Proper Body Mechanics in All Postures

Fluidity and Joint Alignment Prevent Injury

By Anne Williams
[Classroom to Client]

During a session, therapists use a variety of movements and postures: standing, sitting, bending, and stretching, as well as pulling and lifting parts of the body. Performing these movements and postures from a properly supported position will conserve body energy and reduce your risk of injury. 

Students often take these body positions, hold them rigidly, and fix themselves to a spot in a particular stance. Instead, think of stances as fluid, and avoid situations where you plant your feet and remain fixed in a particular posture. The ideal is fluidity and joint alignment to prevent injury. 


Therapists use two primary standing positions (Images 1A and 1B). In the symmetrical stance, the feet are shoulder-width apart with the toes pointing forward. The knees are slightly bent and directly above the feet. The back is straight and the pelvis is balanced so that it can shift side to side without restriction. The shoulders are relaxed, and the chest is open and expanded. The head is not laterally flexed or rotated. 

This stance is appropriate when the work is directly in front of you, such as when doing petrissage or tapotement on the legs or back. You can move up and down a body area by sidestepping, allowing your hips to sway gently with the movement of the stroke, which keeps your pelvis loose and fluid and the stroke rhythmic and energized.

In an asymmetrical stance, one foot is placed in front of the other about shoulder-width apart; the stance may be wider if you need more stability. The front knee is flexed and the front foot points in the direction of the stroke. The back leg is straight with the knee slightly flexed and the foot slightly rotated laterally. The hips face the same direction as the front foot, with the weight predominantly on the back leg. The back is straight, with an imaginary line running from the heel through the glenohumeral joint to the ear. In this position, you can lunge deeply, pushing off the back foot, to increase pressure. This stance is ideally suited to strokes that travel the length of a body area, like gliding strokes and some vibration strokes. 


Sitting while applying techniques removes pressure from the feet and conserves your energy. In a seated position, the knees are spread wide and the feet are firmly on the floor. The back is straight, the chest open and expanded, the shoulders open and relaxed, and the head straight (Image 2A). Avoid dropping your head forward to look down at the client (Image 2B). Instead, look down occasionally only with your eyes to check your hand position and the client’s reaction to a stroke. Some strokes are easier to perform when you are closer to or farther from the massage table. A rolling stool allows you to easily adjust your position in relation to the stroke. 

In some situations, sitting may result in bad body mechanics, especially when using the wrong types of strokes. A therapist who is not standing may have to use muscular strength in the arms instead of body weight. It is also easy to abduct or adduct the wrists when applying some strokes from a seated position (Image 2B). Pay attention to these tendencies, and stand if the stroke feels awkward in a seated position. 

Lifting, Stretching, and Range-of-Motion Techniques 

Techniques that include lifting, stretching, jostling, and moving parts of the body require special attention to body mechanics. To lift a client’s leg or arm, sink lower into a lunge position and grip it firmly, holding it close to your body to avoid using muscular strength in your arms and back (Image 3A). Use your legs to lift the limb and bring your body up out of the deep lunge, keeping your back straight. To traction a limb, lean back with your back leg bearing the weight of your body, keeping your knee flexed. Your front leg straightens and balances your body but bears little weight. Avoid hunching your shoulders and looking down at the limb (Image 3B). 

When pushing a limb into a stretch, stay behind the limb and lunge forward. In this situation, weight shifts from your back leg to the front leg during the movement. Avoid twisting at the waist or standing on tiptoe—always keep your feet flat on the floor and your hips and feet pointing in the direction that the limb is moving. 

When you pull a body area toward you, bend both knees with your weight first on your front leg. Shift the weight to your back leg as your arms pull the body area. While jostling an area, allow your own body to sway with the rhythm of the jostling. This helps to keep your body soft and fluid, and also keeps the stroke rhythmic. 

 Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012), from which this article was adapted, and Spa Bodywork: A Guide to Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006). She can be reached at 

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