Massage & Bodywork

SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2022

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88 m a s s a g e & b o d y wo r k s e p te m b e r/o c to b e r 2 0 2 2 The Depth of Superficial Massage By Cindy Williams essential skills | BACK TO BASICS There's a common misconception among clients and therapists that deep work is necessary to address specific areas of tension and/or pain and that anything less has minimal effect and will not create lasting change. In recent months, my clients (primarily new ones) have begun asking for sessions that do not involve deep-tissue work, including some version of the statement, "I know I have a lot of knots to work out, but what I really need is to just relax." This communicates a belief that it's an either/or situation—either you get therapeutic work or you get to relax. What makes clients think they can't have both? Do therapists know how to offer sessions that address specific concerns without having to dive into the deeper tissue layers? Are therapists aware of, and educating their clients on, how impactful superficial work is (and simple relaxation, for that matter)? When a person (be it a client or therapist) holds a belief—in this case, that the effects of superficial work don't reach beyond the surface—they become an obstacle to receiving the true benefits and effects of the work. The goal, then, is to illuminate the inaccuracy of these beliefs so clients can receive therapeutic effects without enduring an approach they are not comfortable with. WHAT IS SUPERFICIAL MASSAGE? Let's start by ensuring we are on the same page about what superficial massage/ bodywork is. Generally speaking, superficial massage refers to the application of techniques that engage only the outermost layers of tissue—specifically the skin. There are considerations to make when engaging the tissue at this level. When clients report they were dissatisfied with a previous superficial massage, they often refer to the treatment as "fluffy." When I ask them to describe what that felt like, nearly every person makes a gesture that depicts very light touch only to the outermost layer of the skin. In other words, the touch does not engage the deepest skin layer—the hypodermis or superficial fascia. While there are some benefits to this approach, it might not be quite what clients are asking for when they request lighter pressure. Often, they still want to feel further tissue engagement rather than just feather-light strokes. Of course, this is all dependent on the client, and it is important to ask questions like, "Is this the kind of pressure you're looking for?" and then demonstrate on their forearm before they even get on the table. In addition, if there are concerns clients wish to have addressed, such as tension, restriction, or pain, sometimes therapists believe they cannot create change without sinking beyond the superficial fascia. This couldn't be further from the truth. HOW TO GO DEEP SUPERFICIALLY So, how do we offer a superficial massage session that meets each of these wants and needs? Can we go deep without going deep? Yes, we can. Engage Superficial Fascia Most teachers of myofascial techniques recommend priming or releasing the superficial layers of tissue before going deeper. There are several reasons for this. First, it begins the process of differentiating layers of tissue. Often when an area of fascia is bound up, the superficial layer sticks to what is beneath. When you release the outermost layer, the process of unbinding the underlying tissue begins. Even if you don't intend to go any deeper,

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