Pressure Obsession

It is my impression that we, in the massage therapy field, are slightly obsessed with the concept of pressure. I hear it referenced quite often in many different ways and it seems to be the topic of numerous discussions. Massage therapists and their clients use terms like "deep" tissue. I overheard a recent discussion, the point of which was to  delineate relaxing massage therapy from more corrective work, differentiating it by the amount of pressure used. The whole discussion seems, from my perspective, misdirected. 

As a reference point, I would like to posit that touch is very much a form of communication. The point of communication is the transference of ideas. As touch is to communication, pressure is to volume. Seldom does turning up the volume enhance effective communication (although this has been explored quite often!)

To that point, I recently attended a performance at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, lead by violinist Daniel Hope. At one point in the second movement, the ensemble played so quietly, I could barely hear them. Their bows were moving, but i struggled to hear the music. I must also add that my wife and I were in the fifth row of a 2200 seat performance hall. The ability of the ensemble to play with high intensity, yet barely audible volume had me perched at the edge of my seat. It was a stunning display of artistry and mastery.


If the whole evening was music played that softly, I would have left at intermission. There were other movements in that same piece that were loud and chaotic. It was a thrilling performance of music from the baroque era, played in the style originally intended. 

For music to be powerful, it doesn't have to be loud. The same is true for touch. Pressure and volume are factors, but poorly written music with nothing to communicate won't be more powerful played at high volumes. The quality of the content matters. Delivery of that content matters as well. 

I am also not an advocate for the power of exclusively light touch. Had the whole evening of music been played at very soft volume, I would have left. Those advocating soft touch have the same mental construct as those who advocate for heavy pressure, just in the other direction. 

I am advocating the wisdom of appropriate touch. There is a time for virtually all types of pressure, often in the same session. Most importantly, what are you trying to communicate? Is your pressure enhancing that communication or detracting from it? Is your light touch drawing the nervous system out, to see what is happening? Or, wondering what the point is? Is your heavier pressure connecting with the nervous system or making it retreat into safely?

For guidance into how these principles might be used effectively, I would suggest critically listening to a master orator giving a speech. Perhaps better yet, a night at the symphony.