Understanding Tactile Sense

Posted: March 23, 2012 in Health & Wellness, Massage Therapy
Tags: , , , ,

“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!

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