Massaging hurts my thumbs! What to do?
January 27, 2011 6:30 AM   Subscribe

My thumbs hurt after I give massages. Can I fix this?

Not much more to add. I can avoid using my thumbs, but the quality of my massages drops significantly. :P
posted by sdis to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your thumb muscles are sore. Keep doing it, and do it often, and your muscles will get used to being used and stop being so sore.
posted by Grither at 6:33 AM on January 27, 2011

Are you warming up and stretching your hands before the massage?
posted by galadriel at 6:35 AM on January 27, 2011

Also, you can learn to use your hands and body weight more effectively. If you are using your thumbs for static pressure point work, try to keep them tight to your hand and push using your body, not your hand or thumb. If you are using your thumbs for sweeping/kneading motions, try using the edge of your hand or the bottom/palm area of your thumb. Eventually you will get stronger, but the pros know to alternate techniques and use their body weight properly. You might want to view some how to videos to learn some new moves that will help save your thumbs. (Former Massage Therapist)
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:40 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I totally second PorcineWithMe. A massage therapist friend taught me how to do some basics and she kept stressing not to just use fingers and thumbs. It's all about even distribution and balance and letting various parts of your hands share the workload. Find ways to use your palms and knuckles. Before I talked with her I couldn't give a 5 minute massage without achy thumbs. Afterwards I could give an hour massage easily. Not kidding. Sure, use your thumbs. For a minute. And then switch to your palms. Then fingers. Then knuckles. Back to thumbs. Rinse and repeat.
posted by iconomy at 6:58 AM on January 27, 2011

The massage therapists (trained, licensed) I know use their elbows as much as (if not more than) their thumbs.
posted by bilabial at 7:06 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It depends on what kind of hurt you are talking about. If it is muscle soreness, you just need to strengthen the muscles and build endurance.

But if it is more joint kind of pain, look at your technique and make sure you are using your muscles and not relying on your ligaments and joints to create the pressure. I learned this because I realized I was doing this sort of thing while writing longhand- I was basically hyper extending my index finger joint and using the physical "stop" in there to put pressure on the pen. After a while of this, that joint became sore because I was using it incorrectly. So when you are working, double check to make sure you aren't doing this with any of your thumb joints.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2011

You need to make sure that you are keeping your thumbs in a neutral position--that is, aligning them so that they are lined up with your forearms. Use the weight of your body to manipulate the tissue.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:21 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got a Knobble for this reason.
posted by hat at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another former massage therapist here. PorcineWithMe has it. Your thumbs should not be doing most of the work - they should be aligned to just transmit the force from your body weight.

This previous comment of mine gives some advice on developing good massage technique.
posted by tdismukes at 9:58 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

+1 with minimizing thumb use (I'm a massage therapist). I use my fingers and thumbs to find my way around, feel for adhesions, etc., but to do the real work I use my knuckles, forearms & elbows at least as much as my hands.
posted by headnsouth at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2011

Are you actually trained in massage, or are you just giving massages?

I'm asking because a lot of folks figure out on their own that thumbs feel great for the client- what they don't figure out is that thumbs have to be used carefully or you mess up your joints. If you don't have certified training, consider at least a class or two to get that much. If you do have training, hopefully they've covered some of the issues, but if not, the advice above about body mechanics and body tools is totally on point.

1. If you are having to apply a lot of pressure to get in, consider warming up/loosening up your clients more before going in with thumbs.

2. Consider using knuckles for some points. Switch up which knuckles and fingers are involved.

3. Put your thumb/finger on the point. Put your other hand over it. Use your covering hand to apply the pressure while keeping your thumb/finger soft. Your hand & arm has more muscles than either your thumb or finger.

4. Check your body mechanics. You should be using body weight and moving from the hips, not from the arms or the hand as your primary source of pressure.

5. Elbows are great. Seriously. Just make sure you're not reaching too far over, or your back will pay the price for it.

6. Do you know how to move the client's body so that the muscle area you're trying to access is in a relaxed position (w/o contraction)? This is a huge thing for getting into stuff like shoulder blades, hips, neck, pecs, thighs, etc. If you don't know, you should get training.

7. Body tools are good! Hot stones are in right now, and you can use them to press points/work knots. If you don't have training with these, get some, so you don't burn your clients.

8. Are you adjusting your client's position for what you're trying to access? Some things are easier to get at sidelying, some face up, some face down, etc.

9. Anything your thumbs can do, your fingers can do. Generally, pressing is going to be harder on your joints than pulling- partly because pressing compresses your joints, partly because finger muscles are better at pulling than pushing, and you end up using your bodyweight instead. See if you can angle differently to achieve the same effect pulling instead of pushing.

If you're getting inflammation, swelling, or nerve zings from the work you are doing, you absolutely need to get retrained and not just "work through it". Massage therapists who end up "blowing out their arms" are usually left with bad cases of tendonitis, bursitis, and more.

Be kind to your body, you only get one.
posted by yeloson at 11:25 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can treat the trigger points in the brachialis muscle underneath the bicep, then go on to look at the scalenes for more long term recovery.
posted by Not Supplied at 3:07 PM on January 27, 2011

There's the distinct possibility that you can't do anything about this. The ligaments on the inside of your thumbs (the muscles that essentially make them "opposable"), when torn sufficiently, can not grow back together and your thumbs will forever remain weaker than they would have been otherwise.

The medical terminology for this is somewhat amusingly archaic: "Gamekeepers Hand" - it refers to farmers who would raise game birds - to kill them they would sometimes pick them up by the neck, then use a twirling motion of the arm to snap their neck (I am not joking). This would sometimes result in the bodyweight of the bird essentially yanking the thumb away from the rest of the hand, tearing the interior ligament and sometimes even separating the thumb.

Where it happens more frequently in today's day and age is with skiers - a sport I was big into growing up. You take a spill at high speeds while holding that pole, and there's nothing to protect your thumb from being ripped off its grip when the hand / pole hit the ground. I've sprained both thumbs this way, multiple times, and I can't give good massages, never have been able to.

Sure, you can try exercises to strengthen the hand, but if you've had injuries like I have, you're fairly limited in terms of how well they're going to work. Sorry to be negative nelly - just an FYI.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:23 AM on January 28, 2011

« Older Not cut out for it?   |   Where can I buy emulsifying wax in Toronto? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.