Science of Medical Massage

This technique is a part of the vast collection of medical massage techniques and protocols to be found in Video Library of MEDICAL MASSAGE PROTOCOLs.

Shovel Technique

by RJ Schmit, RN, LMT, MMT
This shoulder opening technique was developed over time. I was unable to get the results I wanted by using the conventional massage techniques. I was looking for a technique that would relieve pain, increase range of motion. flexibility and improve mobility of the shoulder joint in single application.

I called this technique of mobilization of the shoulder joint “shovel” technique because of its similarity to the digging. The great advantage of this technique is its ability during one short application to mobilize all major players which support the function of the shoulder joint. While applying the shovel technique the practitioner is able to address the pectoral muscle group, rotator cuff muscle group and even middle back muscles (rhomboids and lower portion of the trapezius muscle) at the same time.

The shovel technique can be part of therapeutic or stress reduction massage session as well as a part of the MEDICAL MASSAGE PROTOCOLs which target the abnormalities in the shoulder joint. In any scenario this technique should be performed within the final part of the shoulder’s treatment.

Step 1.

I always start application of the shovel technique with the preparation of the joint using the combination of basic massage techniques. It is up to the practitioner to decide what techniques to use.

Step 2.

The next step is preparation of the shoulder joint using several passive stretches conducted during the client’s prolonged exhalation. The client’s upper extremity and shoulder must be completely relaxed.


First grasp the client’s upper extremity and place it in the inner rotation in the shoulder joint. While the upper extremity in the inner rotation slowly pull it along its axis during the client’s exhalation. Be sure that stretch is conducted by the hand placed above the elbow joint (left hand in the video).

Ask the client to show you sign of any discomfort on his or her face during the passive stretch and closely watch for this sign. The passive stretch must be conducted carefully without any activation of the pain analyzing system.


Next part of the Step 2 is passive stretching of the shoulder joint from the new position when the upper extremity is abducted and now the laterally rotated in the shoulder joint. Notice that now other hand (right hand in the video) is placed above the elbow joint. Again perform stretch only within the client’s comfort zone.


Finish the Step 2 using the passive stretching of the shoulder joint employing the back and forth motions as it is shown in the video.

Step 3

There are two variants of ST. The first variant addresses the shoulder joint only, while the second addresses the shoulder joint and the scapula. Usually they are performed together in the following order:

First variant of the ST


The patient should be positioned on the back on the table in such a way that the body lies obliquely with the pelvis close to the table edge and the shoulder off the table. The patient’s scapula should be ON the edge of the table. At the beginning of the video, the position of the scapula on the edge of the table is shown by an upward camera angle.

The application of the ST is identical to the movements of digging. Grasp the patient’s arm with both your hands and imagine that his or her arm is the shaft of a shovel. Now push the patient’s arm downwards (i.e., groundwards) like a shovel being pushed into the ground. When the arm cannot go down any further, start to elevate the shoulder using your right hand while your left hand pushes the lower arm and the elbow downwards (i.e., groundwards). This movement is similar to the scooping of the ground while digging. Repeat this technique 3 to 4 times before moving to the second variant of the ST.

Second variant of the ST


The application of this variant of the ST is similar to the first variant. The only difference is the initial position of the patient’s arm and shoulder on the edge of the table. Notice this difference in the video where the scapula is completely off the table. The dashed line seen in the video indicates the medial edge of the scapula which should be OFF the table completely.

During the application of the first variant of the ST, the patient’s arm was going down due only to the elasticity of the soft tissue in the shoulder joint. As you recall, the fact of the scapula being on the edge of the table restricts its vertical movement. Thus, the same move of the arm and shoulder downward during the application of the second variant produces more vertical movement because both the shoulder and the scapula are pushed down by the practitioner.


Step 4.

Final step of the shovel technique requires the passive stretching of the shoulder joint while the arm in the maximum extension in the shoulder joint. Always be sure to work within the client’s comfort zone.

RJ Schmit
RJ Schmit was born in Bagdad, Arizona. She worked as LPN since 1962 and in 1980 obtained her RN degree. Her interest in bodywork begun in 1981 when she enrolled in Edgar Casey School. In 1998 she graduated massage therapy program from Southwest Institute of Healing Arts.
RJ studied with such world known body workers and healers as Rosalyn Bruyere from Germany and Vianna Stibal from Hawaii. She has her private practice in Phoenix, Arizona.
RJ is medical massage therapist, master Bowen therapist and trained healer who uses medical intuitive.

Category: Medical Massage

Tags: , ,