How to get the pressure you want during a massage
It can be frustrating sometimes. You think you've told the therapist exactly what you need; but, they didn't "get it." How could they possibly not have understood? Sometimes the problem may be that you're not speaking the same language. Let's talk a little bit about the language that massage therapists use and how they understand it:
Gentle Pressure: Means gentle pressure but can be any kind of technique... swedish, shiatsu, myofascial release, nerve strokes like light dragging of the fingertips on the skin. Definitely doesn't mean deep tissue. And can definitely be a better choice for more sensitive nervous systems, people with PTSD or just people who get regular massage and don't have as much stress as those who wait until they're desperate to convince themselves they need a massage.
Medium Pressure: A little more force on the part of the therapist using any or all techniques. But the therapist is probably keeping in mind that certain parts of your body (those pesky shoulders glued to your ears) may need more of a deep tissue approach. And certain body parts may require less. For example, a fictional client might need medium pressure on their back, deep pressure around their shoulders and much lighter pressure on their calves due to small varicose veins. The majority of massages fall into this category. The key here is to keep your therapist informed. In other words, speak up! You are the one who knows your body best and even a good therapist cannot pick up every single nonverbal clue from your body( though I've had amazing massages where it seemed like they were reading my mind!).
Deep Tissue: This is the big buzzword in massage today. Deep tissue massage has gotten the reputation of being able to cure whatever bodily pain, distress or quirk ails you... and do it quickly. And it CAN be a wonderful help for that hellish garden of knots in your shoulders or for people who exercise a lot and whose muscles are very fit and healthy and can tolerate the pressure. You climb on the massage table. Your therapist uses her forearms or even elbows and bam! 60 minutes later you feel like a new person. Love it!
But, deep tissue work isn't perfect and there can be a downside. Using too much force on a body that's not fit can leave a residual muscle soreness/spasm, sometime mild sometimes strong. Sort of like trading in one pain for another. If your bodily pain is due to some strong emotional stressor, relieving it too quickly can leave a person feeling very vulnerable.
As a therapist with 25 years experience in giving (and getting!) massages, here is my best advice for getting the massage you want:
- Find a therapist who's a good listener. You don't want one who plows ahead because she "knows best." You want one who will take your bodily feelings/comments into account and adapt accordingly.
- Get your massage at a place where they give you some time to talk to the therapist beforehand, not just throw you on the table and do whatever. A good therapist will want to know all the details about you and your condition. They will want to see "the big picture." Do you feel listened to? That's a good therapist.
- Try to be as clear as possible about what's going on in your body. This can be difficult sometimes because body feelings are often nonverbal. One of the best ways I've found to be clear is to sit quietly for a few minutes and do a body scan meditation. You check in with each body part sequentially to see how it is today, not changing it or judging it, just asking. It can be quite revealing and will give your therapist more information to work with.
- Get massage more often. Pain and emotional distress will not get such a head start and you'll have a better chance of extended relief.
- Consider a technique called Deep Tissue Sculpting. It's a technique for getting deeply into the muscles without tons of force. The therapist will press into the area, wait for the muscles to give a little, then apply more force. Apply a little more pressure, wait again. Etc. You can get quite deeply into the muscles with this technique and the side effects are minimal and the experience quite meditative.
Now I hope you are empowered to get the massage you want. Best wishes for healing.