Take the Strain Out of Occiput Work

Over the years occiput work beat up my fingers and thumbs. At one point, my hands ached so bad that I thought about taking occiput work out of my massage.

But instead I experimented for about a year and discovered that when I changed one bad habit and found other ways to get the job done, my hands felt better. Here’s what I did.

The Supine Habit

In massage school I learned how to do occiput work when the client was supine. The idea was this: the weight of the client’s head on your fingertips would be the force that “generated” the pressure. Do it this way and there would be less strain on your hands.

But my hands told a different story. They ached from years of supine occiput work. When I started to pay attention to my hands, I realized that supine occiput work wasn’t just about supporting the weight of the client’s head with my fingers. More times than not it also involved pressing up into the client’s skull in order to generate enough pressure.

It was time to try prone.

If it hurts, STOP. There's another way to get the job done. Click To Tweet

Go Prone

I was first introduced to prone detail work while training to be a neuromuscular massage therapist. We used a T-bar in the lamina groove.

I liked prone work because I could generate the pressure I needed by simply leaning into the client with my body weight. Using the T-bar in the lamina groove inspired me to experiment with my thumbs and knuckles in the lamina groove.

  1. Thumbs and Knuckles

A middle knuckle is a wonderful thing. It’s especially helpful for prone occiput work. Why? Because you can generate all the pressure you’ll ever need (and then some) by leaning in with your knuckle.

Another great prone occiput technique is double thumbs braced together. I use double thumbs for light to medium pressure and I use my middle knuckle when I have to apply deeper pressure.

The key to these techniques is to use the massage table to help support your body weight.

In this video, 2 Prone Occipital Massage Techniques, I show you how to work the occiput using double thumbs and a middle knuckle.

  1. T-bar or L-bar

6 Finger Pic

A great way to give your fingers a break is to you use a T-bar or a L-bar. In the occiput, you can use a T-bar or L-bar even more precisely than you could use your thumb.

In addition, you don’t need to exert a lot pressure because the tips of these massage tools are small and the pressure is focused. And when you position your hand so that it rests against the client’s upper trap, it couldn’t be easier on your hands.

In this video, T-bar for Occiput and Back Muscles, I show you some easy-to-pick-up T-bar techniques for the lamina groove and occiput.

  1. Fourth and Fifth Fingers

Take a look at your hands. Which fingers do you use most during a massage?

My finger usage rating, from most used to least used, goes like this: 1. Thumb, 2. 2nd finger, 3. Middle finger, 4. Fourth finger, 5. Pinky.

Another way to gauge finger usage during a massage is to ask yourself: if I only had time to cut three fingernails on each hand before I did a massage, which ones would they be? My guess is that your fourth finger and pinky would not make the cut. (Pardon the pun.)

If you really love supine occiput work and don’t want to remove it entirely from your massage repertiore, try using your middle, fourth and 5th (pinky) fingers when doing supine occiput work.

It will feel weird at first, but after a couple of times, you’ll fingers will adapt. Once they do, you can give your go-to fingers a break when doing supine occiput work.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

You can do some great occiput work without killing your hands. Here are my three favorite techniques:

  1. Prone occiput work with a knuckle or double-barred thumbs.
  2. Prone occiput work with a T-bar or L-bar.
  3. Occasional supine occiput work with non-dominant fingers (for me my 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers).

I am 100% convinced that by breaking bad habits and thinking creatively you can do a great massage and stay out of pain. Check out The Question that will Save your Body to get a start on thinking creatively.

Do you have a favorite hand-saving occiput technique? I would love to hear about it or see it. You can connect with me on Facebook, here in the comment section below or by email, mark@makethemostofmassage.com.

 

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