What is Kinesiology and What Does it Have to do With Massage Therapy?
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 to 322 BCE) is said to have been the Father of Kinesiology. The word itself comes from two Greek words for “movement” and “study,” and accurately describes the careful study of how human bodies move and how muscles work. In the mid-1960s Dr. George Goodheart takes on the mantle of “Father of Applied Kinesiology,” a system of testing the body to identify and strengthen weak muscles in order to correct various issues and ailments. Because kinesiology studies human muscles and muscle groups, it naturally crosscuts many important concepts with massage therapy training.
The Study of Movement
Kinesiology uses something like a roadmap of the human body to navigate around the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. A massage therapist with awareness of how these systems operate can provide effective, safe massage to elderly patients, professional athletes, weekend warriors, and even small children.
Ligaments tie bones together. Tendons anchor muscles to bones. Neither ligaments nor tendons can heal on their own, so kinesiology and massage therapy work on the remaining tissue group, the muscles, to provide support and relief.
Muscles either stretch or contract. Kinesiology takes advantage of this to provide exercise and stimulation to balance one muscle’s stretch with another’s contraction. The typical Charley Horse is a painful, uncontrolled muscle contraction. The muscle spasm can be in any muscle but often is in the gastrocnemius, or large calf muscle.
Massage Therapy and Kinesiology
Amateurs know gently rubbing the gastrocnemius in the midst of a night-shattering muscle cramp can help the muscle to relax (pro tip: push your heel down and flex the foot of the cramping leg as hard as you can--it counteracts the spasm). Massage therapists with knowledge of kinesiology can work any muscle group to aid relaxation, loosen contracted muscles, and soothe an overworked body.
Kinesiology focuses on three muscle movements:
- Isometric—muscle tension and muscle length remain constant
- Isotonic—muscle tension remains constant and muscle length varies
- Isokinetic—both muscle tension and muscle length vary
The Body’s Muscles
Kinesiology and applied kinesiology study muscles and their interaction with the body. As anyone who has suffered even a slight foot or leg injury can tell you, the smallest weakness or pain in one muscle telegraphs throughout the body, making daily activities difficult. Kinesiology studies muscles separately and in groups, with a goal of understanding how the various muscles help movement, improve posture, allow circulation, and affect mood.
Two types of muscles the kinesiologist and massage therapist will never work on are visceral muscles (inside organs) and cardiac muscles (inside the heart). The remaining muscle type, skeletal, is the primary focus of kinesiology.
The human body has some 700 named muscles, but the massage therapist concentrates on large groups:
- Shoulder girdle: The trapezius, pectoralis minor and others
- Shoulder joint: The pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi and others
- Elbow joint and arm muscles: The triceps brachii, supinator and others
- Wrist and hand muscles: Both flexors and extensors that allow for the exquisite control and strength of the human hand
- Knee joint muscles: Vastus lateralis, popliteus and others
- Muscles of the hip and pelvis: Sixteen muscles including the gluteus minimus, medius and the renowned gluteus maximus
- Lower Leg muscles: Besides the aforementioned gastrocnemius, the leg muscles include eight others
- Neck and back muscles: Internal and external obliques and six more
Knowing all these and other muscle groups makes massage therapists valuable additions to sports teams, fitness centers, rehabilitation programs, physical therapy offices and other settings. We have probably all suffered at the hands of an eager but amateur friend who pushes or prods a sore shoulder and causes more pain. Massage therapists who study kinesiology know how the muscles operate in opposition, how they attach to tendons and to help them contract and relax.
ECPI University’s Medical Careers Institute
Attending ECPI University to earn your Associate of Applied Science degree in Massage Therapy could be your gateway to taking the National Certification Exam to become a massage therapist. ECPI University's 15-month program concentrates your studies on massage therapy, helping you prepare to meet the challenges of the exam and licensing process. Contact ECPI University today to learn how you could find your place in the expanding opportunities of massage therapy.
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