Moderate pressure is essential for health benefits. A study published in 2010 in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that moderate pressure in massage is essential for achieving many of the physical and physiological benefits of massage — reduced stress, lowered blood pressure, and a strengthened immune system to name a few among dozens of benefits.
The pressure in the massage actually stimulates pressure receptors in the skin which elicit a physiological change — a parasympathetic nervous system response which lowers our blood pressure, slows our heart rate and breathing, relaxes our muscles and calms our minds. This response can actually be elicited within about 15 minutes of the start of the massage (though some of you claim it starts as soon as you feel your body on the massage table).
Going deeper. For most of our massages at Equilibrio, we blend this more moderate pressure with deeper touch. We don’t parse out deep tissue massage and sell it to you differently. The pressure we use in each massage is negotiated with you and your body. This deeper work is particularly helpful at releasing chronic muscle tension and affecting the deeper connective tissue holdings in the muscle.
But how deep is ok? Massage should not hurt. Intense is ok. But you should still be able to breathe comfortably through even deeper work.
As massage therapists, we are working with your tissue and need to work to the level of that person’s tissue’s resistance, meet that resistance and wait until it gives (and sometimes it never gives). I have learned that applying pressure harder and faster does not mean going deeper. To really go deep, we need to go slow and follow the lead of the muscle. Applying too heavy of pressure all at once will meet with even more resistance from the client’s muscle which is tightening up in reaction to invasive pressure. Counter productive!
Speak up! As experienced practitioners, we are pretty good at reading the resistance in your muscles and working at that depth. But every body’s tissues are different and can be affected by elements on different days such as how hydrated you are, how much caffeine you have consumed, local inflammation from working out, hormones, sleep, etc. It is critical that you speak up in a massage if you need more or less pressure. Below are some great nonverbal cues (from deep tissue master tissue Art Riggs) you can use when you can’t seem to put it into words.
“Your therapist constantly monitors your body’s reaction to the massage. You can use these cues to your own advantage, so you can help the therapist without pulling yourself out of the massage experience.
- Allow your muscles to tighten if the work is too intense. Your therapist should immediately recognize this as a response to excessive pressure rather than normal muscle tension.
- Use your breath. Slow, deep breathing usually signifies the perfect pressure. Fast or labored breathing usually indicates nearing the threshold of pain.
- Use nonspecific sounds, such as a deep sigh, to let your therapist know the depth and speed of the work are perfect.
As in most relationships, it sometimes takes a bit of time to establish a common bond of communication, so experiment to find the best cues for your therapist.”