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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Deep: Pressure Vs. Tissue (OR) In Support of Froufrou

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

I've been planning this blog post for a while now, but the more I've been thinking about what I want to say, the more the original title, Deep: Pressure Vs. Tissue, just wasn't everything I wanted to say. So in the tradition of a certain animated television series from the 1960s staring a moose and flying squirrel, today's blog has two titles!

The first thing we have to address is the ever-common misconception of Deep Pressure versus Deep Tissue. The general public doesn’t seem to know that these two mean different things! Deep tissue is more of a technique than it is a level of pressure- these are approaches or modalities of massage that are used to address the deeper levels of tissue in the body. You can receive deep tissue work without very much pressure. Myofascial Release is a great example of this; work that addresses the deeper layers of fascia within the body, but with very gentle and sustained stretching pressure. Deep pressure on the other hand is all about the compressive force applied into the soft tissue of the body and is generally gauged on a light, medium, and deep scale. These two aren’t mutually exclusive, you can have a deep tissue massage that uses deep pressure too- but it doesn’t have to be.

When booking a massage, ask yourself “do I want deep tissue work or deep pressure?” And if you want deep pressure, take a moment to think about why? We live in a culture that hurt and pain and even deep pressure is worn like a badge of honor. Do you really need all that pressure to have a productive and beneficial massage? Chances are, probably not. If it’s a matter of “it’s just what I like” or “I can only relax with that much pressure”, take a moment and think about if that is really true about your body or if society has conditioned you to believe that only deep pressure is worth receiving.

If you are insistent about deep tissue and/or deep pressure, here are some guidelines;

- If you’re booking a deep tissue massage, you should ask about the therapists’ qualifications and training. What disciplines of massage has your therapist studied? What kind of massage do they specialize in and are passionate about?

- If you’re booking a deep pressure massage, you should ask about the therapists’ comfort and safety. Can the therapist safely and comfortably provide you with the level of pressure you require? If not, can the therapist make a referral to a therapist that can safely and comfortably provide the deeper level of pressure?

Keep in mind that deeper work of either kind isn’t an indicator of your body’s condition, nor is it indicative of better or more effective treatment. In fact, thought leaders of the day point to research demonstrating that less pressure and less length of sessions in massage can be more effective than longer and deeper massages.

I always say, “Peace and Healing” and there’s a reason for that order. I am here to help you and your body facilitate a condition of peacefulness and health. But Peace has to come first. Think about it, healing and wellness can never happen if the mind is not at peace enough to accept healing in the first place.

Massage Therapists are not immune to the societal pressure to believe that deeper is better. I cannot tell you how many classes I have taken or presented where the topic doesn’t come up. And at least one (if not more) professionals will speak up and trash talk “froufrou” therapists and the idea of more “luxurious” massage work.

How quickly massage therapists get wrapped up in “fixing” and “healing” client’s problems that they forget the basics. Sometimes (in fact in my opinion, always) a treatment that feels good just for the sake of feeling good is going to be more effective in terms of healing than a treatment that is geared on being “rehabilitative” and not feeling good could ever be. All in the guise of “well, it has to feel uncomfortable to really heal”. Yes, massage therapists feed into the “no pain, no gain” mentality just as much as the general public does.

You know, I turned 30 this year and my massage practice turned 10. I am only getting older, in terms of my body and my career. The older I get and the longer I am in this profession, the pressure I can provide is going to be less and less. In my last blog post, I told you that I am at a point where I am no longer willing or able to push myself to strain and supply the deeper work that the last 10 years has demanded of me.

So I will also say that if the work and the pressure I provide is ever unsatisfactory or inadequate, I am always more than happy to make referrals to deeper therapists (I think I’ve established that there is no shortage of them out there). I strive to live in a mindset of abundance instead of scarcity; a more appropriate therapist/client combo is out there. I would much rather a client give up on working with me as their therapist than to give up on massage therapy or themselves.

With all that being said, I have been taking Continuing Education courses to massage with gentler but highly effective work. Specifically, I’ve been taking more hours in Ashiatsu (massage performed with Ashi-bars and the therapists’ feet to provide deeper pressure) and Cranial Sacral Therapy (gentle sustained holds all along the spinal column and head to promote healing and a regular rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid). The Cranial Sacral holds are something I’m introducing more and more of into my massages. It might not feel like much is going on, but the holds provide 90 seconds to 5 minutes for the body to create its own healing.

After all, is there anything in this world more sacred, precious, or rare than stillness? Without evangelizing, I’ll remind that scriptures even remind us to “be still and know”. And I would wish that for all of my clients.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB

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