are misaligned therapists can often feel the difference when you are on the table. Rib heads can appear to be a bony spot that are slightly elevated and tender, while misaligned hips may be elevated off the table slightly or slanted towards your shoulder as seen in a slanted waistband when standing.
Swelling or Water Retention:
Swelling or water retention can happen for many reasons from injury, stress, extended periods of standing, low blood circulation, or even arthritis. While there are many reasons for swelling and water retention therapists can feel a difference in areas that are effected. They may appear more rounded with less pronounced bony landmarks or softer than usual to the touch.
When your body is dehydrated, therapists can tell because your body will absorb the lotion or oil faster than it usually would. Dehydration may also cause your muscle fibers to stick together and feel more tough and dense. Some common side effects of being dehydrated and receiving a massage may be dizziness, queasiness, and headaches.
Therapists can tell when someone is a frequent smoker because of a few factors. Often those who smoke retain an odor on their clothes and their bodies. The skin may also be more dry and dehydrated causing faster absorption of the lotion or oil. Another common issue that tells us if a person smokes, is if they have difficulty taking full breaths throughout the session or catching their breath after getting off the table.
People tend to have a dominant hand they do most tasks with that create a difference in muscle tone and tension. While working on your arms a therapist can tells which side you favor, as your dominant side will have more tone and tension. Those who are ambidextrous or spend a lot of time typing are more difficult to determine.
Carrying a Heavy Bags/ Purses on One Shoulder:
Carrying a heavy bag or purse on one shoulder can cause uneven shoulder posture as well as an adhesion on the weight bearing shoulder. When carrying a purse or bag on the shoulder, we tend to raise that shoulder slightly so that the strap doesn't slide off which creates tension in the shoulder and neck. Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder can also cause muscles to adhere due to compression of the tissue creating limited movement and lack of proper blood flow.