Some “deep” (and light) thoughts about massage therapy
As a massage therapist for over 25 years, I speak to patients, friends and family about different aspects of massage therapy and holistic health. I’ve been curious about why some people stop getting massages.
“What are some reasons you are not getting massage regularly?”
One of the top answers has been either
“The pressure is usually too much, and the therapist would not back off”
“The pressure is usually not enough and they really did not address the area that needed work”
Quite a contrast. This led me to thinking how I talk to patients about the pressure they are receiving during treatment. When I first meet a patient, I ask “how much pressure do you typically like?”. While the answer will be subjective, it gives me a starting point to understand their preference while opening a dialogue about their comfort level.
During treatment, especially the first appointment, I check in early and often about the pressure until I feel we are on the same page. If the patient answers a simple “good”, I like to follow up with “would you like a little more or a little less?”. This helps me hone in on what the patient is looking for and can tolerate.
Some areas of the body may be able to tolerate pressure better than others. Having a massage therapist that is aware of this is really important both in how they touch and how open the dialogue is between patient and therapist.
If I assess that a deeper (and possibly more uncomfortable) pressure is needed for this treatment to be effective, I will discuss this with the patient and provide techniques to help tolerate it. However, if the patient does not want deeper work I will absolutely NOT go deep. There are many ways to address an area that needs massage work, and the patient always has the final word on what pressure is applied.
Deeper pressure may be indicated in instances:
- Where deeper layers of tissue need to be accessed if that is where the imbalance, injury, or spasm exists.
- When working on internal scar tissue where specific localized pressure is needed to increase circulation to soften, unstick, and “break up” the scar tissue.
- Where there may be arthritic changes to the joint, it is often seen that deeper more focused pressure around the joints can be very effective.
- Where it is the patient’s preference. There is nothing wrong with simply enjoying a deeper massage. However, I explain to patients that deeper pressure does not equal a more effective massage. Treating at the correct level, which a good massage therapist will be able to assess, will bring the most benefit when trying to resolve the issue you came in for.
- If you had a bad experience with a previous massage where the pressure was too little or too much, talk to the therapist before you even get on the table so the massage therapist can understand your experience and how to proceed.
- Don’t be shy. If the massage therapist asks “how is the pressure”, they are asking because they are thinking about your comfort, experience, and effectiveness of the treatment. Be honest and say “I’d like a little more” or “I’d like a little less”.
- If you feel your massage therapist is not being attentive to your cues or they are not responding or checking in with you, you have every right to say “what you are doing is uncomfortable and I would like you to stop immediately”. You are in control. And you would be well advised to not return to them and find a massage therapist who is more attentive to what you need.
In my practice, I accommodate patients that need everything from very light to very deep pressure. If you have any questions about massage therapy or want to set up an appointment, feel free to reach out to me directly. Maybe your question about massage therapy will be featured in a future article!
Michael Guida is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Amma Therapist , formally trained at The New York College for Wholistic Health Education & Research and practicing at Heart Spring Health, a holistic health clinic in Southeast Portland, Oregon. Using a variety of bodywork techniques and layering in nutrition and self care practices, he provides a wide range of care for many health concerns, including a focus in acute or chronic pain, nutritional and digestive needs, and strengthening the lungs and immune system. Learn more about Michael
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