Your Ideal Massage: How to Communicate Your Needs

Massage Therapy has become a more prevalent resource for alleviation of discomfort and stress symptoms. Even though the benefits of massage are well-known, the profession comes with specific terminology and there can be challenges expressing personal style preferences and needs. Feeling comfortable conveying your desires and providing clarifying feedback  is imperative to assuring you receive the most beneficial service!

Massage Therapists learn numerous modalities throughout their schooling and continuing education. Flowing strokes and muscle kneading come from the Swedish Massage Tradition. Prolonged pressure on specific muscles fibers (often referred to as Trigger Point Therapy) is utilizing Neuromuscular Massage Techniques, and slow palm gliding supports release of the tissue around the muscle with a Myofascial approach. These are only a sampling of the techniques that a massage therapist may integrate into your session, depending on your preferences and what your body responds to most readily. All of these can be performed within a spectrum of assertiveness, from very light to very firm.

During the intake at the start of your massage, your practitioner will ask about your goals for the session and what massage styles have been beneficial for you in the past. You don’t have to know the specific names of techniques. You may tell your massage therapist that you enjoy slow, wide movements with lots of firm muscle kneading. Or you may inform them that you respond well to very specific work.  Language can still be very personal so your practitioner will check in with you several times during the session, especially if it is the first time you have worked together.

Many clients come to Allyu Spa asking for a deep tissue massage, and the term has become common, though misunderstood, in our industry. This request most often seems to express a desire for a certain level of tissue engagement. However, deep tissue is not an actual technique and means very different things to different people and the level of firmness throughout a massage will vary based on needs.

There is still some belief that more intensity equates with more benefit. However, both our industry experience and scientific research have shown that if we push the muscles to the point of pain, the massage can be counter-productive. The Webster Dictionary defines pain as:  “a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, characterized by physical discomfort, and typically leading to evasive action”. When our body cringes, contracts or we have a short intake of breath while enduring a massage that is exceeding our comfort, we are instinctually responding with evasive action. This stimulates the fight-or-flight response and contradicts the healing state of an activated parasympathetic system. Our muscles are like the rest of us – if we feel unsafe or attacked in any way, we withdraw and defend. Obviously, our bodies are far less responsive in this state.

Ideally, your massage will begin with a more moderate pressure to warm the tissue and will increase to penetrate deeper into the muscle. There is a pleasurable ache that can occur when the muscle is engaged at the level where it will begin to relax and release. An involuntary deep breath or sigh may occur indicating that the parasympathetic system is being stimulated; lessening stress hormones, lengthening muscles, and encouraging healing of the whole system. The level of depth needed to reach this state isn’t consistent. Each person and even different body areas on the same person will respond uniquely. Often the specificity of engagement is even more important than the amount of pressure applied.

Finding the balance of style and firmness best for you occurs with verbal communication and the experienced palpations of your practitioner. Clients may find it difficult to voice a desire for change, feeling that it would reflect negatively on the capability of their massage therapists. Please be assured that your feedback is invaluable in learning your needs! As you work with a practitioner more often, their knowledge of your muscle tissue increases and your body learns how to respond more readily. You may even learn that your body is more responsive to a specific technique than a certain pressure. The amount of verbal communication needed with your practitioner will lessen as you develop a working relationship with them. However, please remember to use your voice and ask for changes as your needs and expectations  evolve!

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