Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Self-Massage With Hands

This post has even less to do with Woody Allen's famous quote than the previous post did.

It simply outlines a different, but equally effective and soothing, technique to speed recovery, decrease reliance on massage therapy sessions, and increase quality and frequency of intense training sessions.  If you want to re-read or read for the first time, the whys and wherefores regarding the need for good recovery, the need for consistent high-quality, high-intensity training sessions, and how these needs are fundamentally linked, I encourage you to look here.

I developed the hands routine, chronologically before the balls routine, 1) as a stop-gap between hands-on massage therapy sessions; 2) after I determined a foam roller wasn't the silver bullet, but before I got wise to tennis balls; and 3) in response to post-session fatigue, tightness, and aches.  I knew I simply couldn't stretch all the time, and besides stretching couldn't touch many of the muscles my fingers could easily access.


THE TOOLS

Hands? Check.

A thick, non-sticky lotion with a humectant ingredient?  Check.  I use the body butter product from The Body Shop for no other reason that it smells good and fulfills the previous adjectives.  Petroleum-based products (i.e. Vaseline) work well, but clog pores.  Anything a real massage therapist would use would work.


THE TECHNIQUE (OR STROKES)

For better or worse, self-massage with hands is about assaulting your own muscles with your own hands to break up knots, smooth out kinks, and flush out waste products not readily and efficiently removed by your lymph nodes and encourage fresh and increased blood flow.  The best technique is the one that feels best to your muscle(s).  I fashioned the ones pictured here, which are a good start but nowhere near comprehensive, after real massage techniques and strokes I had seen and felt while on the massage table.  The best part is that I could repeat them over and over until I decide it was time to move on, as compared to many massages where I am screaming on the inside: "NO!  Go back!  That felt so good! Go back!"  The worst part is that sometimes I can't create as much pressure as a properly trained deep tissue massage therapist can.  I guess that's the reason I do occasionally pay someone else to beat up on me.


THE ROUTINE

As compared to using balls, the self-massage with hands routine is much shorter, or more aptly faster - 10-15 mins - but spending more time on any one, or just one, body part is entirely fine.  The reason for the time difference is the constraint on muscle groups that can be reached and then worked with the necessary leverage: only the front of the upper and lower leg, along with the back of the lower leg.  For this reason self-massage with hands is a stop-gap rather than a fully self-sustaining recovery method; there are simply other structures that can not be reached that will need attention.


The IT Band; Vastus Medialis, Lateralis, and Intermedius; and Sartorius (Front of Upper Thigh)

1) The basic IT band technique is to "scrap" the fingers of both hands, overlaid, from your knee to your hip, along the natural groove created by the tautness of the IT band itself.  Keep your fingers stiff and apply pressure from the arms through the wrists and locked fingers.

Start near the knee, hands on top of and next to each other

Keeping fingers stiff, drag both hands toward the hip

Finish near the hip

To return toward the knee, place the heel of your hand on the natural groove created by the IT band, apply pressure from the arm through the wrist, and slide toward the knee.

Push into the leg with the heel of your hand



Finish all the way down by the knee

Wash, rinse, repeat.

2) The vastus intermedius is the quadricep muscle closest to your hip, as seen here.  The vastus medialis and lateralis sit below the intermedius (toward the ground and slightly to the sides).  There are two ways to work these three muscles from hip to knee, one slightly more intense than the other.

2A) The less intense method is essentially a "squeeze, push, release, pull."  Start high enough up the leg to hit the intermedius.


Push and slide down the thigh, using the weight of the upper body and strength of the arms and hands to create pressure.



At the knee, steeple your fingers and pull up at the same time, releasing pressure on the medialis and lateralis and simultaneously lifting them up slightly.

Steeple the fingers

Leave the hands in the same position and bring them back up the thigh to the start of the next stroke.

Bring the hands back to the hip to start the next stroke

2B) The more intense method to works the quad muscles requires strong thumbs...well, and strong fingers.  Start by gripping the thigh as in the picture and applying almost all pressure with thumbs.


Keeping the thumbs locked, push the hands toward the knee, naturally increasing the pressure...


Thumbs still locked....


Then release the pressure applied by the thumbs and grip with your fingers.  Maintain the finger grip as you slide your hands back toward the hip.  Once at the top of the intermedius, switch from the finger grip to stiff thumbs and slide back down.

3) Many structures, including the patellar tendon, come together just above the knee joint at the front of the thigh.  It can be a great relief to work across (horizontally) these attachment points rather than with them (vertically), as virtually as triathlon-related movements do.

The movement is a double-handed pinch, applying pressure both on the motion in and out.



4) The line along with the vastus medialis and sartorius muscles meet is usually an under-treated part of the thigh.  End that sad history by doing this!

Pictured here is the start positioning.  It's hard to see, but almost all pressure is being applied by the right thumb, in the direction pointing toward the hip.


Lock your thumb and push toward the hip, driving the stiff thumb along the medial part of the quad, the shape of which is something of a teardrop.  The "teardrop" shape means that as the thumb gets higher, the hand will naturally move laterally to trace between these two muscles.



