What is Deep Tissue Massage, Really?

What is deep tissue and how is it beneficial?

Many people think “deep tissue” means “huge amounts of pressure” and “it should hurt a lot”.  The fact is, deep tissue really means neither of those.  True deep tissue work is a type of massage therapy that focuses on realigning and invigorating layers of muscle and connective tissue that are deeper inside the body. With deep tissue, the therapist can use specialized techniques to reach muscles positioned “under” or “behind” surface muscles.

Deep tissue is especially helpful for chronic aches and pains and issues like a stiff neck and/or shoulders, sore upper back, low back pain tight leg muscles, and more.

According to the August 2005 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, 34,000 people ranked deep tissue massage more effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain than physical therapy, exercise, prescription medications, chiropractic, acupuncture, diet, glucosamine and over-the-counter drugs.

What happens during the session?

Some of the same strokes are used as classic massage therapy, but the movement is slower and the pressure is deeper and concentrated on areas of tension and pain in order to reach the sub-layer of muscles and the fascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles). Typically, the therapist will use direct pressure on “warmed up” muscles to effect change. Other techniques, like neuromuscular therapy (NMT) and myofascial release are also commonly used during the session.

During a deep tissue session, the therapist will frequently communicate with you about how you feel, how much tenderness an area has, and where the source of the greatest pain and tension might the.  They will check in OFTEN to ensure the right amount of pressure to reach those deeper muscles, but not enough to make the session overly uncomfortable.  Sometimes they’ll ask you to breathe deeply as they work on certain areas to make the work more effective. It’s very important you feel comfortable letting your therapist know if things hurt or if you experience any soreness or pain outside your comfort range.

Deep tissue massage also received a top ranking for fibromyalgia pain. People often notice improved range of motion immediately after a deep tissue massage.

You might feel a little stiffness or “muscle awareness” within 24 hours of your massage, but this will subside quickly and the newly aligned muscles will feel much better.

Who should not get a deep tissue massage?

Deep tissue is not generally recommended for anyone with infectious skin diseases, open wounds, immediately after surgery or chemotherapy, if you have osteoporosis (check with your doctor), or if you are prone to blood clots.  Pregnant women should check with their doctor first, too.  The therapist will also avoid any bruises, inflamed skin, tumors, hernias, or areas of recent fractures.

The bottom line

Deep tissue massage usually focuses on a specific problem, such as chronic muscle pain, injury rehabilitation, and the following conditions:

  • Chronic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Limited mobility
  • Recovery from injuries (e.g. whiplash, falls, sports injury)
  • Repetitive strain injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Postural problems
  • Muscle tension in the hamstrings, glutes, IT band, legs, quadriceps, rhomboids, upper back
  • Ostearthritis pain
  • Sciatica
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Tennis elbow
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Muscle tension or spasm
  • After a workout or bodybuilding

The goal of deep tissue massage is NOT to cause pain, but when deeper pressure are applied to muscles, you will feel it.  A good therapist ALWAYS checks in regularly and you should speak up if you are uncomfortable at any time. Deep tissue is very effective in relieving chronic or nagging muscle pain and tension and many, many people think it’s the best thing since they invented sliced bread.  If you’re really sore or have chronic issues like the ones mentioned above, give it a try.