If you’ve ever gone for a deep tissue massage only to be let down by the amount of pressure used, then you’re not alone. A majority of people equate ‘deep tissue’ with ‘deep pressure.’ The opposite can also be said of a Swedish massage. If you’re someone who likes only light to moderate pressure, then chances are you’ll go with a Swedish massage. So why is it that people get less than what they expect from their massage? The reasons can be as varied and as simple as: your therapist’s individual style or strength; your therapist’s training and experience; the amount of communication between therapist and client; and not least of which, some common misconceptions.

Just about everyone expects a firm touch when they go for a deep tissue massage. The term ‘deep tissue’ though can be a misnomer. A deep tissue massage is designed to target the deeper layers of muscles in your body and not necessarily to deliver deep pressure uniformly. This is misconception number one. The amount of pressure used in a deep tissue massage can vary greatly, from a light, superficial stroke designed to warm up the muscle, to a deeper, more focused application of pressure used to release adhesions. This is such a common misconception that even some therapists fall into the trap of using more pressure than is needed. By contrast, a Swedish massage is designed to target the superficial layer of muscles, which in some cases may not require as much pressure. So how do you ensure you’ll get the best massage for your money? The key is communication.

Another common misconception is that it’s better to remain silent for the sake of propriety. “The therapist knows how much pressure to use, even if I’m silently screaming in agony.” You may be thinking…, not me! But you’d be surprised at how many people suffer in silence. Your therapist should establish those lines of communication by asking you your preferences and checking in with you periodically throughout the massage. Some areas may require more pressure than others, so it’s at these moments when communication is crucial. There may also be a disconnect between what your body is saying and what your expectations are. Some therapists may use your body’s reaction to guide them in the amount of pressure they use. If you tense up or your breathing becomes shallow and subdued, then chances are the amount of pressure you’re getting is at or beyond your threshold.

Since pain is such a subjective matter, one person may prefer that feeling and another may not. The question of how much pressure to use has now become more complicated. From a purely therapeutic standpoint, the body never lies. If your muscles are splinting and tensing up, it’s your body’s way of saying ‘enough!’ Of course, depending on the circumstances, that may change and often does. If for example, you’ve recently strained a muscle or are dealing with chronically tight muscles, your body may react to ‘too much pressure, too fast’ by tensing up. In cases such as these, it may be a matter of warming up the tissue sufficiently or using a different technique, which can then allow you to go deeper. But generally speaking, trying to push through this resistance with a ‘take no prisoners’ approach may actually do more harm than good.

Some therapists may have a system they use to help modulate the pressure to your liking. Some may not. The important thing to remember is that you speak up and let your therapist know what your preferences are. If you clearly communicate this and you still don’t get what you’re looking for, then it may be a matter of finding the right therapist. In light of all these variables, not everyone is a good match. Do your research and find the therapist that suits your needs.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.