For those of you who wish to have specific problem areas addressed, there are a lot of misconceptions about the appropriate amount of pressure for massage. There are two major ones:
- More is better! Many people believe that once a tightened area is discovered, the strategy is to get in there and ‘get it’. Not only is this oversimplified and mechanistic, it is incorrect physiologically. The fact is, overly aggressive therapy does not work and often causes unintended backlash or rebound pain.
- The therapist must sense what I feel. Often clients assume that if a therapist is pressing what seems to be quite hard (the keyword is seems; eight times that pressure in the same muscle on the opposite side of the body often barely registers as tender), they know the amount of discomfort being produced and are doing that intentionally. This is incorrect; we cannot know what your experience is unless you tell us. While the therapist may be aware that an area feels like a problem, they cannot know how it feels to you. You must give them constant feedback. This cannot be overstated.
For addressing specific areas of discomfort, our job is to discover and diffuse these restricted areas. What then is the proper amount of pressure? First, if we are on the correct area, you should have strong sense that this is an important area of restriction. If we feel something and you don’t, you are usually correct. Tell the therapist.
When you do sense that this area is compellingly tender, watch your reaction carefully. As long as you can dispassionately ‘witness’ the discomfort, the pressure is perfect. The moment you tighten or protect in any way, the capacity for real change ceases. At this point, many people say, “Go ahead, I can take it. Do what you need to do to get rid of that.” Unfortunately, this not only does not work, it can backfire. The physiology behind this is complex and fascinating; suffice it to say that you need to stay within a level of comfort to create real and lasting change.