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massage therapy musings &
persistent pain ponderings

I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About ... My Chest

photograph of a chest with a heart tattoo

Massage therapy can bring up all kinds of anxiety and self-conscious thought gremlins. And often they get in the way of receiving the pain and stress relief that massage can provide.

This series is a literal head to toe candid exploration of the many common body concerns that make us hesitant to schedule, or uneasy once on the table. If you've had some of these same worries, know you're not alone. And perhaps this info will give you new resolve to give it a go.

This third article is on the chest and abdomen.

* * *

First and foremost, you can always request that your massage therapist skips whatever area of your body you don't want them to massage. It's your time, your session, your body.

muscular anatomy diagram highlighting the chest


The chest is an area that can certainly benefit from massage therapy. Many shoulder and neck muscles extend down to the rib cage, span under the collarbone area, or attach to the sternum.

The major chest tissues (pectoralis major/minor, anterior deltiod, serratus anterior, subclavius for fellow anatomy nerds) are commonly tense due to:

- daily repeat motions (like swinging a hammer)

- prolonged static positions (like desk work)

- breast augmentation -lymph-node and/or tumor removal surgeries - garments like binders or compression clothing

- many athletic or sports activities, or

- mobility restrictions due to injuries or surgeries

Ken lifts a lot of weight. Usually at the gym with his buddies, so often Ken would lift TOO much weight. Along with reminding him to not forget leg day, I massage his pecs - from the attachment at the arms all the way down the sternum - encouraging the tissue to relax and recover.

However, massage therapists must use caution to preserve their client's modesty and maintain a professional therapeutic approach.

The most common technique is to securely drape a sheet to cover a client's chest below the collarbone. Additional security made be achieved by wearing a strapless (or tube) top or keeping on your undergarments.

And of course, remaining fully clothed should always been an option as well.

Kat had recovered from several breast cancer treatments and reconstructive surgeries. Reaching up or stretching their arms behind the back still felt really stiff. Gentle massage and passive movements applied to shoulders, upper chest, and sternum provided them with greater range of motion and gradual relaxation allowed for greater comfort throughout their week.

muscular anatomy diagram highlighting the chest


Massage therapy to the abdomen is typically reserved for by request only. It's a vulnerable area of the body, and usually is not what most clients expect in their full body massage sessions. It is also where many of us store body fat - and consequently store a lot of self-consciousness.

With skill and specific training, massage therapy to the abdomen can be relaxing and also include unique upper body stretches. If you're willing to give it a go, try these suggestions:

1) ask your massage therapist if they provide abdominal massage (some do not)

2) consider requesting over-the-sheet massage first (direct skin contact may be more anxiety-riddled than pressure applied with a sheet barrier)

3) if you're ready to try skin-on-skin massage to the abdomen, ask your massage therapist how they will drape (knowing the steps and what to expect can make for an easier experience)

Steph had been doing a lot of yoga, meditation, and mental health work. She identified her abdomen as a place she held a lot of stress. I suggested trying massage therapy to the area, explained various draping options (she opted to wear a tube top), and how I would apply touch to her stomach. We gave it a go. She said it was a bit weird at first - having someone "rub her tummy" - but along with some deep arm stretches and rib cage rocking, it became one of her favorite parts of the massage session.

* * * Do you have any additional questions or concerns about the chest? Feel free to contact me. Also, check out the other articles in this series below!

I Want a Massage BUT I'm Worried About Series


Raechel Haller Massage Therapist Holland MI Michigan

Whoa, you made it all the way down to the footer!
And might be wondering... who wrote all these words?
Well hello! My name's Raechel and I'm a massage therapist.

I enjoy researching and writing about pain and wellness; nerding out about sci-fi or Dungeons & Dragons; gardening; sailing; thoughtful conversations; loving my German Sheppard dog; and getting lost in a book. Or two. Or three.

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