My first massage job was at a spa. An average shift was six one-hour, full-body massages. Doing six massages a day, I quickly learned the importance of proper body mechanics and using the forearms to do massage. I began to rely on my forearms to work the entire body, reserving my hands for my client's toes, fingers and neck.
Fifteen years later, I see six clients a day (if not more), and I do not have-nor have I had-carpal tunnel, pain in my hands, lumbago or any other massage-related injury. I attribute this to using my forearms to perform the vast majority of massage work and practicing good body mechanics while giving massage.
Forearm massage wasn't part of my massage curriculum in massage school and yet, I use it more than other methods I studied. I designed the Auth Method of Forearm Massage to help professional massage therapists enjoy longer, healthier careers. As students of massage, it is imperative we keep work-related injuries to a minimum. The Auth Method is a massage technique that takes the practitioner's well-being into account, as well as that of the client. It feels effortless to perform and great to receive.
As you learn about various techniques in massage school, this two-part series will introduce a few key concepts about the Auth Method, including some forearm massage techniques and a qigong exercise for better body mechanics. Read part two here.
The forearms are a bodyworker's most prized tool: They are more durable than hands, fingers or thumbs, so you can work longer on clients with less wear and tear on your body. This means increased career productivity and longevity. Using the forearms as the primary tool in performing massage minimizes the risk of carpal tunnel, thenar problems or pain anywhere in the hands, simply because you are asking less of your hands. Forearms are also less "pointy" than elbows, so the massage work you do on your clients will be smoother and more relaxing.
With practice, the forearms are just as sensitive and agile as hands, fingers or thumbs. In my experience as a massage client, I've often been snapped out of a state of total relaxation when the therapist roughly introduces an elbow and pokes around with too much pressure, bumping against my spine or some other bony prominence.
Many people immediately associate forearm massage with deep-tissue work. This is not a rule. Forearm massage is also good for light, circulatory massage. Students of forearm massage should begin by using the forearms to do light work until they learn the nuances of this new tool. This is a safer, more practical way to develop sensitivity in the forearms. I recommend using a bit more oil than usual to account for the broader area of contact. The increased amount of oil helps to develop a relaxing glide with the forearms. With practice, the forearms can be just as sensitive as the hands, and offer an equally relaxing experience. Start out light and take it slow.
The forearms naturally lend themselves to doing deep-tissue work, and because the surface area of contact is larger than using your fingers or thumb, you can work more of your client in less time. The forearms also provide more leverage for deep-tissue massage than the smaller, more fragile fingers, thumbs and hands.
When practicing the Auth Method, it is essential to lean into the tissue; it is not necessary to push, if you are using your body weight correctly. The forearms are ideal for leaning your body weight into the client. If the massage table is low enough, you can just drop your body weight down onto the tissue. Pushing is exhausting, and you run the risk of applying too much pressure on your client. Instead, drop your body weight onto your client.
Your body will naturally drop to the first layer of tight tissue; it's like floating. As that layer of tissue releases, you will drop into the next layer of tight tissue. Practicing the Auth Method is designed to be effortless for the practitioner. The less energy you expend during a massage, the more massages you can provide a day, and the more energy you have for your life. Just remember, use body weight when doing deep-tissue work, not force, and go slow. Feel for what your client is feeling, and work the most superficial layer of tight tissue first. Your client will thank you for it.
For a medium-sized body, I recommend working with a table that comes to the height of the second or third metatarsal joint of the finger. If the client is overweight and tight, or excessively muscular, I might drop the table a little lower. If the client is petite, I might take the table a little higher. The table should be low enough where you can drop your body weight onto the client and high enough so your back is straight. It's worth it to spend the extra couple of minutes before a session to adjust the table height, rather than spend the next hour uncomfortable or overexerting yourself.
Here is an Auth Method technique you can employ once you begin working on massage clients.
Position your prone client's arm to a 90-degree angle, so the elbow is just below the corner of the table and the forearm is hanging off the table. Stand below the raised arm in a lunge stance parallel to the table, facing the arm. Place the upper third of your left forearm onto the top of the right tricep, and glide down the tricep toward the elbow. Slow down over tight spots in the tricep. Keep most of your weight in your feet at first, and gradually drop more body weight onto your client's tricep as you feel is needed. In general, the triceps do not need a lot of body weight to release when worked in this position. Your other hand is gently clasping the wrist (image 2). Repeat this stroke as necessary on both sides.
Still clasping at the wrist or hand, pull the arm onto the table and use your forearm to glide down the inner forearm from the elbow to the wrist. As you glide down the forearm, move your other hand to the elbow. Use the other hand to traction a slight stretch on the inner forearm (image 3). Lighten your pressure as you glide over your client's wrist and drop your elbow into the palm (image 4). Make sure you are using enough oil to glide effortlessly. In my experience, the inner forearm and palm can withstand and enjoy a fair bit of pressure. Just be mindful to lighten your pressure over the wrist.
*Photos courtesy of the Auth Method