Day 52: Touch and Pressure Points
Feeling touch is at the heart of rope practice. The feeling of our partner’s skin, the touch of the rope, a gentle caress, a knot digging in a vulnerable spot. Across our body, each part has its specificities and it is interesting to explore the range of our sensibility to leverage this knowledge when we play with rope. In particular, some points of the body known as pressure points can provoke instant reactions and are great to add to our toolbox.
The skin is the heaviest organ of the body and is filled with nerve receptors that allow us to feel touch, pain or temperature. Touch is felt through specialized sensory nerves called mechanoreceptors, for which there are many types.
Some of the receptors are located on the surface of the skin while others are deeper. This is why the sensation of lightly brushing the skin feels so different from deep pressure. Most of these receptors can send the information in one of two ways. Slow Adapting receptors are much like an on/off switch, while Rapid Fire receptors send a succession of signals when a new stimulus is present, and progressively slow down. This explains why the immediate sensation on the first moment of being touched, which is handled by the Rapid Fire receptors, is more intense, and from there the Slow Adapting receptors become in charge of feeling the pressure.
The density of the mechanoreceptors in the skin changes across the body. The hands and mouths have much more than the rest of the body. We can measure this density by measuring the two-point threshold, which is how far apart two points of touching must be to be perceived apart from one unit. On the fingers, two ropes next to each other will feel like two distinct ropes while wraps of rope on the chest will feel like one large band… unless there is a big gap between them. We’ll also be able to feel rope tension more accurately anywhere we have higher mechanoreceptor density.
The information from the mechanoreceptor is sent to the brain via the spine. But our feeling of touch is not solely based on the mechanoreceptors. Other senses such as vision also enhance the experience. The brain can interpret feelings of touch or pain that aren’t real, this is known as phantom sensations. You may have heard of amputated people having phantom limb pain, but most healthy people also experience this phenomenon in many ways. For example, stimuli on the right side can be interpreted as being on the left side when limbs are crossing. Asymmetric positions in rope bondage can trick your brain into feeling things differently. There is so much to discover in how rope allows us to explore touch in different ways.
[Coming soon, pictures of measuring mechanoreceptor density]
Pressure Points Mechanics and Risks
Pressure points are spots on the body more sensitive than others that create an instant reaction. They are used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, and also in martial arts to control the opponent. Pressure points are known to induce sharp pain, but many can also provoke arousal, tickling and even relaxation. They can have several uses in bondage. We can use light pressure or even just the menace of pressure to move the person into the desired position or create a predicament with very little strength.
Various mechanisms in the body generate sensitive spots. Depending on what’s underneath the risks are not the same. Many pressure points used in martial arts rely on pushing on fragile parts of the body such as exposed nerve clusters, weak cartilages, tendons, veins etc. There is a real risk of nerve damage and other injuries, especially if you tie in a large knot that digs in a nerve for an extended period of time, or create a predicament that will apply shock forces on fragile cartilage. The great news is that we don’t need to press hard on most pressure points to get a reaction. Light, steady, controlled pressure is generally what will yield the best result.
Other pressure points are situated in deep muscles, or over soft tissues against bone and function as massage as they activate circulation and provoke the release of endorphins. The pressure points used in acupressure and reflexology are generally considered safe unless you have a medical condition such as circulation issues, cancer, or pregnancy (some points may induce labour). Getting a good understanding of what’s under the skin is key to mitigate the risks.
Every person is different, a spot that tickles for someone might do nothing for another, and be extremely painful for someone else. Some may even have pressure points that no one else has. It is best to try the different spots you aim to use before combining them with rope to measure the individual specificities and limit awkward surprise. Communication is key and consent is particularly important with this kind of play.
The active role of the person who receives is quite important when playing with something that requires precision such as pressure points. Hectic movements or resistance can increase the risk of injury. Signals of pain are the natural way of the body to warn us of potential injury so it is important to listen to our body.
The handful of pressure points mentioned here represent only a small fraction of the possibilities. Check out traditional medicine and martial art resources to know more. The science of pressure points is constantly evolving as new studies seek a better understanding of these ancient practices.
Movement and Pressure Points
Pressure points are great to move someone into the position you want to tie them. If you know the right spot and press in the right direction, you won’t need to use a lot of strength to reach your goal. Here we play with the fear and reflexes of the body, this is known as pain compliance. When we feel pressure in a specific location, our body will try to move to avoid the pain.
Once the person is tied up, these reflexes won’t work as intended. They may try to wiggle out in interesting ways or be stuck to endure the pressure. Be mindful of tripping and falling. There is an important psychological aspect in this vulnerability caused by the rope as our instincts are fighting to escape. There is also a fascinating contradiction between the intensity that is felt, and the strength applied.
Some of the pressure points on the head are quite popular in martial arts. If you press up under the jaw, under the ear or under the nose in the right spot, the body’s reflex will be to bend the neck backward. But if you prevent the neck from moving back, then the whole body will follow your lead. You can do so by putting your body behind the head or pushing the person against the wall. It’s more efficient to press on both sides at the same time to prevent the neck from escaping sideways. This is great to make people stand up or make them move forward when kneeling on the floor. These points are either on nerve clusters (jaw) or cartilage (nose, ear) so proceed with caution and keep a light steady control.
[Coming soon, pictures of head pressure points]
You can also use pressure points to get someone down on their knees. An easy way is to vertically press down on the shoulders. Either a deep pressure on top of the trapezius or right above the clavicle.
