Biomechanical Strain or Elegance?
by Robert K. King

Excerpt from Methods for Correcting Upper Quarter Strain Patterns,
published in the Spring issue of Massage Therapy Journal

Bodywork Delivery Systems
The Psychology of Strain and Effort
Principles of Elegant Bodywork
Techniques are delivered with strength and muscular effort Techniques are integrated with a sense of openness and ease
Upper body focused – my arm as a
battering ram
My pelvis and lower extremities are the source of grounding and power
Fragmented stressful movements fighting against gravity My body movements reflect working with gravity
Hand positions and techniques that strain neck and shoulder muscles My body assumes lower quarter stability prior to specific hand techniques
A “No pain - no gain” philosophy generating ongoing strain A coordinated bodywork dance based on mutually experienced levels of comfort
I relieve client discomfort by increasing personal effort Somatic awareness and conscious breathing
Rigid allegiance to a conceptual formula— “Bodywork Fascism”
Willingness to explore and wander around; palpatory literacy
Limited endurance leading to energetic functional exhaustion
Energized and intuitive bodywork!
Intense focus on parts that need treatment… “work it out” Focus on whole body patterns and segmental relationships
Straining to overcome tissue resistance An elegant delivery system based on leaning, leverage, and lunging for optimal impact

This chart, Bodywork Delivery Systems, outlines contrasting philosophies and belief systems that profoundly impact our style of bodywork. The first list portrays the stressful beliefs and psychological disposition lurking behind functional strain patterns. What we find here is a “hardening of the categories.” This practitioner mindset is “working deep=working hard=upper body strain = overall personal exhaustion” (and somehow the client gets better?!). When fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders are the major power source for tissue engagement, it compromises functional integrity, often leading to the classic cumulative trauma disorder. Perhaps even more distressing is that it is non-reflective and non-responsive to legitimate client needs. I wonder if we all haven’t gone through this stage at one time or another in our careers—where determination overcomes discernment. We want to follow an effective therapeutic protocol, but it becomes one-sided and one-dimensional. Fortunately, we are able to step back and realize the unnecessary emotional and biomechanical stress that can undermine the therapeutic encounter. Eventually we come to realize that healing does not occur in a formula.
Let’s reflect on the second part of the Bodywork Delivery System chart. Are these just poetic words suggesting flow, energetics and some sort of tableside dance? I think legions of wounded bodyworkers can attest that the old paradigm is not working. A vital and multidimensional transformation needs to occur.
It begins with self awareness. It relies on the pelvic and lower extremity muscles for power and the upper body for precision. By unloading the upper quarter musculature, we allow for a more conscious and comfortable delivery system that eliminates the perpetuating factor of dysfunctional biomechanics. We focus on self awareness and conscious reflection of client needs. We become a “work in progress,” responsive to client feedback. Relaxed communication replaces strict adherence to a formula. This shift is both forgiving and energizing.

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