Let me start by saying that I do deep tissue work in therapeutic sessions. I use my forearms, elbows, knuckles, and various massage tools to get into tight areas to help the muscles relax. The deep tissue work I want to talk about it the “no pain, no gain” type. The type that many people have been conditioned into thinking is the only way to work out kinks in their bodies. The problem I find with this type of deep tissue work is that I’m supposed to be assisting you in releasing tension in the body. If I’m working at a level where we are creating it in any area, well doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? If you’re gritting your teeth or holding your breath during the session, the chances of you being sore, tender to the touch, and possibly bruising in the following days is a lot higher. That’s not what I’m looking to achieve.
Have you ever had that moment in a massage where it feels like the therapist bounces off a muscle? That’s the body’s way of telling the therapist that a different technique is needed to relax that muscle. Sometimes coaxing the muscle into submission through gentler methods works better. That could be something as simple as switching to a broader pressure at the same level of depth, such as using the forearm instead of the elbow. Other times all it takes is slowing down the stroke for the body to experience it differently and not create additional tension elsewhere.
I find that working with a numbered scale for discomfort is a great way for clients to refocus and understand what they are feeling in their body. At first you may find it difficult to articulate the type of discomfort you are feeling (achy, sharp, shooting, restrictive, etc) so a scale from 1-10 with regards to the level of discomfort can be helpful. A 1 is simply feeling contact from the therapist and a 10 might be you wanting to jump off the table in agony. I never want to get you to a 10. I’m looking to find that sweet spot on the scale where you can comfortably breathe through the discomfort you’re experiencing. When working, we might find an area that catches you off guard making you want to hold your breath and label it an 8 or 9. That’s when I back off the muscle, adjust, and reapply pressure until you are at no more than a 6 or 7. This is that “hurts so good” level of massage that so many are surprised to find effective. At a 6 or 7 I expect my clients to be able to breathe slowly, deeply, and without additional tension, bringing the focus into the area being worked on. This allows the nervous system to slow down and gives the body a chance to work its own innate magic of healing. Often times when working with this scale people notice their numbers decrease after 2 or 3 exhalations. And if the number stays steady, it’s not something to worry about. It’ll release in its own time.
It’s important to note that everyone experiences discomfort differently so for some people a 4 is all they can comfortably breathe through and for others it’s a 6 or 7 and that’s ok. Remember that the session is about finding what works best for your body to heal. So come in and get on the table soon and let's work together to find you comfort and ease.