Tool Time

A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Pressing Tool

By Mark Liskey

I’m addicted to massage tools. Don’t worry, it’s a good addiction. Here’s what I mean: I started out like every MT, sacrificing thumbs and fingers to the deep-pressure goddess. But as time went on, I learned that if I used a pressing massage tool, I could exert deep, precise pressure practically all day long and my hands wouldn’t hurt. Fast-forward to today, 25-plus years into my massage career. Many of my clients still request deep pressure. And I have no problem delivering it because I use pressing tools. That said, as much as tools can save your hands, a poorly designed one can overload finger joints and/or cause you to overgrip. Here’s a way to figure out which pressing tool is best for you.

Before you Begin
Find the right pressing tool by asking yourself these three questions.

1 Does the Pressing Tool Stress an Area of My Hand or Wrist? I was recently at my local massage supply store. I picked up a massage tool and pressed it on the display table. I immediately felt discomfort in my wrist.  
As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if the massage tool was designed by NASA engineers—if it hurts my hand or wrist, it’s not for me.
That said, it’s important to differentiate between a massage tool that causes you immediate discomfort and a massage tool that causes you discomfort the longer you hold it. Why? Because any handheld tool is going to cause some discomfort if you hold it long enough. The good news is that there’s a way around pain from prolonged holding, which brings us to question number 2.  
2 Can I Hold the Massage Tool in More than One Way? The key to avoiding discomfort and pain when using a massage tool is to be able to hold the tool in more than one way. By switching holds, you shift the stress on your hands so that no one area is getting overtaxed.
Along with switching holds, becoming ambidextrous with tools is a must for staying pain-free. This will take some experimentation, but it will be well worth your time investment.
3 Can I Use the Massage Tool for Light, Medium, and/or Deep Pressure? Most pressing tools pass the light pressure test, meaning you can use the tool for light pressure and your hands will feel fine. The challenge comes with deep pressure.
For deep pressure, you should be able to hold the massage tool so you can lean into it with your body weight. Massage tools with a handle are ideal for leaning because they provide a solid foundation for you to lean in to.  
When experimenting with leaning, you’ll want to pay special attention to body mechanics. Specifically, you’ll want to keep your wrist straight, and your elbows and shoulders in perfect alignment.

Kinds of Pressing Tools

Stick Tool
The end of this stick tool (Mu-Xing Pointer) is designed for precise pressure. The tool is easy to handle but requires gripping, without many options to vary your holds. It’s a light-to-medium-pressure tool.

Offset-Tip Tool
This offset-tip tool (TheraPress) is designed to be a deep-pressure tool. It can be held in a variety of ways, but the weight of the tool and the offset shank require a tight grip when doing deep pressure. You can avoid overgripping, however, by using a two-handed hold.

Multitipped Tool
As you can see from the picture, this multitipped tool (Jack Nobber II) will allow you to press into more than one area at once. It can be held in a variety of ways. When applying pressure with only one tip of the tool, the other arms of the tool can act as a handle, which makes this tool suitable for deep pressure too. 

Center-Tip Tool
The T-bar is a simple, wooden tool. It’s designed to be a deep-pressure tool and can be held in a variety of ways. Since it’s light and the shank is in the middle of the handle, it can be used as a one-handed or two-handed tool.

Types of Massage Tools
We can break down handheld massage tools into four basic categories: pressing, scraping, rolling, and percussing.

A pressing tool is designed for applying direct pressure.

A scraping tool is designed so that oblique pressure can be applied using the edge of the tool.

A rolling tool allows you to move and maintain consistent pressure.

A percussion tool allows you to apply rhythmic pressure and vibration.

According to The History of Massage, by Robert Noah Calvert, a Neolithic jade ritual blade from the Longshan culture of China, dating back to the Shang dynasty (circa 2000–1500 B.C.E.), is believed to be the oldest massage tool on record.

Save Your Hands

In a nutshell, to be pain-free when using a massage tool, you’ll need to get comfortable with how you hold it.
I think of these tools in terms of work ergonomics. You can have the best work station in the world, but if you’re slouching in your ergonomically perfect chair for eight hours a day, you’re going to have problems. The same is true with massage tools. 

If you’re doing deep pressure, you may need to lower your table so you have enough distance to be able to transfer your body weight into the pressing tool.

5 Rules for Happy MT Hands

1 Hold the Massage Tool with a Relaxed Hand. If the pressing tool has a handle, your natural instinct will be to grip the handle harder than you need to. And if you ratchet up the pressure, you’re going to grip even tighter.
If you find yourself tightening your grip, try relaxing your hand to the point where it feels like the tool may fall from your hand. Or, another way of looking at it is use the minimal amount of effort to keep the massage tool upright.
2 Pin the Massage Tool. Using your arm and shoulder muscles to press the tool into tissue forces you to tighten your grip. Instead of muscling the tool with your upper body, pin it between your hand and the client. Then, you can relax your hand because the weight of your body will be supplying the pushing force, not your upper body.  
3 Use a Guide Hand, Thumb, or Finger Next to the Massage Tool. The trick to getting comfortable with using a pressing tool is to use a guide finger next to the tip. With your guide finger, palpate to find the area you want to work. Once you find the area with your guide finger, press it to determine the pressure you want to apply. Now you’re ready to press the massage tool into that area. Keep your guide finger next to the tool for confirmation.
You can see in the picture that the guide finger also acts as support for the massage tool. This will also help you to relax the hand holding the massage tool.
4Use Two-Handed Holds to Stop Overgripping. A while back, I was teaching a deep pressure continuing education class. During the massage tools section, I gave everyone a T-bar. By the time I got to Antonio, who is a big man, I only had an itty-bitty T-bar left.
The T-bar was obviously too small for his hand, but Antonio had a go at it while I walked around checking on other MTs. When I came back, I was surprised to see that Antonio was crushing it with that itty-bitty T-bar. One way he adapted to the tool was by using a two-handed hold.
A two-handed hold is a great way to avoid or stop overgripping. For one, if you have two hands on the massage tool, you simply won’t be able to get both hands around the tool in a death grip like you’d be able to do with one hand.
Also, it’s easy to steady a massage tool with two hands. So, if you’re working with a massage tool that presents a balance challenge, you won’t need to grip hard like you would with one hand.  
5 Vary Your Holds So You Don’t Overuse Your Hands. If you grasp any tool for too long without changing your hold, your hands are going to fatigue. So, you’re going to need to experiment with varying your holds. Experimenting is not hard to do because where you’re working will help determine how you alter your hold.
 For example, a guide thumb or finger fits nicely next to a tool tip in the cervical column, but a fist doesn’t. However, a guide fist provides a lot of tool stability in big areas, like backs and legs. Check out the picture above.
 Now look at all five pictures. They’re all different holds—and there are many more. By the way, once you start creating new holds you won’t want to stop because your hands will feel so good. Welcome to my addiction.

Mark Liskey shares his 20 years of experience as a business owner and 25-plus years experience as a massage therapist at, a free, do-it-yourself resource for MTs who want to make more money, build a massage practice, and stay out of pain.