by Kellum Johnson, RMT

Tapotement is a massage technique which involves rhythmic tapping or light beating. Tapotement is used in conjunction with sports massage or deep tissue massage. Whereas much massage strives to relax the client, tapotement is usually a more invigorating technique. Tapotement stimulates blood flow to and from an area, moves muscles and fascia and helps to facilitate flushing toxins from tissue.

Done correctly, tapotement can be a spectacularly effective technique for dealing with troublesome areas or very tired clients in need of a bit of waking up.

Variations of this technique are based upon the position of the therapist's hands are held in:

Beating: Lightly balled fists
Chopping: Karate-chop style, using ulnar border of the hand
Cupping: cupped palms
Tapping: fingertips
Slapping: flat hands

Each of these variations is appropriate in certain circumstances. Beating, the most popular technique, delivers a great amount of force spread out over a large area. Forearms may even be used to increase the amount of surface area. Chopping delivers a good amount of force over a smaller area, and is thus good for clients who require very deep work.

Tapping is the lightest technique and is useful for very sensitive clients or on small muscles. Cupping and slapping are both very specialized techniques. These two methods are good for stimulating and invigorating massage.

Cupping concentrates the force on the borders of the hand, whereas slapping spreads the force over the entire hand. As such, the cupping technique may deliver a bit more force to the area or to the tissues below. Cupping is used for clearing lung congestion, for example. Neither is particularly pleasant on bare skin and a towel or clothing is typically interposed. Tapotement may also be accomplished using massage hammers. These items are usually rubber-headed mallets, often with flexible metal or plastic shafts. A popular brand is called Bongers. They are a very useful addition to a massage therapist's arsenal of tools. Much care must be taken not to perform this technique over any area which could be deemed a caution area (kidneys, popliteal area (behind the knee), neck, axillary area etc). Always take care not to use more force than is comfortable for the client. In order not to tire out, the therapist should `drop' the hand, largely relying on the force of gravity and using the arm and shoulder muscles to lift the arm. Care must also be taken not to overstress arms or hands from repeated strain. In every variation, keep wrists loose and flexible. It bears stating that tapotement should never be done over a fresh bruise, strain, sprain or swollen area.

Originally published on Everything2 (www.everything2.com)
Copyright 2005 by Kellum Johnson, Jr. RMT

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