The Hand-L Massage Tool: From Dream to Reality

The Hand-L Massage Tool, By Bob McAtee, LMT
A recent blog post on the Terra Rosa website noted that massage tools “can help enhance the therapeutic effects of a treatment, and tools can also help therapists, preventing them from fatigue and injury. The highest risk for a massage therapist is mainly wrist, fingers, and thumbs injuries. A survey conducted by Terra Rosa a few years ago indicated that 60% of the surveyed massage therapists in Australia have a prevalence of wrist and thumb injuries.”
Enter the Hand-L Massage Tool
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hand-L Massage Tool, we thought it would be interesting to have look back. First, by way of introduction to those of you unfamiliar with it, the Hand-L is a patented ceramic pressure tool, ergonomically designed to reduce stress on thumbs, fingers, and wrists. Its unique shape contributes to its comfort and effectiveness. The Hand-L was first introduced to the massage therapy community in 1996, and the updated Hand-L 2.0 became available in 2014.
The Hand-L 2.0 is made of hand-finished stoneware clay in an attractive “earthtone” colour, glazed at client contact areas for comfort, unglazed on the gripping surface to provide safe, slip-free control even if using oil/lotion/cream. The updated glaze finish on the client contact surfaces has slightly more “drag” than the original to provide better control when working with lubricant on the skin.
The Hand-L works well in many applications, including trigger point work, cross-fibre work, and deep stripping. It’s effective with lubricant on the skin, or through clothing, so it’s ideal for use during chair massage. Many manual therapists use the Hand-L successfully in the application of the “scraping” techniques of IASTM (Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation).
The Story of the Hand-L: Bringing an Idea to Fruition
Throughout the summer of 1992, I had been looking for a massage tool to use in my sports massage practice and for my own self-massage. I had already been a full-time massage therapist for 11 years by then and was noticing the wear-and-tear on my thumbs, fingers, and hands. In those days, there were only a few massage tools on the market (the Knobble, the Theracane, and a variety of T-bar tools) and none of them fit my hand properly or were too large to do the detailed work I needed them for.
In September of 1992, I woke from a restless dream in the middle of the night with an image fully formed of the “perfect shape” for a massage tool. I rarely remember my dreams, but this was an image so vivid I could not forget it. When morning finally came, I grabbed some clay and proceeded to hand-build several prototypes of what I had “seen” in my dream. Figure 1 shows of the original pieces.
Over the next few months, my friend Greg, a local ceramic artist, gave me access to his studio and his clay to hand-build another 50 or so pieces, all of them slightly different, trying to refine the design. Each of these pieces had to air-dry, be glazed, and then fired in the kiln, a somewhat time-consuming process. These pictures show the evolution from a one-ended to a two-ended tool, then the addition of non-slip elements, as well as an attempt to make them visually appealing.
Once I got to the end of my own design capabilities, I enlisted another friend (a sculptor and toy-maker) who helped refine the final design. We finally went into production and started selling the Hand-L in 1996 (4 years after “the” dream).
Start-Up Challenges
The greatest challenge for a start-up business is funding, and my situation was no different. I could not afford to go into mass-production of the Hand-L, so had to find a small production studio that could make the tool in batches of 50-100 at a time. I maintained that level of production for several years.
We also had to come up with a design for a retail box, a belt holster, organize an instructional brochure, and solve a million other little issues that go into producing and selling a product. The learning curve was steep!
I applied for a patent on the Hand-L in 1997 and it was awarded January 4, 2000.  This allowed me to take the Hand-L to the next level of production and marketing.
In 2014, we brought the manufacturing back home to Colorado. Due to a major change in the manufacturing process, we’ve made some small design and color changes to the Hand-L that make it even more visually appealing, without changing its ergonomics or functionality. We are once again crafting the Hand-L in small batches to help us better control their quality.
I hope you find the Hand-L as useful in your practice as the tens of thousands of other therapists worldwide who have adopted it.
Features that make the Hand-L unique:
The original ceramic massage tool.
Ergonomically designed for comfort.
Unique shape maximizes leverage, not strength.
Relieves pressure on thumbs, fingers, and wrists.
Helps prevent overuse injuries.
The Hand-L tool is now available here.