Massage is a great way to relieve stress, get all the toxins out, and just feel centered and relaxed in general. But there is a science to what your bodyworker is doing and how your body responds while you are zoning out to the tunes of nature on the beach and breathing deeply before you sink into that half-conscious Zen state after your session has started. Let’s find out what happens to your body while you are getting bodywork!

In this series of articles, we’ll talk about the physical responses of your body when you are receiving bodywork. We’ll address many aspects of what is happening in your body that gives you that “I feel like Jello” sensation when you get off the table or floor!

In this article, let’s talk about the depth of the stroke of a massage therapist. There are many preferences for the pressure that you may ask for in your massage. Some like a relaxing massage that incorporates flowing, rhythmic, or fluid strokes that are felt all over the body. Some like an invigorating massage that stimulates, encourages an increased circulation, or really addresses the “knots” you’ve been battling with for quite sometime or just recently. No matter your preference, your therapist is considering your physical response to the application of each stroke throughout the session.

Massage carries the connotation and characteristics of a good stretching workout. The therapist manipulates your muscle tissue and fascia ultimately lengthening the fibers. They press, increasing the distance between the attachments of your muscles. This pressing, or lengthening, of the muscle resets the areas of muscle and tissue where chronic or acute shortness occurs. It also releases toxins into the surrounding space in between the muscle cells and tissues in your body.

The pressure by which your muscle and tissue is lengthened can cause micro-tears and damage to the cells, even in healthy tissue. Sometimes you may feel sore after a massage. There are several reasons you may feel this; one reason may be that your muscles are repairing themselves from the micro-tears that have been sustained from a firm massage or stretching session.


Part of the way your therapist detects how hard to press or squeeze is by your verbal communication indicating “That’s a little too much pressure” or “You can go harder, if you want.” The other way your therapist knows how much pressure to apply is by the holding or contraction of the muscle (or surrounding musculature) that is being addressed with the stroke. If your muscle tightens or you tighten up throughout the area, this is your body’s way of protecting itself from the micro- or macroscopic damage that could be easily caused by “too much” pressure. Bruising may even occur, although rare, and only in cases where your physical condition is more prone to bruising, even in a specific area of the body.

There are many ways to recognize the best pressure for your body.

  1. If it is your first massage, let your therapist determine the depth of the stroke by applying the stroke in every area of the massage: notice the areas in which you may want more or less pressure in the future.
  2. If you have just completed and athletic event, it is always best to receive a more relaxing technique of massage in order not to damage the muscles further and to allow the muscle to recover and repair without inhibition.
  3. The amount of muscle or tissue you have is not always directly proportional to the amount of pressure you “need;” pressure preferences can range from little muscle needs a lot of pressure to much muscle needs a little pressure.
  4. Depending on your experience and habit of receiving bodywork, you may graduate into a deeper pressure the more you receive massage; if you get massage weekly, it is safe to have deeper pressure as your cells will be used to and will recognize the power of a deeper massage, especially on the deep layers of muscle that are hard to get to or have not been addressed yet.

In any case, always give verbal feedback if the pressure is too much or too little for your taste, but ultimately trust the therapist to “know when to say when” in order to avoid macroscopic damage or other negative physical responses based on your health condition at the time of your session.

With regular massage (and stretching) your body soon comes to realize that longer muscles are more efficient and work better and are in less pain more often. The cells in your tendons that detect the length of a muscle are able to pay less attention to the shortness of the muscle and spend more time on kicking back and enjoying the massage!