Hand and Foot Work
My clients might have noticed recently that I’ve added a lot of hand and foot work to my pain relief massage protocols. A little while ago, a colleague of mine cued me into a phenomenon that I’ve been exploring since. While working around the shoulder blade, my colleague said that she could feel the tension extending all the way into the hand, and that if I worked out the hand, it would help alleviate the tension in the shoulder. That is exactly what I did, working through the muscles of the thumb and the fascia of the palm. What I found was amazing: the muscles around the shoulder had loosened more effectively from working the hand than they had from working the shoulder. Since then, I have been incorporating more and more hand work into my routines. This tendency for massage of the hands to loosen the back and neck has been repeated with numerous clients. People frequently say when I work on their hands that they can feel things happening in their shoulder, neck, head, and jaw. Muscles that were stubborn and contracted in the shoulders will melt and release more easily after massage to the hand.
Most schools of holistic thought speak of the interconnectedness of body systems. In traditional Chinese medicine, the half of the major energy channels of the body either begin or end in the hand (The other half begin or end in the feet). Many spots in the shoulders where tension accumulates exist along a meridian that has powerful points in the hand and forearms. The art of reflexology is all about working the hands and feet in order to affect body systems. The concept that I have been thinking about a lot with respect to this, though, is the concept of the cortical homunculus.
The cortical homunculus refers to a visual representation of how much brain matter various body parts take up, both in the sensory cortex (where our brains process information we receive from our senses) and in the motor cortex (a major center the brain controls the muscles, and thus controls the movement of the body). On the homunculus, the hands take up a disproportionately large amount of cortex. We use our hands to interact with the world. And when you think about it, many times the actions of the rest of the body serve mostly to place the hands where they need to be in order to do what they need to do. If we get up to turn on the light, our entire body will rise and move, merely to place the hand in the position it needs to be in order to do what we want to do. Same for if we open the fridge, make food, and transport it to our mouth to eat. Our brain has been orchestrating a complex series of motions in the whole body so that the hands were where they needed to be in order to cut, toss, mix, serve, and eat. So if our shoulder is sore from some activity, it is likely that the activity that made it sore involved putting the hand somewhere in order to do something. And if the hand also carries tension from that activity, that hand tension will relate to the shoulder tension in a pattern that establishes itself in the nervous system. Working out the tension in the hand can be a key to releasing tension in the entire system of movement of which the hand is a part.