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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.

Love it or hate it, everyone has an opinion when it comes to stretching. Yet we all do it instinctually. Whether it’s the first thing we do in morning when we get out of bed or the last thing we do after being hunched over our desk for hours. The point of contention arises when stretching is done purposefully, as part of a regimen — either before or after an activity, or as a practice all its own. Whether you fall into this latter category or not, there are a few things we should know about stretching before we make up our minds on its efficacy. In this first post on stretching, we’ll be discussing the anatomy of a stretch.

Let’s face it, some people are naturally more flexible than others. Women tend to be more flexible than men. The young are more flexible and limber than their adult counterparts; and there are several reasons for this. As we age, we progressively loose flexibility as part of the normal aging process. Degenerative changes within the muscle and/or joint capsules (arthritis) can lead to an inactive lifestyle. Inactive muscles will adaptively shorten and eventually become weak. Stretching helps to maintain a certain degree of flexibility, which in turn improves our range of motion. Range of motion (ROM) is the degree of movement available for any given body part or joint.

What is stretching?

So what exactly does it mean to stretch? Stretching is the act of placing a specific body part into a position that will lengthen a targeted muscle, muscle group and/or soft tissue structure. Soft tissue structures come in two varieties: contractile and non-contractile. Examples of non-contractile structures include: ligaments, menisci, and joint capsules. This type of soft tissue was designed to provide support and stability. Their primary job is to limit or control the amount of movement across a joint. Other types of non-contractile soft tissue include fascia, skin and scar tissue. Muscle and tendons are the two primary contractile structures. Tendons attach muscle to bone, and by extension only transmit the force of the contracting muscle across a joint to create movement. Since tendons don’t actually contract themselves, that leaves us with muscles as the primary target for stretching.

Every joint in the human body has a range of motion that is considered normal for that joint. Let’s consider the hip as an example. The hip joint has six planes of movement: flexion, extension, adduction (swinging leg across the opposite leg), abduction (swinging leg away from the opposite leg), medial rotation (rotating leg so knee is pointing towards opposite leg) and lateral rotation (rotating leg so knee is pointing away from opposite leg). For each given movement there is a degree or range, which is considered normal.

Range of Motion Available at the Hip:

Flexion: w/extended knee = 80-90 deg, (w/flexed knee = 110-120 deg)

Extension: 10-15 deg

Adduction: 30 deg

Abduction: 30-50 deg

Medial Rotation: 30-40 deg

Lateral Rotation: 40-60 deg

Some people will fall below this range, others slightly above it. Hip flexion (w/an extended knee) for example tends to be the most limited movement of the hip for most people. Think of bending over to touch your toes. If you have trouble doing this, chances are tight hamstrings, as well as tight gluteal and calf muscles are contributing to this limitation. Those who have suffered an injury or lead a sedentary lifestyle might find themselves in this category.

Stretching can be done actively or passively with the help of an aid or an assistant. Depending on the joint where the stretch is performed, you can see a noticeable difference in the amount of passive ROM available. The neck is perfect example. You can yield a greater amount of ROM at the cervical spine if it’s done passively. This is not always the case for every joint however. The hip joint generally yields the same amount of ROM whether it’s done actively or passively.

Tight, short, stiff muscles have a tendency to limit this normal range of motion, as well as contributing to some other issues, such as:

– Chronic muscle and joint pain due to constant tension

– Interference of proper muscle functioning

– A loss of strength and power

– Restrict blood flow and circulation

– Increased muscle fatigue

– Muscle strain or injury

What happens during a stretch?

Muscles are comprised of thousands of tiny cylindrical cells called muscle fibers. Each muscle fiber contains thousand of ‘threads’ called myofibrils. These myofibrils are what give muscles their capacity to contract, relax and lengthen. Within each myofibril are millions of bands of sarcomeres. Sarcomeres are made up of thick and thin myofilaments containing contractile proteins called actin & myosin. When sarcomeres are regularly stretched to their end point, the number of sarcomeres increase and are added to the ends of existing myofibrils. This is what increases the muscle’s length and ROM.

There are two primary reflexes that are engaged when you do a stretch: the “stretch/ myostatic reflex” and the “golgi tendon reflex”.

Stretch/Mysotatic Reflex: During the first few seconds of a stretch (6-10 seconds), tiny proprioceptive cells called muscle spindle organs (MSOs) are activated. MSOs located in the belly of the muscle contract in order to protect the muscle. Their primary function is to detect changes in the length and speed of the stretch and contract accordingly.

Golgi Tendon Reflex: After the first few seconds of a stretch, another set of proprioceptive cells called golgi tendon organs (GTOs) are engaged. Located near the tendons of a muscle, GTOs detect the amount of tension being exerted over a joint and automatically stop contracting in order to protect the muscle from being overloaded.

Knowing about these reflexes can help us to stretch in a much more effective and safe way. Here are two keep points to remember when stretching:

1. Move slowly into the stretch: In order to mitigate the effects of the stretch reflex, it’s important to move slowly into the stretch and only to the point of comfortable resistance. If you move too quickly or stretch to the point of pain, you will activate the stretch reflex and create resistance within the muscle.

2. Hold the stretch for  at least 10 seconds: After this initial period, the MSOs will cease firing and the GTOs will kick in. GTO activity will create inhibition in the muscle, allowing you to stretch further to a new end point.

In part 2 on stretching, we’ll discuss several different types of stretches, the benefits of stretching, and more pointers on how to stretch safely and effectively.


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.

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