Archive for March, 2012

“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”
– Charles Dickens

Whether it’s  from my students, my clients, or my friends and family, I often get asked  how do I know how much pressure is the right amount of pressure to use when applying massage therapy? The easy answer to the  question is an understanding of Tactile Sense.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word Tactile as “perceptible by touch”. What this means to us  is the ability to identify the smallest changes in the underlying muscle tissue by simply using our touch receptors. This concept is important for both therapist and client. Always remember that the client controls the depth or distance into the muscle fiber that is allowed during a massage session. The therapist is responsible for the amount of pressure used during the session. If too much pressure is used by the therapist, the client’s nerves respond in pain and cause a recoil  causing the muscle to tense. A tensing muscle and causing pain is the exact opposite of the goals we are trying to achieve through massage.

Developing Tactile sense isn’t always the easiest task, but it is very important to have a successful massage treatment. In my 9 years of treatment, I have noticed that certain therapists have the “knack” and some don’t. For the ones that can’t get a grasp of the sense, there  are a couple tips I always suggest. The first is to close your eyes then continue the massage at a slow rate really paying attention to the composition of the muscle texture and making note of even the slightest changes. The other tip is to pay  attention to the body language of the client to notice if they are holding their breath or tensing up other parts of the body. These actions will limit the “change” in muscle texture making it much more difficult for the muscles to shift from a tense state to a relaxed state, if any shift at all.

When developing the sense it is also very important to keep your client included. Any changes that are noticed should be legitimized on both ends. If a client seems to be too tense, then the pressure by the therapist may need to be reduced or the client may need to take several deep breaths and focus on relaxing the muscles by letting the “fall” away from the body. When the client is able to identify muscular changes then the treatment will become more effective and longer lasting because they are noticing and allowing the change rather than resisting. Whatever position you may be in, be sure to pay attention the the muscular changes. I like to compare the texture changes in muscle fibers to subtle changes in pressure when you opening a bottle of soda slowly. You notice how as the built up pressure is released slightly as you carefully open the top, the bottle itself becomes more pliable and easy to move just  like muscle tissue during a massage.

Whether you are a therapist or a client, the fine tuning of Tactile Sense is a key part of achieving the  desired results in a therapeutic massage session. If you are a client, don’t be afraid to discuss this concept with your therapist to better your treatment. If you are a therapist and are having troubles with the sense, I suggest asking other therapists for tips, or trying the tips I listed above so that you can provide the best result for your clientele. Feel free to leave any other tips you may have in understanding tactile sense. Questions are always welcomed as well!

“You are precisely as big as what you love and precisely as small as what you allow to annoy you.”
– Robert Anton Wilson

I was recently asked, “why would  my muscles be tender to touch and achy even if I haven’t injured myself ?” The truth is that there is more than one reason. Poor posture and unhealthy diet top the list and are the two more important reasons that I would like to briefly discuss today.

The muscles in the human body are designed to move fluidly through a designated range of motion where they will hold the body in proper posture. Due to our jobs and lifestyles, our posture deviates from the “proper” form and causes our muscles to overcompensate to regain the posture. When the posture can’t be achieved because the muscles aren’t strong enough, the body lays down scar tissue and causes the muscles to stay in spasm and act as a “cast” to avoid from deviating any further from the norm.  Muscles that are in constant spasm become over worked and fatigued which annoy the nerves that innervate with the muscles. Irritated nerves become highly sensitive to touch, in fact too much aggravation to the nerves will cause the muscle to increase spasm and start the cycle over again. If this cycle continues over and over again, it will soon effect more of the body’s function that just the muscle.

Unhealthy diet can also contribute to nerve annoyances in the muscles, causing them to be overly tender to the touch.  In today’s world, most foods that are purchased are filled with synthetic additives, preservatives, and harmful chemicals. Consumption of these foods effect our bodies from the cellular level in our digestive tract and has a domino effect to our brain and muscle fibers. Think of  the internal body as an open cut in the skin and now think of the foods of an unhealthy diet as dirt. When a wound in the skin is kept clean it heals quickly with little scarring but on the other hand if the wound is dirty then there is a high risk for pain and infection. When you eat poorly the internal pain associated with that diet can even cause you to deviate from your proper posture as well. It’s easy to see that the better you eat, the better you feel overall.

Sensitive muscles that are tender to the touch can quickly become annoying to the point of effecting your everyday life. The goal to avoid this is to remove the root cause. You can easily alter your diet to keep your insides healthy. As far as posture goes, it would be best to start with professional analysis to identify the postural defects. The next step would be to help realign posture. Stretching, Strength Training, and Therapeutic Massage are great ways to  achieve these goals. Stretching the appropriate muscles that have been tightened and shortened due to poor posture, as well as strengthening core muscles – as well as all other stabilizing muscles in the body will help to keep the body in it’s proper posture. These tasks alone can be daunting and troublesome and this is where therapeutic massage can make a difference. Many know that massage can help to reduce tension in the muscles and stretch muscle fibers, but what most don’t understand is that massage can stimulate weak muscles to activate and help flush unwanted toxins from the body. With this combination, you can live a life with minimal pain and discomfort.