How Much Pressure Do YOU like?

This blog is about the adventures, trials, tribulations, emotions, pleasures, fears, frustrations and joys of starting a new out-call massage business in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The blog is written by T. Hamish Tear, one of the two owner / partners of Massage Professionals of Jackson Hole – which is then carried forward into the Social Media sphere by Rochelle Ganoe – the other owner / partner.


Last week I finished by saying I would be discussing our web site’s role in the overall marketing strategy – and I hoped to be able to link to our new and super-duper web site – courtesy of Shannon Sbarra at SkyFire Studios. Alas, the Labor Day weekend got in the way it’s not here yet…so meanwhile I’ll write about my thoughts on ‘pressure’ as it pertains to massage..

I sometimes receive pleasing compliments about the way I do certain things during a massage or use specific techniques – and many of these comments address that I just somehow know how to use the most appropriate pressure for their body and muscles – not too much, not too little, no matter where in the body I am, or within which technique I am working.

Pressure‘ is a strange word when applied to massage. I find intake forms to be a bit silly when they ask what kind of pressure the client would like. My type of client will often vote with their feet – as, really, they don’t know what they are asking for – and they don’t know ME as a therapist. And the other thing about the pressure question is…where?  And at what stage in the massage? The amount of pressure a therapist applies differs all over the body and depends greatly on the overall flow of the massage and the body type you’re working on. A massage therapist can and will go deeper once their client is more into the massage session, more relaxed, and has been having the benefit of preparatory and warming strokes, such as petrissagetapotement, and even a more vigorous effleurage. (Additionally, I use a table warmer – which goes a long way to preparing the muscles and mind of your massage client for deeper work.)

It needs to be clarified that I am working in spas in the Jackson Hole area, where clients are mostly looking for relaxation massage with some specific thrown in – such as ‘tight shoulders, neck and upper back’. Also, these tend to be ‘one-time’ clients – looking for a bit of feel-good pampering while on vacation (and the way many people vacation is very stressful). If I were a sports therapist working on a specific problem with an athlete whom I see weekly – that’s a whole different context, where ‘pressure’ is used in a whole different way.

In writing about ‘pressure’ in a massage blog, there’s a whole lot of peripheral information that needs to be considered – all the way from that silent, energy-filled ‘communication’ with the client on the table, to the much more physical aspects of the therapist’s size, weight, strength, experience with skills and knowledge of anatomy. And there’s a feeling.

My advantage is in my physical attributes. I am a 57-year-old athlete (mountaineer, skier, cyclist), 6’2″, and 185lbs. I understand the human body from an athlete’s advantage, and I take massage seriously. For me, it’s a focus and a meditation. For that 60 or 90 minutes I am completely there in that massage room with the client and nowhere else. And usually it’s more about the pressure that I don’t apply. My main skill is knowing how to hold back – how to keep what I have in reserve, and then I can use the saved strength to control the movements and pressure accordingly, slowly working into more pressure if I feel that’s where I can go, and if that’s what the client needs and /or wants. I have a hard time working if the client wants to talk – but if my ‘serious’ attitude doesn’t convince clients to settle into the massage, I’ll mention that they might want to try some breathing.

But anyway – getting down to it – once I have the client comfortable, warm, secure, and have done some over-cover work and quite a bit of warming strokes – I’ll get down to the ‘pressure’ work. I use my senses as I move along slowly applying pressure in whatever stroke is appropriate for that body part. By this time I have found the right amount of oil to suit the client’s skin type and depth of massage they’re capable of handling. More oil means a lighter massage, less oil means deeper – it all has to do with the enabling or the curtailing of the speed of the stroke. With more oil, you’re going to zoom along the surface of the muscle, not spending much time there. Less time means less pressure.

More time, less oil, more pressure. I like to be somewhere toward the less oil end of the scale as it’s much easier to control what’s going on and oil can always be added. And remember – it’s what the client has asked for – not what you, the massage therapist ‘can do’ – that counts. Give them what they ask for – a light massage can be just as fine or appropriate as any other. And you’ll probably get a better tip. I digress.

The feeling is complimented by acute use of your own senses as you massage this body with pressure strokes. Watch what’s happening – is the client reacting in any way? A quick reaction of the head or any muscle group? Is there any general tensioning? Are fingers or toes twitching or (hopefully not) curling up? Does the client’s breathing alter, change, become shallow, labored, deeper?

Most of these things indicate that you’ve probably already gone too far and it’s good to catch these signs just as they’re showing up – and then – I try to stay right there – just on the cusp of the comfort / discomfort zone. This means I’m effecting muscle massage yet still maintaining comfort – which is the (also essential)  ‘relaxation’ component of massage.

Next week – I’ll be back on track with the exciting new web site that’s nearing completion right now.

Be Well,

T. Hamish Tear