A bit more difficult to execute, but quite elegant, is to use the pressure points on the forearm. The idea is to create a lever effect where the body reflex will be to get the wrist up and the elbow down, and from there the whole body will have to get down on the floor. Grab the arm, place your fingers underneath to create a stable pivot point, then extend the thumb and reach out to one of the pressure points on the top of the forearm. Steady light pressure will be sufficient to activate the reflex of fear of pain and the body will naturally react. If we remember the pathways from Day 50, the ulnar nerve is running in this location, heavy pressure or impact may create damage as we are interfering with nerves.
[Coming soon, pictures of pressure points on shoulder, and forearm]
Once a person is on the ground, we might want to get them to roll on the floor. Using the pressure points in the crease of the hip bone is great to get someone who is on their belly or on the side to roll on their back. You’ll have to dig deeper, rolling toward the inside of the bone for this one.
The upper thigh has pressure points in the interior and exterior of the leg. These are great to open and close the legs as desired. On the exterior, we are pressing on the IT bands while on the interior we might be pressing on the femoral/saphenous nerve so we have to be mindful of the amount of pressure we use.
The pressure points on the feet are great to get someone moving, especially when they are tied up. You’ll find several points both on the top and under the feet that provoke a really strong reaction as they are quite ticklish and/or painful. To use these to move a person, simply place the feet in a way that their only escape is to move in the direction of your choosing. You can leverage the mobility of the ankle as a kind of steering wheel. The big toe is a fun one to control someone’s movement with very little strength. Once again, we’re leveraging nerves that can be injured, steady light pressure is advised.
[Coming soon, pictures of pressure point in the hip leg and feet]
We’ll explore more with movement and rope in Week 10.
Pressure Points for Sensation Play
We can also use the pressure points for their sensation and healing properties. This can be with a tie that presses in the point or leveraging the vulnerability of the person who is tied to apply pressure in a way that they can’t escape. For this kind of play, we’ll pick pressure points that are unlikely to be injured such as the common acupressure points and avoid nerves and cartilage.
Creating a tie that digs into pressure points presents an opportunity for fun sensation games. Adding a knot on the spot will dig into more superficial pressure points and act as an activation button for the deeper ones. We can also add objects between the body and the rope to dig deeper.
The legs have several pressure points that are slightly more protected and still cause interesting sensations. You’ll find several along the shinbone and the IT bands.
The torso also presents a couple of opportunities, the sternum and the side of the rib cage can be quite sensitive to pressure. Rub your knuckles or a series of knots for extra sensations. The nipples are also a mean spot. Lift them up and press toward the ribcage for an intense sensation. Along the line of the pubis are several points renowned to provoke arousal. You’ll have to dig a bit in the belly to find those. Let’s not forget the genital region where the perineum and the clitoris are often considered a pressure point.
[coming soon, picture of rope on pressure points]
When I tie, I love to use my body to create sensations on the body while my hands are busy handling the rope. Some of my favourites are digging in the trapezius muscle with my chin or elbow and pressing on the temples on the side of the head with my forehead. The feet are also great to increase our reach of pressure points.
[coming soon, pictures of tying and playing with pressure points at the same time]
You can so use the tip of your fingers to give an unpleasant massage to more delicate parts of the body. The tempo muscular joint (TMJ), the hands and the feet all have several points known for their healing properties. The back also has many points along the spine such as the base of the skull that can be quite relaxing to stimulate. You can also use your nails to press on someone’s nails for interesting sensations.
[coming soon, picture of pressure point massage]
Map the body’s tactile acuity and find the pressure points and note how they feel. Discuss with your partner which parts of the body are great to explore touching, and which kind of touching is acceptable for them.
- Can you predict which body part will be the most sensitive?
- Compare deep vs light pressure, short vs long.
- Rate the intensity of the feeling on different parts of the body.
- What is the sensation for each region/spot? Pain? Tickle? Arousal?
- Compare the feeling of touch between hands and rope.
- Close your eyes and touch with two parallel ropes. Progressively increase the gap between the two
- ropes until you feel them as two units. Repeat on different body parts
- Identify which nerves match the zone you are touching.
- Create a tie that targets the most or least sensitive parts of the body.
- Mark the pressure points you find with a pen.
- Try to use pressure points to move someone up, down, or rolling on the floor.
- Create a tie that presses in your favourite pressure points.
- Explore with stimulating different pressure points as you tie.
- Compare your experience of pressure points with your friends.
Inspirations and Resources
- Bondage and pressure points by Andy Buru
- Pressure points by Action_Bastard
- 10 IMPORTANT Pressure Points That Actually HEALS Your Body & Mind The Chen Dynasty
- Pressure Point Fighting
- Pressure Points in Chinese Martial Arts by ehowhealth
- Self-Defense Pressure Points by Howcast
- Phantom sensations: The mystery of how brains process touch by Maria Cohut
- The cutaneous senses by Geoffrey Boynton
- Class notes for the Rope Neuroscience Intensive by Neuromancer
- Rope Bottom Physiology Case Study by Neuromancer
- Mechanoreceptor on Wikipedia
- 3 Acupressure Points That Can Relieve Body Pain
- Hand pressure points: Everything you need to know
- 8 Pressure Points on Your Hands
- How to Massage Your Pressure Points
- Pressure points on the arm by ohyesplz_