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Deep, But Not Too Deep - fingertips for the client

Deep, But Not Too Deep - fingertips for the client

By Art Riggs
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, July/August 2010. Copyright 2010. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Clients commonly request deep tissue massage for its lasting benefits--and it just plain feels good. But it's important to let your therapist know just how deep you want your massage. Here are some ways to help you communicate with your therapist to increase or decrease the intensity.

Verbal Feedback
Your therapist really wants to know how you feel about your massage. Feedback early on in the session is important.

-Use positive reinforcement. For instance, if the work is too light, a gentle, "That feels good, but I could take more pressure" is usually sufficient. As more pressure is applied, compliment your therapist for applying the proper deep pressure ("That is a great depth for me to really relax").

-Always let your therapist know if the work is too intense. Even the most careful therapist may sometimes go too deep. Simply saying that the pressure is a "bit much for me" is usually perfect so that your comments don't sound like criticism.

-Help establish the proper pace of the session.

1. Pain may be a result of working too fast rather than too hard. Let your therapist know that you could relax into the stroke a little easier if it were slower.
2. Working too fast might be a result of trying to accomplish too much in too little time. If you have problem areas, consider booking a longer massage or having spot work rather than a rushed, full-body session.

-The one-to-10 scale is a good guideline. If necessary, speak out when the intensity reaches a six or seven so the therapist knows not to increase pressure.

Nonverbal Cues
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.

Art Riggs is the author of a textbook and DVD series on deep tissue massage. For more information, visit
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