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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Anatomical Position

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

“Just do whatever is most comfortable with your arms for now, I’ll move them throughout the session…”

What is anatomical position, and why do I insist on resting your arms by your sides during a massage?

Anatomical position is defined as: the standard position in which the person stands upright with feet slightly apart, arms at the sides (elbows slightly bent) and palms facing forward with thumbs outward (lateral). In other words, anatomical position is a standard postural position that helps massage therapists make notes and communicate with other members of your health care team. But why is your positioning important during your session?


The overall goal of massage therapy is to facilitate healing and general wellness through soft tissue manipulation. This includes multiple different massage strokes and myriad massage modalities, but sometimes the most effective manipulations are the most subtle and simple to make. Encouraging your body to relearn better posture is one of the best therapeutic tools your MT can employ.


Anatomical position – when a client is lying prone or supine – is the best resting position during a massage. This is because it minimizes muscle contraction throughout the entire body. I’ll write more in depth on this in a future topic, but if your muscles are contracted during your massage session, it is counterproductive to the benefits you’re seeking. When muscles are contracted, they are more difficult to manipulate and thus resistant to the therapeutic changes your therapist is working to promote.


When I’ve completed the bodywork on a client’s upper body, I find it important to place their arms back into anatomical position (with the noteworthy modification of having the palms face backwards with thumbs inward). That position is best to train your body back into proper posture during a massage. However, the benefits of anatomical position should not supersede the client’s comfort. Any position I put a client’s body into should be thought of as a therapeutic suggestion. If any position hinders your comfort, it is a bigger threat than improper posture – because it inhibits your relaxation. That is why I always start with “do whatever is most comfortable…” because a client’s comfort takes precedent over any postural correction a therapist could make. Anatomical position has many benefits when getting a massage that should be applied whenever comfortable. These positional suggestions can have far-reaching value in the time between massage appointments, so whenever possible trust the resting position your therapist puts you in.


I hope everyone has a safe and healthy Halloween, and don't forget to VOTE!


Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT

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