Appearance & Mechanics

Are You As Polished As You Could Be?

By Barb Frye
[Body Awareness]

Believe it or not, how you dress and groom yourself has an impact on your body mechanics. Being mindful of the clothes and shoes you choose, and how you wear your hair and nails, will increase your overall body awareness and support a healthy work performance. 


Manual therapy requires you to be physically active during the day, which makes the clothes you wear essential to your comfort and effectiveness. Your clothing should allow freedom of movement. If your clothes are too tight, your effectiveness and comfort will be reduced. Choose clothing with natural fibers such as cotton, linen, silk, or wool, as they allow your skin to breathe; avoid synthetic fibers like nylon or polyester. 

Pay particular attention to your waist and chest. Wearing anything tight around your waist can become irritating, negatively affecting your mood, breathing, and body mechanics. Also, be especially mindful of the fit of your pants. They should allow you to move freely without restriction and sit comfortably without sensing a tightening around your waist. For women, wearing a bra that is restrictive can also impede your breathing and body mechanics. An athletic bra designed for continuous movement is ideal, especially for large-breasted women. 

A last point to keep in mind: stopping in the middle of a treatment to push up a sleeve or otherwise adjust your clothing disturbs the flow and can be unsettling to clients. Bringing awareness to these smaller, but equally important, aspects of your body mechanics will help increase your overall well-being, and that of your clients.


Hair control can also contribute to healthy body mechanics. To reduce neck and shoulder discomfort, your hair should be kept out of your face, which will help prevent awkward postural patterns as you work. Many therapists are not aware of how distracting their hair is, but may unconsciously be holding their head to one side in order to keep their hair out of their face (Image 1).

This holding pattern puts tremendous strain on the muscles of the back, neck, and shoulders. If this habit persists, discomfort is likely to occur. To avoid this, keep your hair out of your face and, if it is long, prevent it from hanging down in front of you. An added bonus—restrained hair is also hygienically prudent.


Yes, the length of your nails can also affect your body mechanics. Therapists with short nails do not hesitate to use the fingers or thumbs, and the hand can work in a soft, flexible, and relaxed fashion (Image 2). Therapists with longer nails are often concerned with scratching or hurting the client, which results in tense muscles and poor hand use. If your client can feel your nails, your nails are too long. Remember, nails should be kept short to allow for hand flexibility and client safety. And, as with controlled hair, short nails are more hygienic.


As a manual therapist, you are standing and moving on your feet throughout the majority of your day. Therefore, it is vital that the shoes you wear are comfortable and supportive for the kind of work you do. As you know, painful feet can cause problems in your ankles, knees, hips, and back. Bringing awareness to your footwear now will better protect the longevity of your practice. 

Think about your shoes as part of the equipment that makes your job easier. Like your table and chair, the shoes you wear contribute to your comfort and performance level. When shopping for shoes, keep in mind that most feet swell approximately one shoe size (about 5 percent) over the course of a day. As your feet swell, they begin to take up more volume within the shoe. Therefore, it is smart to shop for shoes later in the day. 

If you prefer to work barefoot or in socks, this is fine as long as you can stand for several hours at a time and remain comfortable. If, however, you find that your feet are constantly sore, wearing supportive shoes may be the answer. Consider buying a walking shoe or a cross-trainer, both of which provide a good base of support and are designed for people who are active on their feet. Wearing nonslip shoes is a good idea in situations where the floor can be wet (e.g., a spa or cruise ship). 

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

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