I do not do a "downward" part of this stoke, instead releasing and moving my hands back to the start position.

5) A very concentrated vastus medialis and lateralis and sartorius movement is circular as seen from the side, and be worked up the thigh as far as you care to go.

Start toward the knees, by gripping the thigh as shown and squeezing anterior to posterior (top to bottom; front of thigh to back of thigh).


Keeping the grip with your fingers, drag you fingers to meet your thumbs at the front of the thigh.


Once the fingers have cleared the sides of the thigh, release the grip slightly, move both hands slightly upward (to the hip) or down (toward the knee), and regrip, and push the fingers toward the back of the thigh, away from the thumbs.  Leave hands in the same spot and drag your fingers to meet your thumbs on the front of the thigh.



6) The (almost) final movement gets the three vastus muscles, the sartorius, and the IT band is one fell - sideways - swoop.  Start by gripping across the thigh, from the medial to lateral side (or inside to outside).


Gently squeezing with the fingers, but applying far more pressure with the thumbs, draw the thumbs across the thigh, bringing them to meet the fingers.




The return trip is again a "scrap" with both hands' worth of fingers:


The first bit will feel hard to get purchase on because you get body material posterior to the IT band, then then IT band, then anterior to the IT band, and then only vastus muscles, all of which have different densities and tautnesses.  Just keep contact as best you can; it will get easier to gauge the more you do it.



7) A more IT band-centric version of this is across just the outer, IT band portion of the thigh.  Start with the same finger configuration as the previous scrap:


I do not use my thumbs in this movement:


Move the hands slightly forward and push the fingers back down, across the IT band area:


Draw the fingers across again.  It helps to get a good grip at the beginning of each scrap because of the previously mentioned change in structures in that part of the leg:




The Achilles, and Soleus and Gastrocnemius Muscles, and Posterior Tibial Tendon (Calves and Back of the Lower Legs)

1) I start by "scraping" up the lateral side of my tibia.  Hook the fingertips of the opposite hand over the edge of the tibia, and maintaining a strong grip, drag the hand upward.




2) A scrap up the medial side of the tibia - to get the posterior tibial tendon, problem child and shin-splint-causer that it is - is next.  In this case, place a thumb just behind the posterior edge of your tibia (bone) and keeping it stiff, push the thumb toward the knee.




3) There are two methods to work the Achilles, of course one being less intense than the other.

3A) To do the less intense start with a good grip across the back of your lower leg:


Dig in the thumbs and start to draw them across the back of the leg toward the fingers:


Then push the thumbs back out, away from the fingers:


3B) Like for the vastus muscles, the intense way to work the Achilles involves lots of thumb strength.  Grip the lower leg as shown, applying almost all pressure with the thumbs, pushing into the back of the leg:


Lock out the thumbs and push against them, moving the hands down toward the ankle:


As you reach the bottom, really dig into the Achilles with the thumbs.  It helps to add grip strength with the fingers:


At the bottom, release the thumbs and let the fingers move down, around, and over the bones that stick out on either side of the ankle.  Straighten the fingers and position them pointing down toward the heel:


To apply pressure in this position, keep the fingers straight and cup the palms, transferring pressure from the forearms through to the fingertips.  Slowly drag the dug-in fingers up the back of the leg toward the knee joint:


Widen the fingers as you reach the gastrocnemius, the span the entire back of your leg:


At the top, flip the thumbs inward and again grip just below the knee with pressure being applied by the thumbs:



4) The gastrocnemius muscle, the two heads of which make up the upper calf, needs lots of attention and be given that attention both ankle-to-knee (vertically) and medial-to-lateral (horizontally).

4A) The horizontal movement essentially "wrings out" your lower leg.  Start with a staggered grip, applying pressure with both fingers and thumbs:


Move the inside hand out and the outside hand in, past each other and maintaining the same pressure:


When you reach the other extreme - outside hand all the way in and inside hand all the way out - simply reverse the direction of "wringing":


4B) The vertical movement moves along the medial side of the muscle, which like the vastus medialis, is tear-drop shaped.  Start with a firm grip just below the knee joint, thumb on the medial side and applying all the pressure:


Lock out the thumb and push against it, following the natural line between the tibia (bone) and gastoc (muscle):


The edge of the gastroc will move posteriorally as the soleus starts to overlay it from below (coming from the ankle).  Follow that line until the juncture as the bottom of the gatroc and the top of the Achilles, applying pressure with the thumb throughout the entire movement:


TA DA!

Questions and Credits:

I tried to be as succinct as possible.  Which means that I said too much for some and not enough for others.  Please do not hesitate to post questions in the comments and I will respond to them as in-depth and as many times as necessary to make sure you can do this routine too.

Ma Support Staff and I spent a long time working on these pictures, and I spent a long time working on the text.  I ask that you not reproduce or copy any of the material in this post and instead, direct people to this post and web address.  Thanks! - KEB

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