Part Three: Extremities/Arms & Legs
Our bodies are divided into two parts according to our skeleton. The first is the axial skeleton, which consists of our skull, spine, rib cage, inner ear and throat bones. This houses our torso, which we have been massaging the last two weeks, and is responsible for keeping our brain, spinal cord and organs safe so that they can run/manage all of the body’s systems. The second part is our appendicular skeleton, the bones of our arms, hands, legs and feet, which is responsible for providing movement to the body under the direction of our nervous system. As you can imagine, if this part is responsible for movement, it is understandable that it might get sore and need some bodywork. The great part is that it is a lot easier to reach our arms and legs than it was our backs. We will still use the balls for parts of this massage as well as our own hands. This week we will need 2 balls, the floor, a table, and a chair. You will also want to have some lotion or oil handy in case you need some. Perhaps one of the oil blends from our Aromatherapy blogs.
We will start with our feet and move up the body to the hands, leaving them for last as they will be doing some of the work. As we learned way back in the first blog (DIY Reflexology – April 22, 2020), our feet support our body and reflect our whole body within their structure. Today we will be concentrating on the arches of the foot. These 3 arches support the weight of the body and distribute it across the foot. Think of an arched bridge, engineered to withstand weight from above. In our feet, the arches are comprised of both bones and muscles. The bones are the structure and the muscles keep that structure up, so if these muscles become weak or imbalanced, the arch can be compromised. If the arch is compromised, so is our weight-bearing capacity, causing other areas of the body to compensate, especially the low back. We will also be working on our plantar fascia, the thick band of connective tissue that can become inflamed (plantar fasciitis) and painful.
Standing or sitting, put the ball on the ground under your first foot and begin with those broad and lighter strokes, feeling for areas of tension. As the tissues get warmed up, slow the ball down and bring it under your heel. Using circular motions, start to apply more pressure, targeting the insertions of the plantar fascia and multiple other muscles in the heel. Now slowly move the ball to where the heel meets the inner arch of the foot and change to lengthwise motions along the entirety of the arch. Go slow! This will enable you to find the little areas of tension that are most certainly there. When you find those spots, stop moving the ball and just hold there until you feel the tension in the muscle diminish. You may even feel the muscle twitching underneath as it releases, this is called fasciculation. Now move the ball to the outer edge of the foot and repeat. Sometimes just massaging the muscles of the feet can help ease low back and hip pain. Once the first foot is feeling well taken care of, repeat on the other foot.
Alright, it’s time to get down on the floor to get into our leg muscles, don’t forget to bring the ball down with you. Starting with the same leg you started the foot massage on, straighten your leg out in front of you and place the ball underneath your Achilles tendon. This thick tendon can be seen coming up out of the back of the heel. It can be a bit tricky to get the ball to stay centred on the tendon, so whichever way feels good to you to work it, go for it! Now start to bring the ball up the leg, into the fleshy Gastrocnemius (calf) muscle, responsible for flexing your foot, like when you push off for a step or jump. As always, start light and broad, then start to press your leg into the ball to increase the pressure. You may even be able to feel the 2 separate “heads” (muscle bellies) of the muscle. Next, bring the ball back down to the space in between your Achilles tendon and your calf muscle. This will target our Soleus muscle, a flat muscle that runs underneath the Gastrocs. It helps to flex the foot and can be involved with back pain. You may find that this muscle is more sensitive than its bulky neighbour, so go in easy and work it out. Switch back to the broad strokes over the whole area to flush it out. Put the ball aside and bend your knee, planting your foot on the ground in front of you. Time to see what massage skills your hands have while we work Tibialis Anterior, the muscle along your shin. This muscle dorsiflexes the ankle (bringing toes towards the shin) and is the culprit in shin splints. To find it, dorsiflex your foot and you will see this muscle flex on the outer side of your shin. Reach down and feel for the shin bone (Tibia) running straight down the middle, now feel just beside the bone while dorsiflexing your foot and you should feel it contract and relax. Congratulations! You are now “palpating” muscles, the skill bodyworkers of all kinds use to pinpoint muscles. Whichever leg you are currently massaging, use the hand on the same side to massage the Tibialis anterior. Using the length of your thumb, place it vertically on the outside of your leg, then start to use a back and forth fanning motion (like a windshield washer blade) with the thumb, like you are trying to massage the muscle back onto the shin bone from the top of the muscle, just below the knee, to bottom, just above the ankle. *Feel free to use a small amount of lotion or oil to get a better “glide” over the skin.* This muscle attaches along the length of the Tibia bone and when it gets tight, it pulls all along the shaft of the bone and its highly innervated covering (periosteum), which is why shin splints hurt so much. This massage technique can help decrease the recovery time if you are unfortunate enough to get them.
