Under Pressure

Pressure: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Under Pressure

Nothing makes or breaks a massage quite like the pressure. It can be refreshing to have your massage therapist give you the pressure you are looking for, but it can be soooo frustrating to pay for a massage that felt like an hour-long lotion application.

So, how do you get the perfect pressure from your massage therapist?

Let's start by defining pressure. Pressure refers to the physical force exerted on something (your body) by something else (your massage therapists' elbow, forearms, or hands). Most massage therapists in Fort Collins will engage in an inquisitive intake before your session begins and determine your therapeutic needs, how your body is feeling, and what your general preference is for pressure. Your massage therapist should also check in with you throughout your massage to make sure the pressure is not too much or too little. If you find yourself in a session where this is not the case and the pressure is less than ideal - speak up! Let your massage therapist know so you get the most bang for your buck.

Deep Tissue Massage

Some people come in believing that they want very deep pressure, only to find out their body is more sensitive than they realized. On the other hand, a person thinking they want lighter pressure may soon realize they’d like more! Everyone’s body is different in how they respond to pressure. In fact, a single person may prefer deeper pressure in one area and lighter pressure in another, and this can vary from session to session.

Massage therapy can offer unique insight and bring awareness to tight and sore spots that you might not have noticed were dwelling in your body. Deep tissue massage is an excellent way to get relief, but it is important to recognize when the pressure moves from “hurts so good” to “hurt so bad.”

Bad Hurt vs. Good Hurt

“Bad hurt” occurs when the pressure your therapist is using breaches the level of comfort for your pain receptors. So to say, it passes the point of relief and into actual pain. This type of pressure may make you squirm, grab the table in agony, sweat, hold your breath (hopefully temporarily), breathe more heavily, or even yell. “Bad hurt” is caused by too much pressure, and your body’s pain threshold is setting off alarms. Too deep of pressure can be damaging to the muscle tissue resulting in prolonged soreness and bruising after the session. In a worst case scenario, too much pressure can also create flu-like symptoms, or Post Massage Soreness & Malaise (PMSM). See this article by PainScience.com for a deeper look at PMSM, rhabdomyolysis, and pressure.

“Good hurt” occurs when the sensation of pressure offers some relief to the muscle tissue while simultaneously producing a feeling of sensitivity. “Good hurt” is not really pain at all, but the sense that your muscles are being relieved of tension or soreness. I like to call this level of pressure “productive pressure” as it creates the change the client is seeking. As the client, you ought to be able to breathe normally through this level of pressure. You may experience mild soreness for a day or so followed by relief.

Understanding the difference between these types of pressure can help you identify when your massage session is effective. A massage with productive pressure will leave you feeling satisfied while a massage with too much pressure may leave you feeling beat up. Sidenote: some people like to feel “beat up” from their massage, it feels more productive to them and this is just a matter of preference. For my clients who prefer super deep pressure, I try to find the balance of providing relief while also “listening” to their muscles. Muscles will tell you if they’re experiencing overload by pushing back with a slight jump or twitch.


The pressure you get during a massage session can make a huge difference in your therapeutic outcomes and overall enjoyment. Finding a productive pressure ought to be the goal of your massage therapist. Your massage therapist should communicate about your pressure needs before and throughout your session. If for any reason they don’t, be sure to speak up and let them know what you’re feeling. Your massage therapist may be the one facilitating your session, but you guide the wheel when you communicate your needs and preferences! At Height of Health Massage, our Fort Collins massage therapists try their best to do just that.

For a more in depth breakdown of pressure and massage, check out this article by PainScience.com.