A Massage Therapist Guide to Getting More Pressure Without Pain. HOW TO AVOID STRAIN WHILE MASSAGING "DEEPER."

body mechanics Jul 19, 2020

Work Smarter Not Harder Massage Therapist

Body Mechanics To The Rescue!

We've all had that client on our table who wants deeper and deeper work.  For many years I would push, contort and ultimately strain my body to heed their request.  Anything to make the client come back for another session.  Does this sound familiar? 

It's hard to find the balance between what is good for your body and what will be deep enough to work for the client's body. 

Here are the top tips to follow so you don't injure yourself while working deeper for a client. 

Slow down

When we slow down our work, it becomes more specific and allows us to get deeper pressure.  If you are used to flowing quickly from one stroke to the next, cut your speed in half and really feel what is happening under your hands.  Stop and hold.  Use a compression, cross fiber friction, or move to a deep tissue stroke or myofascial release.  Wipe off some oil to reduce the glide over the skin.  Allow time for the tissue to change.  Wait for the change. 

Use your breath

Exhale as you deliver the stroke.  Breathe while holding the compression.  Focusing on your breathing will also help you focus on what you're feeling with the tissue under your hands.  Keep your breath flowing, so you don't miss subtle changes.  In the same way we gather more strength when exhaling while lifting something heavy, we can breathe out during the part of the massage stroke where we want more pressure.     

Lower the table

This may seem obvious, but I've worked with enough therapists to know not everyone thinks to lower their table for certain clients. 

If it's the first time working with someone (and you don't have a hydraulic table) you discover too late that you need to lower the table to gain more pressure.  Make a note in the client's chart as soon as you know they need the table lowered and you will be prepared the next time they come in. 

With the table lower you can recruit power from your legs and use leverage to give them more pressure.

We can't afford to hurt ourselves for one client. 


Educate the client

As I became a more seasoned MT, I could pick out the clients right away who were disconnected from their bodies.  The ones who couldn't put into words how the pain felt or give a number to their level of pain when I asked.  Sometimes these were the same clients who would ask for more pressure but no matter how much I gave them they didn't feel a difference.  To tell them they needed better body awareness wasn't going to get us anywhere but I could educate them. 

I had success with explaining that often I could gain the same results with less pressure and asking them if that would be OK.  This is where it benefits you as the therapist to have a short and long-term goal for the client and discuss that with them.  This education, combined with some deeper pressure or cross fiber friction would usually have the client leaving happy and feeling like their needs were met. 

Communication is key and speaking genuinely and confidently works for the majority of clients.  Oh, and the better body awareness comes on its own after they receive massage consistently over time. 😊        

Say No

This is a hard one!  It is OK to say no and refer the client elsewhere. 

I remember the first time I did this, and it was way overdue.  I just kept trying to please this one client.  She would always tell me about the great deep massages she'd gotten in the past (from other therapists) and remind me before and during every session that I "couldn't go deep enough, and it wasn't possible to hurt her."  Ooookayyy 

So I tried and tried and usually had hurt fingers from the neck and suboccipital work, not to mention feeling like the session was terrible.  I couldn't get into the work because I was so worried about getting deeper.  But the client would re-book, and we would go through the whole thing again the next session. 

My body and mind didn't like to see her name on my schedule.  I finally referred her to a therapist I had faith in that could give this client what she wanted.  They were a good match, and everyone was happy.  After the hard part of acknowledging my limitations, and let me tell you I don't do that well, I was able to do the right thing for myself and for the longevity of my career.  It's OK to say no and honor your boundaries.             

Honor your boundaries. 

The profession we have chosen can take a toll on our bodies if we let it.  Be smart with your body mechanics, and don't take unnecessary risks with clients you can't get enough pressure for.  There is a therapist out there who will be able to go deep enough for them.  There are enough clients for everyone so attract the ones who you will serve best. 

Until next time,

Be Fit, Be Strong (but only as strong as you are able),

👇 Get a body mechanics checklist by clicking the image below to see if you're using your body correctly at the massage table. 👇


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