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Anatomy for Massage

Updated on March 2, 2016
Muscular and skeletal systems
Muscular and skeletal systems


The following is a brief introduction to the anatomy of the human body with particular relevance to how this knowledge is used in massage, healing and alternative therapies by Leona Stephens Ofner. All anatomical illustrations by Leona Stephens Ofner. I hope to create a virtual reality guide through this anatomy tutorial at some point with my VR company VR Productions.

The body is divided into eleven major systems :

The muscular system

The skeletal system

The integumentary system (the skin nails,hair, sweat and oil glands)

The respiratory system

The digestive system

The urinary system

The reproductive system

The nervous system

The endocrine system

The cardiovascular system

The lymphatic and immune system

Although massage and bodywork can affect all the systems as they are all intricately connected to each other, the main ones we are dealing with are musculo-skeletal ; The lymphatic, nervous, circulatory, integumentary and cardiovascular systems are also directly effected through bodywork and reflexology can effect the entire system. It also appears that some of the meridian pathways run along pathways of the nervous and circulatory systems.

Skeletal system

This consists of all the bones in the body, their associated cartilages and all the joints. The skeletal system supports and protects the body, assists in body movement and houses cells that give rise to blood cells. It also stores minerals. There are 206 bones in total and these are divided into 2 parts'

1/ The axial skeleton (axis ), this is the principle supportive structure )which has 80 bones and includes the vertebrae, skull, sternum, ribs and hyoid (throat) bones,

2/ The appendicular skeleton which are all the bones that connect to the axial skeleton including the pectoral and pelvic girdles, the bones of the arms, legs, hands and feet and has 126 bones.

The skull has 22 bones and the one we are mainly dealing with is the occiput, which is the bone at the base of the skull or cranium.

The spine comprises of 26 (or 33 including the coccyx) bones commonly known as vertebrae. there are 26 vertebrae in the spinal column and these are divided into 4 sections.

7 cervical vertebrae (cervix=neck)

12 thoracic vertebrae (thorax=chest)

5 lumbar vertebrae (lumbus=loin) supporting the lower back

5 sacral vertebrae, which are fused into one bone, called the sacrum

There are also 4 coccygeal vertebrae fused into one or two bones called the coccyx.

In effect the spine is a rod like, strong flexible column that bends anteriorly (forwards), posteriorly (backwards), laterally (sideways) and rotates. It encloses and protects the spinal cord, supports the head and serves as a point of attachment for the ribs and muscles of the back. Between the vertebrae are openings called intervertebral foramina through which pass the nerves that connect the spinal cord to various parts of the body. 

The scapula

The scapula or shoulder blade is part of the appendicular skeleton and is a large triangular flat bone situated behind the thorax between the levels of the second and seventh ribs. it articulates with the clavicle at its highest point known as the acromium process to form the main structure of the shoulder and just below this point is a depression known as the glenoid fossa (cavity) in which the head of the humerus articulates to form the shoulder joint. The scapula is moored to the axial skeleton by muscles, giving it a lot of mobility on the upper back

The Feet

Each foot has 26 bones. The 7 tarsal bones which form the bones around the ankle. 5 metatarsal bones running through the central part of the foot and 14 phalanges which form the toes. Each toe has 3 bones except the big toe which has 2 large bones.

Muscular system

This includes the skeletal muscles which move the skeleton, face and other structures, and give form to the body; the cardiac muscles of the heart walls and the smooth muscles of the walls of the viscera and vessels in the skin.


This is the large muscle that covers most of the upper back superiorly (on the surface uppermost ). Its attachments to the bones originate on the occiput and from the spines of the 7 cervical vertebrae down through all the thoracic vertebrae to t12. It’s attachments insert into the clavicle, acromium and spine of the scapula. It elevates the clavicle, adducts, rotates, elevates and depresses the scapula and extends the head.



The romboids consist of two muscles; rhomboid minor which originate at the spines of the 7th cervical and 1st thoracic vertebrae and inserts into the vertebral border of the scapula above the spine. It adducts the scapula and rotates it slightly downwards.

Rhomboid major originates at the spines of the second to fifth vertebrae and also inserts into the scapula. It performs the same function as rhomboid minor.


Erector spinae

This is the largest muscular mass of the back and consists of three groupings. They're kind of like the guy ropes or main support of the vertebral column and run vertically along the longitudinal axis of the back. The groups known as iliocostalis, (laterally placed) longissimus Intermediate and spinalis. (medially placed next to the spine ) consist of a series of overlapping muscles. The erector spinae are the principle extensors of the vertebral motion segments, when we bend backwards we are using these muscles. In the lumbar region they are thick quadrilateral muscles, splitting into smaller thinner bundles attaching to the ribs (iliocostalis), and upper vertebrae and head (longissimus, spinalis). Erector spinae arises from the lower thoracic and lumbar spines, the sacrum , ilium and intervening ligaments.

Lattisimus dorsi

This is a large superior ( uppermost ) muscle that's main function is to extend, adduct and rotate the arm medially (inwards) . It also draws the arm downwards and backwards. It originates on the spines of the lower 6 thoracic vertebrae , the lumbar vertebrae, crests of the sacrum and illiumand the lower four ribs. It inserts into the humerus ( upper arm bone )

Latissimus dorsi
Latissimus dorsi

Levator Scapula

This muscle elevates the scapula and  slightly rotates it downwards. It originates on the upper four or five cervical vertebrae an inserts into the superior vertebral border of the scapula.

Levitor Scapulae
Levitor Scapulae

Sterno Cleidomastoid

This muscle divides the cervical region into two triangular regions, Anterior (front ) and posterior (back ). It originates in the sternum and clavicle and inserts into the mastoid process of the temporal bone ( one of the cranial bones). The muscle, acting unilaterally tilts the head laterally on the same side ,while simultaneously rotating the head and pulling the back of the head downwards , lifting the chin, and rotates the head to the opposite side. Both muscles acting together move the head forward ( anteriorly ) while extending the upper cervical vertebrae, lifting the chin upwards.

Semispinalus capitus, splenius capitus, levator scapula and the ant, med and posterior scalenes are the other muscles that form the posterior triangle of neck muscles.

Sterno Cleidomastoid
Sterno Cleidomastoid

Quadratus Lumborum

This is a deep muscle that forms part of the posterior abdominal wall. It originates on the iliac crest and inserts on the lower borders of the 12 rib and into the first and fourth lumbar vertebrae. It bends the lumbar vertebrae laterally if contracted on one side and secures the 12 rib in respiration. Working on this muscle can help greatly with lower back pain especially when there is a pelvic tilt .

This article is based on the anatomy section of the massage training DVD 'A Guide to Creative Massage'. You can see a short trailer below

A Guide to Creative Massage Training DVD


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    • restrelax profile image

      restrelax 5 years ago from Los angeles CA

      Very useful and informative hub. Keep it up this good work.