Orthopedic Massage

Unlike other forms of massage, orthopedic massage isn't a technique or set of techniques. The word "orthopedic" refers to the locomotor system of the body, or the musculoskeletal system.

Similar to the branch of medicine referred to as "orthopedics," it is more of an approach to assessment and the development of treatment strategies than anything else. In a nutshell, it teaches us to use the right tool for the job rather than look at the body through the lens of any single treatment method.

The Foundation: Anatomy, Physiology, and Kinesiology

The foundation of orthopedic massage is a keen understanding of the structure, or anatomy of the body. It is important to know what structures are in the area of concern. This is the first step in determining what tissues may be related to your pain.

Physiology is a complement to anatomy, as it provides an understanding of each structure's function. For example, many people think that a leg or arm that has "fallen asleep" is suffering from poor circulation. On the contrary, this is an indication of nerve impingement. Poor circulation would be indicated by the limb going cold or turning blue.

Kinesiology is the study of movement. Once we know what structures are in a given area and their various functions, that understanding can be applied to movement. Namely, we would be interested in what structures help create and facilitate certain movement patterns and what structures restrict them.

Orthopedic Assessment

Once the foundation has been set, the application of orthopedic massage begins with an assessment process. It is not meant to diagnose any condition or disease. Rather, it helps the massage therapist to identify possible structures that are involved in creating pain or restricting movement.

This understanding is then used to determine whether it is safe to do massage, what techniques would be effective, and whether referral to other healthcare practitioners would be appropriate.

The assessment process can be summarized with the acronym HOPRS, or History, Observation, Palpation, Range and Resistance Testing, and Special Regional Orthopedic Tests.

Treatment Strategy

Once an assessment has been made, an understanding of the physiological processes underway in the body is used to develop a treatment strategy. The physiological processes will point to particular tissues and techniques that will compliment the condition being treated without aggravating it.

Each technique has a particular effect, so applying techniques that do not have the desired effect(s) will lead to less than optimal, or even detrimental results. However, choosing techniques and strategies that complement the physiology of the condition can facilitate the recovery process.

Treatment Application

During the massage session, additional information is gathered through more detailed palpation of the tissues and by monitoring the tissues' responses to the treatment administered. Your own subjective experience of the treatment's effects are also considered. This may result in the treatment being modified as information is gathered, leading to a better result than if the initial strategy had been followed without deviation.

What Does This Mean for Me?

The core principle of orthopedic massage is using the right tool for the job. This is why clients in my practice cannot request a specific technique for a massage session.

You wouldn't go to your mechanic and say, "I'd like you to fix my car, but I only want you to use socket wrenches, because I heard that's what works the best." Similarly, your treatment should be based on what's going on with your body and agreed upon by both you and your massage therapist, not based on a recommendation from a friend at a party, someone at the front desk, or something you read in a magazine.

About the Author

My name is Lovelace Linares. I have been practicing massage in Atlanta since 2001. I taught all aspects of massage for nine years, five of which I directed the massage program at the Atlanta School of Massage.

I'm a bit unconventional in my thinking. I believe that self discovery is the purpose of life. Through it, we can all achieve our greatest potentiontial, both individually and as a society.

To that end, i believe that true relaxation comes from two things: (1) Alleviating pain that you are aware of and (2) addressing tension you are not aware of. Self-awareness is the key.

My practice is located inside Urban Body Studios on the scenic Atlanta Beltline. Orthopedics, Deep tissue, Swedish massage, neuromuscular therapy, Thai massage, and stretching are some of the techniques that I use in my practice.