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  • Writer's picturePaula VanBaalen

What does normal, healthy muscle feel like?

Before we get into the individual words that our therapists use to describe muscle tissues, I'll give you my typical spiel: Normal, healthy muscle tissue typically feels soft and pliable, similar to play dough or silly putty. The fresh stuff, not the stuff that's been left on the counter for too long.  

Another thing to note is that muscles aren't the only thing we palpate. Fascia, tendons, ligaments, scar tissue, bones, lymph nodes, etc. all have their own unique feel and texture. Describing each of these could be it's email. But we won't go there.

Normal Healthy Muscle Tissue

A note on "normal." In reality, there is no such thing as normal. Not really. Normal is a collective average of a variety of tissues across the board. There's a lot of things that affect what is normal for a person. Examples: If someone has a connective tissue disorder, their tissues might seem extra elastic or pliable. If someone has a lot more collagen fibers in their make-up, their tissues will naturally feel more dense. That's why our first session with a person tends to be more exploratory, we're trying to learn what your body's normal is. 

Words Tawney uses: Mobile, pliable, soft

Words Dena uses: Moveable, pliable, relaxed, even/balanced, receptive, calm, healthy, smooth

Words Paula uses: Open, spacious, squishy, soft, moveable, fluid, pliable, breathable

The interesting thing is that we don't have as much vocabulary around the normal tissue texture. This might be because we're trained to look for the differences, or that we, as a society, tend to focus on the "negative" more than the positive or neutral. 

Tissues in dis-ease

Before we get into these descriptions, I want to explain what I mean about dis~ease. So often we get caught up in labeling things good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or broken. One thing I've found over the years is that while labels can serve a purpose and be healthy, they can also stick with us and cause us to lose hope. For example, when a client tells me that a previous therapist told they they were the tightest person the therapist ever felt. What healthy purpose does that message give?!? End rant before I climb onto my soapbox here.

I like the term dis~ease to describe tissues that aren't necessarily behaving normally. Meaning they're not in ease, flow, or an ideal state. These tissue might be overused, misused, under stress, holding onto a memory, injured, imbalanced, etc. Dis~ease is a nice way to cover all the possibilities in a neutral, hopeful way. 

Words Tawney uses: Short, dense, congested, adhered, bound, compressed, tight, braced, grisly, ropey, clicky, nodule, tender, achy, bruisy, sharp, travels/refers, aura/ring

Words Dena uses: Dense, ropey, tight, banded, crunchy, inflamed or puffy. There may be a "thunking" sensation when rubbing across a muscle.

Words Paula uses: Congested, dense, pulling, restricted, braced, protected, detached, sharp, zinging, hot, hard, tender, banded, drawn in, puffy, cold, absent, "off", immobile. Sometimes I'll even notice an emotion describes the tissue texture best (angry, sad, grief, agitated, wounded, playful, etc.)

The beautiful thing is that the more bodies we interact with, the more expansive our vocabulary gets, the better we can relate to our clients. 

It's all about perspective

If none of the words above resonate with you ~ that's ok! One of the beautiful (and sometimes frustrating) things about being human is that we all experience things differently. It doesn't make it right or wrong, it simply makes it unique to us.


Also, what a massage therapist feels from the outside of the body can be very different than what you experience inside your body. We're not living in your body after all. And believe it or not, we love hearing your unique perspective on what you experience in your massage and myofascial release sessions. It helps us build a bigger tissue vocabulary to relate to future clients.  

If you're starting to think that your tissues could use a little more ease, give us a call to schedule a massage today.


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