6 Weeks to Better Body Mechanics

By Barb Frye
[Body Awareness]

When we habitually create mindful moments, these moments turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Let’s start slowly—one week at a time to focus on each of the six functional actions of massage and bodywork.
Each week, build your awareness around the key point using the following body awareness tips. You will soon find that this mindfulness carries over into your life away from work, too.

Week 1. Standing
Your Feet: In the standing position, each part of your foot carries a percentage of your body’s weight. The bones of the feet form three arches that raise the center of the foot, distributing and absorbing the weight of your upright body. By engaging the full foot, you can bear your weight effectively, improving standing alignment and decreasing foot stress and pain.

Taking a Stance: The parallel (stationary) stance and the one-foot-forward (mobile) stance are the most common standing positions for manual therapists. For both, keep your trunk, legs, and feet aligned forward, facing the direction of your focus and movement.

Balancing Your Head: Balancing your head over the spine allows your upper body to maintain vertical alignment. When your spine and rib cage are in a neutral position, your head more easily maintains proper alignment. In turn, your body mechanics become more efficient, allowing you to experience a sense of full-body support.

Week 2. Sitting
Aligning Your Pelvis, Legs, and Feet: Sit with your body weight on your ischial tuberosities and your feet at equal distances from your centerline, aligned underneath your knees. This position gives you a tripod of support and increases your stability and balance. Your knees should be at hip height or slightly lower, and your legs should be wide enough apart so that you bend forward using the hip joints rather than bending from your spine.

Week 3. Bending
Bending from Your Hip Joints: Squat-bending (bending from the hip joints, knees, and ankles) is your best choice when bending. When squatting, the spine maintains a vertical and stable position, recruiting the powerful muscles of the pelvis, along with the strong ball-and-socket joints of the hips. This strategy easily supports the body’s weight and facilitates your bending movements.

Counterbalance: When bending from your hip joints, be sure to bend your knees and ankles. This allows the forward-leaning weight of the upper body to be counterbalanced by the pelvis, keeping your center of weight close to your line of gravity.

Week 4. Lifting
Get Close: Reduce the space between your body and the load to reduce the effort in your back. This makes the act of lifting, especially heavier loads, easier and more comfortable.

Face the Weight: To ensure that you keep your body in one plane of movement, face the weight you are about to lift. This strategy reduces the chance of starting a lift in a rotated or twisted position, thus decreasing your chance of injury.

Your Legs: Lifting with the legs allows you to bend from the hip joints, knees, and ankles, helping the spine to maintain a neutral and vertical position. The power of your lower body is used to lift, while your upper body facilitates.

Week 5. Pushing and Pulling
Self-Supported Pushing: Self-supported pushing involves maintaining stability without relying on your client’s body to do so. The force is generated from the center of weight in your lower body, relieving your arms, wrists, and hands of forceful work, and thus increasing your quality of touch.

Self-Supported Pulling: Pulling with self-support means the center of weight in your lower body initiates the movement backward, not your hands. This allows you to remain stable and in control of your balance. Your hands remain sensitive to the response of your client’s body, instead of gripping for stability.

Week 6. Applying Deep Pressure
Effective Alignment: Effective alignment is essential for delivering force effortlessly and reducing your risk of injury. When applying pressure to your client’s back from the side of the table, work unilaterally so that your shoulders, arms, and hands are aligned with your lower body.

Effective Use of Force: Working with gravity and using the strength of your lower body to apply force increases your power while decreasing your effort. To take advantage of gravity, stand directly above the area of focus when applying static pressure. When working at an angle, position yourself at a distance. This allows you to use the power of your lower body, pushing with your feet and legs to transfer force into the area of focus.

Effective Use of Tools: Choosing the most effective tool for the required technique and area of focus promotes variety and saves your hands from repetitive stress injury. The fingers and thumbs should be used for less stressful work, while the forearms and elbows are excellent choices for applying deep pressure.

Barb Frye has been a massage educator and therapist since 1990. She coordinated IBM’s body mechanics program and authored Body Mechanics for Manual Therapists: A Functional Approach to Self-Care (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010), now in its third edition. She has a massage and Feldenkrais practice at the Pluspunkt Center for Therapy and Advanced Studies near Zurich, Switzerland. Contact her at barbfrye@hotmail.com.

Author’s Note
This is my last Body Awareness column.
It has been an honor accompanying you on your quest for better body mechanics. I wish you all continued success in fostering your body awareness and increasing that of your clients.