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Massage Therapists - Do you have a love hate relationship with your thumbs?!

My journey began with classical dance and gymnastics back in my home country, Canada. When your body is the tool that you work with, you learn to take notice of it and it was this interest in the human body that led me to retrain as a nurse and a Sports and Remedial Massage Therapist. Currently, I am the director of NLSSM, The North London School of Sports Massage and run an online Massage Coaching Program as well as specialist courses in Oncology Massage, all accredited by Complementary Health Professionals.

In this article, I am going to give you Top Tips on how to work deeply using your thumbs, achieving greater gains with ease. Many therapists want to use them for deeper strokes and precision work but find that it always results in pain and discomfort. This is a problem because therapists are naturally care givers; it is in our nature to look after others. We make this our priority and sometimes we deny ourselves the same care we give our clients. After all, we advise them not to work through pain yet we do not take our own advice. How many times do we hear stories about how hard our job is on the body? Our work is tough, yet we compound the problem day in and day out hoping it will simply go away. Maybe you’ve tried a variety of solutions without finding a permanent one and stoically you continue to work through the pain, I might just have a solution for you….

Arthritic type pain in the saddle joint is at the top of the list of work related injuries that a soft tissue therapist suffers. The solution is simple, but the change can be a challenge to implement because bad habits are usually difficult to change.

There are solutions, such as the no hands approach, correcting your body mechanics, trying different tools, all of which might result in some relief but doesn’t enable us to make use of them again. But what if you could reintroduce them without any resulting pain?

My early life as a dancer was well spent as it helped me to understand how to use my body as an effective tool and it set the foundation for my future career as a massage teacher and therapist. I came to understand how to create strength out of ease, power out of lightness and stability from alignment. It is these concepts that have allowed me to remain injury free in a career that has lasted 20 years.

First let us establish what your individual challenges might be; for example, hypermobility. The principles I will be introducing are equally relevant to you as they would be with any therapist who has stable joints.

Do you recognize your thumb type in the digital picture below? Can you make your thumbs bend at child frighteningly odd angles? If you’ve answered yes then the following advice is a must for you.


The suggestion that you can reinforce a thumb by bracing it with the other one (which is just as bendy as the first one) will not do you much good. With this amount of flexibility you will also not be able to align your thumb with the forearm to protect your joints. So what is the solution?


I am blessed with strong thumbs but even so I seldom apply any techniques using my thumbs independently. The majority of the time I use the support of my other hand. Notice I did not say my other thumb or finger; instead I specifically said my other hand. This is key in creating the ease you need plus the strength and power you want to translate through your thumb. Place one hand on the body, ensure it is flat making full contact, including the heel of your hand. Your bottom hand should remain soft and the top hand can be used to add more power if needed.

The images below demonstrate how it will appear if you were to lift your hands off of your client. Where you place the heel of your hand will determine how specific you want to be with your thumb. Also, you might find one option more comfortable than the other.


As you can see from the image below, most of the power should come from your base. Your movement originates from your torso and feet allowing the upper body to remain relaxed.

Other benefits of using this approach include more accurate feedback from the tissue, often leading to a more effective outcome of treatment, precipitating fewer negative post treatment symptoms and leading to greater client satisfaction; especially from those clients who want deeper work without the brutality.

Remember that the thumb is making the connection; it is the communicator. If it is stiff it will generate tension in the tissue, which is a natural response to techniques that are pokey and/or invasive. This approach allows you to remain at ease, increasing the accuracy of your perception of the condition of the tissue and allows you to work more sensitively. These are just a few of the benefits that come from using this method.

A majority of therapists come to this job to help others, with the intention of making a difference. We want to help people to ease their discomfort but if we do not take care of ourselves then we’re the ones that will either be out of a career and become another statistic or become the client who is in need of fixing.

I have put together a special Massage Monday video that will take you through the process step by step. You can sign up for free on to get my weekly videos to your inbox.

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