Massage Therapy: Even Anatomy Geeks Occasionally Need a Review

By Rainbough Phillips, LMT, Owner of Breath & Balance Bodyworks

I am one of those people who likes to “talk muscles.” I regularly find myself describing to clients how to locate and self-massage pec minor, or explaining how piriformis contributes to sciatic pain. I am always looking for muscle animations on YouTube, reading up on how to stretch specific muscles, and double checking my own knowledge on origins and insertions. That is why I often call myself an “anatomy geek.”

A few months back I was working with a client who had pain and limited range of motion in his shoulder. He had spent thousands via insurance having the problem imaged, x-rayed, and diagnosed and had spent several months in physical therapy.

He actually came to my office in hopes of getting relief from the soreness brought on by his physical therapy exercises. At the end of the massage we were both surprised to discover that there was noticeable improvement in the shoulder. The massage, which had mainly been focused on relaxation, had decreased the pain and stiffness of his shoulder.

That led to us scheduling regular sessions focused on the problem shoulder. After a few weeks the benefits from massage seemed to have plateaued. The massages were still helpful for pain relief, but we were not getting any improvements in range of motion.

I had tried various modalities including myofascial release and sports massage. I had also explored every muscle that crossed the shoulder joint from origin to insertion for trigger points, and even thoroughly worked some of the muscles surrounding those.

Since I had worked to what appeared to be the extent of my own knowledge, I assumed that the problem was beyond my capacity. Perhaps there was some adhesion or bursitis that all the diagnostic imaging had missed.

A few weeks later my client contacted me again asking my opinion on some other treatments he had heard of. That was when I decided I would take another look at the “anatomy” of the situation.

I gave myself a rotator-cuff review. Everything was right where I had thought it was, so I went on to looking at upper arm musculature, neck muscles, and so on. It was when I got to the pecs that I had my “A-ha” moment.

Actually it was more of a “What is that?!” I found myself staring at a little tiny muscle that I was convinced I had never seen before.

When I read the name of the muscle, bits and pieces of an old memory started streaming back to me. The memory was of a palpation class over five years ago. The muscle was coracobrachialis, a little bitty muscle stretching from the coracoid process to midway down the humerus. Had I really palpated that muscle way back in massage school?

I did a little more research. It turns out trigger points in this muscle can cause major range of motion issues for the shoulder. This one tiny muscle made all the difference in my client’s treatment. Massage has now drastically improved my client’s range of motion in his shoulder.

What did I learn from this? I learned that even a self-described anatomy geek needs some anatomical review sometime. Not only does keeping my anatomical knowledge sharp make a huge difference in the quality of my work, but it has now made a big difference in the life of my client.

Rainbough Phillips is a semester II graduate of Lauterstein-Conway Massage School and has been practicing massage therapy for five years. She has worked in an amazing variety of environments including several physical therapy and chiropractic offices. She now runs Breath & Balance Bodyworks, a small yoga and massage business in Cedar Park, Texas. As the mother of a very active toddler, Rainbough passionately believes that everyone should know how to give a good massage.

Need an anatomy review? Lauterstein-Conway Massage School offers regular massage continuing education opportunities designed to refresh your memory. See what we’re offering now!