Onto the upper legs, let’s again start in the back with the hamstrings. Oh, the hamstrings… They are made up of 3 different muscles, one of which has 2 “heads”, our Biceps Femoris, which is our Biceps Brachialis (arm biceps) counterpart in the legs, which flexes (bends) our knee. This muscle group tends to get tight from the amount of sitting we do during the day. Even though we are not generally actively contracting this muscle when we sit it is, anatomically, in a shortened position which can result in a shortened muscle over time. Straighten your leg back out on the floor and place the ball just above the back of your knee. *Please do not massage the actual back of your knee as it is home to many blood and lymph vessels as well as nerves, it does not have very much actual muscle tissue.* Start to move the ball back and forth across the back of the leg, you may feel some guitar string-like structures on either side, these are the tendons coming from your hamstrings. Move the ball up the back of the leg in increments, using a side to side motion to get into the whole of the muscle. Feel free to stop on areas of tension to release as you go. Once you get up to the top of the back of the leg, place the ball just up against your Ischial tuberosity (sit bone) and lay down completely. Start to move the ball around the sit bone to get into the insertions of both the hamstring and Gluteus Maximus. You can leave the ball back there as you sit up to work the front of the thigh, as you will be using your hands once more. Leaving the leg stretched out in front of you, clench your hands into fists. Using the ulnar (little finger) edge of your fists, start to pound all up and down the front of your thigh. The Quadriceps are a group of 4 large muscles that react well to Tapotement (percussive massage) like the pounding that you are doing. It is a great way to warm up the area and to ease very tight and sore quads. Once you feel that you have warmed up the area, use the heel of your hands to knead the muscle from just above the knee up to the hip, targeting the centre and then outer and inner parts. Lastly, take the same hand as the leg you are working on and use your knuckles up and down the outer thigh to target your Iliotibial (IT) band. This thick band of connective tissue ensures your legs do not bow out under the pressure of your torso so it is pretty highly strung and can be sensitive. Using broad sweeping strokes, always towards the torso/heart, flush your legs. End with lightly running your fingers from your feet to your hips a few times to pick up any fluids you might have worked out up towards the groin for the lymphatic system to pick up and filter. Take the ball out from under you if still there and repeat the routine on the opposite leg.
It is your choice where you would like to be to continue onto your arms. You can remain on the floor if that is comfortable for you, or sit in a chair, or even stand. You will need your ball and a surface to roll it on at the very end, whether that be the floor, the arm of a chair, or a table.
Start massaging with your dominant hand. This hand does most of the work for you so it will be nice to finish by massaging it so it does not have to work again after. Using that dominant hand reach across to the opposite arm and start with squeezing motions from your Deltoid (shoulder cap) muscle down to your wrists a few times, getting all aspects of the arm (Biceps, Triceps, all forearm muscles). Again, if it feels awkward, feel free to use some lotion or oil to help with glide. Come back up to the Deltoid muscle and, using your thumb and fingertips, massage in little circles all around the top of the shoulder as this muscle runs around the whole top of the arm. Bring your hand down to your biceps and squeeze the muscle between your thumb and fingertips. Try holding a squeeze and instead of moving your hand, bend and straighten your elbow so you feel the biceps muscle heads contracting and relaxing a few times. To get into the Triceps (tri = 3 heads) muscle, raise your arm beside your ear and bend your elbow so that the palm of your hand is on your back. Using the same squeezing motion, warm up the area, then knead the muscle with your thumb. Return to the squeezing motion and hold it while bending and straightening your elbow once more to feel the action of the Triceps muscle. Before bringing your arm back down, lightly sweep towards your armpit to flush the area. Bring your arm back down with the palm of the hand facing down. Now we will begin by working our forearm extensor muscles. These extend your wrist and fingers, bringing the back of the hand/fingers towards the forearm. This side of the forearm usually has more hair and thicker skin. Using your knuckles, lightly at first, briskly rub up and down the length of the forearm. As the tissues warm-up, you can use more pressure, pinpointing areas of tension with a single knuckle. Most of these muscles attach to the Radius (outer forearm bone) via a path, the Common Extensor Tendon, which can be felt at the outer surface of the elbow. You can give it some good squeezes between thumb and fingers, which should feel quite good. When the forearm flexors get tight and pull on this area, it can cause inflammation and pain commonly known as Tennis elbow. Flush the extensor side of the forearm a few times towards the shoulder and turn your hand over so your palm is facing up, exposing your forearm flexors. These muscles bend your wrist and fingers inwards, like making a fist. Begin with brisk knuckle rubbing to warm up the area, then getting firmer and more specific to areas of tension. Now squeeze around the inner side of your elbow to target your Common Flexor Tendon, the main attachment point of the flexor muscles to the other forearm bone, the Ulna. When the flexor muscles get tight, this area can become inflamed and painful and is commonly known as Golfer’s elbow. Flush the area and move down to your hand, with the palm down again. Using your fingertips, massage in a circular motion all over the back of the hand. It is quite bony back here, with most of the hand muscle bellies being on the palmar surface so go easy, remember no pressure over bone. Then take each finger, one by one, and massage it from base to tip between your thumb and fingertips, you can also add a slight pulling motion, this should feel very nice. To finish, grab the ball and place it in between the palm of your hand and a hard surface. Just like you did on the sole of your foot, start with lighter broad motions, then getting firmer and more specific into the areas of tension. Now flush the entire arm and hand and move to your dominant arm and hand.
Wow! You have now learned to massage the majority of your own body! I hope these DIY blogs have brought you some new knowledge in anatomy, physiology, and self-care. Please stop by and say hello when you return to Sparkling Hill! As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, we will be switching to a monthly platform for these wellness blogs once reopen next week; if you have any questions or suggestions for these, please reach out and let us know. As always, stay safe, stay well and remember to take care of yourselves and one another.