How my clients and I decide what is the best massage plan for them? I ask a lot of questions and then filter those answers through the Four P's.
1. Prudence. What are your goals for massage? Prudent work is aligned to those personal, situational goals. If you want to relax with a full-body session, and I spend 45 minutes hammering on your right shoulder, well, that would be imprudent. Also, what are the necessary and important limitations on your massage? If you are injured, pregnant or living with a chronic illness, there are choices I need to make to keep you safe. If working a structure further destabilizes that structure, we need to skip it. Or if your back pain is symptomatic of a problem in your hips, it's prudent to spend more time on your hips. All of the questions I ask before you get on my table help me to recommend a prudent use of our time together.
Prudence and Precision: it's no use stretching an achy low back if your legs are causing the problem.
2. Precision. When I taught massage therapy, one recurring joke among my students was that the pectineus was located on the chest wall (it's an adductor located in the upper, inner thigh), because its name sounded like the chest muscles, the pectorals. I'd feign exasperation, we'd all laugh, and class would move along. But if your doctor prescribed treatment for a strained pectineus and your LMT went for your ribs, well, the lack of precision ceases to be funny. Precision matters especially when working with crowded anatomical structures like the neck. There are an incredible number of muscles here, each of whose job is slightly different. Knowing the precise location, from end to end, of each muscle and understanding the job it performs is key to delivering work that addresses my clients' needs.
3. Patience. Few problems will resolve after a single massage; it's a humbling fact about massage therapy. The scope of our practice and the nature of the human body necessitate patience in our practice. Besides, you can't MAKE someone relax. It takes time to shed the stress of our days and to release the tension in our soft tissue. This is something you can't force: how many times has a massage therapist told you to relax? And didn't you just tense up worse in response? It's patience that works best here.
4. Pressure. Pressure comes last, and with good reason: it's least important. Any good deep tissue work can be done with prudence, precision and patience. The pressure you get during a massage should be a matter of personal preference. Do you respond better to gentler work? Great. Let's do that. Do you want me to dig in there? Great, let's do that, but only in a prudent, precise and patient way. I can hurt one or both of us if I just drill my way through your muscles, especially if they're cold muscles or the wrong muscles.
I have worked with incredibly firm pressure on folks, but only when their bodies could take it. Any movement towards the goal of a single session must be done with the permission and cooperation of a client's body. If I try to work faster, the muscles resist. If I try to drill a hole, your tension fills it back in. Because there are no shortcuts in massage, we have to be patient in letting the work happen. Some of the quieter modalities, like craniosacral therapy, use little pressure, but rely on patience to erode soft tissue restriction.
When you schedule your next massage, consider the Four P's for yourself. They may change how you set your goals for your massage, and this can lead to better outcomes.