Healthy Hands and Arms Part 3: Tips On Using The Abacus

By Angela Kneale, OTD, MA, OTR/L, NBC-HWC
This is a 3-part series written by Kneale on the Gelliflex Abacus.

How often and what length per session should people use the Abacus?

Convenient access to the Abacus invites consistent self-treatment sessions to optimize the beneficial outcomes of self-massage – including softening muscle tightness, releasing tension, increasing movement and function, improving comfort, and enhancing circulation, lymphatic flow and tissue hydration. The Abacus can be used daily for 10-20 minute sessions for improved comfort and function of hands and arms, incorporating self-massage and trigger point release techniques: squeeze, rolling, and compression. Maintain functional gains and help prevent hand and arm problems by regularly using the Abacus two or three times per week.

When starting to use the Abacus, what is the optimal level of pressure?

Getting started with the Abacus invites paying attention to your body and how it feels – before, during and after self-massage. Always begin self-massage with light pressure and increase gradually to moderate, according your body’s comfort and ease. Move very slowly to maximize the benefits to your body from the gentle, sustained pressure. Lighten pressure during self-massage when close to joint spaces or body prominences. 

Self-treatment with the Abacus for myofascial trigger point release emphasizes your exploration and discovery of tender areas, along with providing the “just-right” amount of increasing, sustained pressure and holding for the “just-right” amount of time for release. Enhance the compression techniques with active movement of the hand or arm, and follow with gentle rolling using the gel-balls. Trigger points may be addressed directly, or often benefit from self-treatment in an area nearby.

What level of Gelliflex ball firmness (soft, medium, firm) works best?

Almost infinite combinations of gel-balls and Abacus positions allow you to focus on a particular area of your hands and arms, as well as move fluidly from one motion to the next. Exploring and discovering the sensations in your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, and upper arms will enhance benefits and positive outcomes of self-massage. 

Select Soft Purple gel-balls when exploring new techniques or movements, and then try Medium Lime Green gel-balls. Based on your comfort, progress to Firm Blue gel-balls. For optimal “just right” comfort and benefit, experiment with various slots when setting up the one and two gel-ball assemblies.

What tips are important in order to not overdo with the Abacus?

With every self-treatment, it is important to start slowly and mindfully, and build upon successes.

  • Always listen to your body and choose the movements that feel comfortable.
  • Never use the Abacus on an acute injury – you may benefit from self-massage near the area, but not directly over an injured region.
  • Begin self-massage with light pressure, and increase gradually according to your body’s comfort.
  • Choose the Abacus positions that best allow you to keep your wrist neutral throughout the rolling movements, and your whole body to relax and feel at ease.
  • Breathe fully and deeply, relaxing and releasing tightness and tension as you exhale.
  • Relax your hand and arm before and after rolling – open your hand wide and extend your fingers, and freely move your arm.
  • Stop if you experience sharp pain, numbness, or tingling.
  • Pause for a moment following self-massage to notice any changes and positive responses.

Any other tips when using the Abacus?

Releasing tightness and tension from your hands and arms promotes comfort and ease for your whole body. Letting go of muscle tension improves your capacity to relax and enjoy each moment. Allow the self-massage techniques with the Abacus encourage you to become elastically playful. Bring new awareness, lightness, flow and creativity to your everyday activities. And enjoy healthy hands and arms!


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About The Author: Angela Kneale, OTD, MA, OTR/L, NBC-HWC, is an occupational therapist, health and wellness coach, Franklin Method® educator, and certified Stott Pilates® instructor. Professional experience includes industrial rehabilitation, employee wellness, and treatment of individuals with chronic pain, physical disabilities, and neurological issues. The author of eight books, Angela specializes in the integration of movement, breathing, postural alignment, and relaxation techniques for optimal health and wellbeing. Visit her website