massage pressure

Corrected massage pressure is one thing that gets a client to return for another appointment with you, because he liked how he felt after the massage he received.

However, there is more to getting a client to return than just applying correct pressure. All clients have an expectation of what massage should feel like.

Do you really understand what correct pressure means in massage? One of the core issues with not succeeding in the business of massage is incorrect pressure. If you are wondering how to bring together perfect pressure and successful business, then this article may help you.

Body Memory

There is an undercurrent to all touch experiences: Touch is one of those things in life that creates a body memory. If we have had good touch, there is a record of it. If we have had bad touch, there is also a record. All touch is categorized, creating a dominant choice for how we like to be touched—and, on the part of the client, an expectation of how massage should feel.

Research conducted by German neuroscientists indicated, “In early brain regions in the ‘feeling center,’ where the information of the sense of touch is first directed and processed, systematic changes in cerebral activity occurred when subjects remembered a touch” and “A new touch does not erase the memory of a previous touch from working memory.

Rather, new and old tactile memories can persist independently of each another, once a person’s attention has registered the touches.” The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Expectations are feelings. For massage, an expectation translates into a certain pressure on the skin and muscles, creating sensations the client wants. Every client knows what this feeling is before he or she ever sets foot in your office. Your job, then, is to figure out what those expectations are and meet them through your touch.

Massage is really about a touch experience. Clients will judge these experiences as good or bad. Those determinations are based on whether or not you, the therapist, applied the correct pressure for that experience.

Unclear Expectations

An interesting thing happens when someone schedules an appointment for a touch experience, or massage, with you for the first time: She brings her touch records with her to that appointment. She is going to have a pre-set expectation toward how you touch her, and you are either going to validate, or not validate, her expectation with correct pressure.

For the massage therapist, this can work well—if the client knows what she wants and tells you exactly what she is looking for. You can meet expectations with your skills when the client is clear and correct.

 It is not so great if the client asks for something different from what she really wants. This occurs when the client has not received the touch experience she wanted in the past and uses those experiences to dictate your touch with her in the current massage. These are the same expectations, shadowed by other experiences. Your job, then, is to figure out what those expectations are by using corrected pressure.

Let me give you an example of unclear expectations.

 A new client schedules a relaxation massage with you. At the close of his session, you ask how the massage was for him. The client says, “That was nice massage, but not deep enough.” You are confused. Relaxation massage and deep-pressure massage are not the same thing. The client does not reschedule, because his expectations were not met.

What you do not know is this same client asked for deep pressure in his last massage session with another therapist. Too much pressure was applied, and he was hurt. When he scheduled with you he was afraid of being hurt again, and so requested a “light” massage. It was not that the client wanted a relaxation massage; he wanted a correct pressure massage.

Based on his touch records, he tried to control your pressure in a way that insured he would not get hurt. However, in the process, he still did not feel how he had pictured in his mind he would feel. His expectations were still not met.

The 1-to-10 Pressure Scale

There is a simple way to hand over the control of pressure to the client to ensure her expectations of your massage are met: The 1-to-10 Pressure Scale. This is something I use every day in my practice.

• Before I begin a session with a new client, I ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being hardly any pressure and 10 being too much pressure, where would you like the pressure of your massage to be today?”

• Clear and realistic answers should always be in the range of 5, 6 or 7. Anything above or below that range typically is attached to an unmet-expectation experience. When a person asks for a pressure level of 3 or 9, she is not asking for that actual level; she is trying to control how pressure is applied.

• If a client says she would like a 3 or 4 pressure level for her massage, what she is actually telling me is she is afraid I will hurt her. If someone tells me 8 or 9, she is concerned I will not give her enough pressure. This pressure scale gives me insight into her touch records; it is immediate feedback as to what the correct pressure has to be to meet her expectations.

• This is very easy to test at the table. After you have finished your warm-up strokes and are heading into work with more pressure, ask your client if the pressure you are applying is the level she wanted. She can give a number on the scale. If it is perfect, keep working at that level. If your pressure is not deep enough or too deep, adjust your pressure and ask for a level again.

• Within 5 or 10 minutes, you will understand what touch-depth this client wants and how that feels to both you and the client. Again, you should work somewhere in that 5, 6 or 7 range with most clients.

Advanced Skill

Using the 1-to-10 Pressure Scale will help you meet clients’ expectations by applying correct—and corrected—pressure.

Applying pressure in massage is a skill. Applying correct pressure in massage is an advanced skill that changes from client to client. By using a pressure scale with your clients, you are able to enhance your abilities in different massage depths, meeting more expectations. That advanced skill can generate more return clients on your table.

About the author

Amy Bradley Radford

Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 25 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and the developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses and a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider. Her articles for this publication include “The Client’s Body Does the Healing (The MT Provides the Opportunity)” and “Your 6-Step Plan to Prepping Your Massage Practice to Reopen.”