Deep tissue or deep touch?

April 8, 2016  |  2 comments
SXC Joe Burge shadow-hand-1538284-639x492

Image courtesy of Joe Burge at

Our clients want their treatments to feel good. They want to leave feeling better. We listen carefully to every client before, during, and after a treatment to determine what works best for each person.

Over time, I’ve come to believe that requests for “deep pressure” or “deep tissue” are often calls for deep touch.

Deep touch happens when practitioner and client understand the client’s wants and needs. The practitioner’s hands listen to the tissue they contact as well as to the words clients say. The touch is intentional and attentive, with adaptation of depth, pace, and type of technique in response to the effects they’re having.

Even when the pressure is gentle or moderate, deep touch feels signification, not superficial or “fluffy.”

A while back, I made a mistake.

A client requested very deep pressure. After hearing the issues he was working with and feeling the tissue, I recommended moderate-to-deep work. But in the end, I did as he asked.

During the treatment, I asked and he said the pressure was good. I listened to the words, not to my 20 years of experience or to what the tissue beneath my hands was telling me.

At the session’s end, the client said it was “intense,” just what he wanted. He stood up and felt dizzy. He told me he’d broken into a cold sweat several times. To me, these were not signs of a therapeutic treatment. I thought they indicated irritated if not injured tissue. Later, I wrote to ask how he was feeling and whether he’d consider a treatment with a different approach. He never responded.

I’ll never know if he didn’t come back because my work was too deep. It could have been any of the countless other reasons clients sometimes don’t return. I imagine his nervous system remembers me as someone who caused his body pain.

Do you believe your body? When it tells you you’re warm, cold, hungry, comfortable, tired, excited, or calm, do you respond as if the signals that led you to those thoughts are true?

I am now more committed to hearing what my hands and eyes perceive as I practice massage, as well as more careful to understand how I can help clients achieve their treatment goals.

I will heed the messages.