The power of the elbow

Here’s why I like using the elbow as a massage tool:

  1. The elbow is versatile. From pointy sharp for laser-like precision, to round and broad like a lacrosse ball, the elbow can unlock the trickiest bundles of connective tissue and open up the smallest pressure points. Its 180-degree range of motion combined with its location close to the trunk of the body allow the therapist to use different angles and bodyweight to create just the right amount of pressure.

  2. The elbow is strong. While shiatsu is known for its thumb pressure, the reality is that strong pressure cannot be safely sustained by the therapist’s thumbs for more than a few seconds. The benefits of ischemic compression start to take place after about twenty seconds, and certain points need to be held for two minutes or even longer. The elbow is a safe way for the therapist to use bodyweight to achieve deep pressure over a prolonged period.

  3. The elbow is steady. If you add more than medium pressure to the thumbs, they start to shake, since weight is being channeled through the carpal bones of the wrists into the small saddle joint and hinge joint of the thumbs. Not only does this put too much pressure on these delicate joints, the experience for the receiver will be one of instability and maybe even stress. With concentration, the elbow can become as still as a Buddhist temple and as stealthful as a tightrope walker, giving the receiver’s nervous system the chance to relax deeply and accept the pressure.

  4. The elbow is round. Even the pointiest part of the elbow has a bit of softness to it, allowing it to penetrate the upper layers of connective tissue without causing any puncture, bruising or bleeding. The pointy part of the elbow can be used to induce a twitch effect in the muscle, similar to dry needling, without any need for needles, cotton swabs or hazardous waste. The broader surface of the elbow can penetrate slowly into deeper layers of tissue to dislodge stagnant chi, without any of the trademark bruising associated with cupping.

  5. The elbow is sensitive. Rather than employing a piece of bamboo or a plastic tool to really “dig in”, the therapist’s elbow senses subtle changes in the receiver’s tissue. This interchange and flow of information between the giver and receiver allows for the subtle reorientation of pressure being applied, and lets the giver’s body know once the energy has shifted and it’s time to move on.

The elbow sometimes gets a bad rap in massage circles as being crude or painful. Maybe that’s because it’s been used too many times in slip-and-slide, fast and hard deep tissue massages — the kind that give people bruises. Especially with oil, care needs to be taken to ensure that the elbow doesn’t glide too hard or too fast into deep tissues.

With compassion, patience and attention to angle, the true potential of the elbow shines through. It provides precise, stable, sensitive pressure that heals.

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