But What Is ‘Structural’ Massage, Anyway?

People often ask me what sort of massage I do, which, given the vast array of different approaches which all come under the term ‘massage’, is an entirely reasonable question. I have taken to referring to my own practice as that of ‘Structural Massage’ and in this article I will explain what that means, what treatment entails, who can benefit and why my approach is beneficial. Feel free to post any questions or comments in the space below the article.


The term ‘massage’ is a broad one; a wide-ranging term which comprises many differing styles and approaches. Examples of these differences are, for instance, whether the therapist uses oils, lotions or scents (or not); whether the work incorporates gliding, kneading or stretching (or a combination of these); whether there is continuous movement or slow, sustained pressure.

Another difference might be whether the client remains fully-dressed (eg. Thai massage), dressed only in underwear (probably the most common) or undresses fully and is covered by a towel (predominantly found with spa-type relaxation massage). The differences can be numerous, yet the approaches linked by their common word ‘massage’. Whilst they may all share some certain qualities, confusion can arise when we treat these differing approaches with a blanket view as opposed to uncovering the individuality and merits of each one.

My own approach is what I have come to term ‘Structural Massage’ and the questions of what that means, what it offers to a person, how it differs from other forms and just why I talk so much about balance, are all ones I have chosen to answer here in writing.



The intention of different forms of massage – ie. what the treatment intends to achieve and offer to the client – can vary widely and this impacts on how it is performed. Some styles offer an hour-long window of safety and serenity, for clients to relax fully and let go of their daily worries; some treat acute injuries and are geared towards rehabilitation; others concern themselves more with long-term aches or pains that the client may feel they ‘just have to learn to live with’.

Structural Massage falls into this latter category. The intention of Structural Massage is to make a lasting change in how you feel in your body, how you stand and how you move. Whether you have long-term pain or not, Structural Massage can either help you out of that pain and/or help bring greater ease into your life.


ASSESSMENT – The direction of treatment is always towards an easier point of balance. But in order to know what needs to change to achieve that, we need to know where we are starting from.

Assessment is normally performed with the client in their underwear and incorporates postural observation and movement exercises. This crucial process gives us the ‘map’ that is necessary in order to determine how best to tailor your treatments.

WORKING IN THE RIGHT PLACE – Once that ‘map’ is acquired, therapeutic work can begin. Treatment often focusses on detailed work in a specific area, creating change which can often then be felt body-wide.

Much work is performed on separating muscles from one another and freeing up tissue over joints, as opposed to relaxing the muscle fibres themselves. Working in this manner, slowly yet deeply, allows your body to soften and release in a way not possible from oil-based effleurage or styles that focus on softening the bellies of the muscles.

ONGOING RESPONSIBILITY – I am passionate about helping my clients to better understand their bodies and about sharing the knowledge and tools to help them do this.

Movement exercises, awareness exercises and postural advice can all play a significant role in both promoting and preserving structural change. The process of learning about one’s body using these tools and advice is an ongoing one, and one which can amplify work done in the treatment session.



As long as we are standing upright, we are are always balancing ourselves in the field of gravity – but this balance can be relatively easier or more difficult, depending on the habits and patterns we adopt. Some pe ople may experience an ‘imbalance’ as a resilient and consistent pain in their neck or between their shoulders; some as difficulty in breathing or a dull ache in their lower back; some as sharp and piercing neural impingement, as in the condition we call Sciatica. Very often these pains can be traced back to a pattern in which the body is overworking, and that pain is the body’s way of complaining.

I especially admire this quote from the late biochemist and bodywork professional Dr. Ida Rolf (1977), who pursued the idea of BALANCE throughout her working life:

One individual may experience his losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in the back, another as the unflattering contour of his body, another as a constant fatigue, and yet another as an unrelenting threatening environment. Those over forty may call it old age; yet all these signals may be pointing to a single problem so prominent in their own structures and the structures of others that it has been ignored: they are off-balance; they are all at war with gravity.

Much long-term muscular pain can be resolved, if the cause can be traced and understood. And often, that understanding can be gleaned from observing the body’s balance in gravity.


Some clients find that their long-term pain feels instantly relieved; others report a feeling of ‘lightness’ or that they feel taller; yet others as feeling ‘energised’. I understand these as different ways of describing the same principal idea: an easier way of balance.

Change can be felt both suddenly and over time; most common is a gradual progression punctuated by larger shifts in how one feels. And the direction of treatment – the direction of change – is always aimed towards an easier balance for your body.


And so in a nutshell, this is what Structural Massage is and what it offers: detailed work on your body to help you achieve an easier sense of balance, alongside an educational process to help you to gain a deeper understanding of your body.

A session begins by assessing your body’s patterns and working from there. It differs from other styles of massage in technique, approach and intention, as other styles of massage do from one another.

At the core is the principle, borne out by practice, that moving towards an easier state of balance can help to resolve long-term pains and result in a generally greater sense of ease. For those with or without specific pain, it can mean a feeling of greater mobility, of ‘lightness’ or of ‘energy’.

To find out more about what BALANCE can do for you, get in touch either to discuss or to book a session. I look forward to hearing from you!

Structural Massage Bristol


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