What is a deep tissue massage?

Deep tissue massage is typically thought of as massage that is deep in pressure, reaching deeper layers of tissue, and that it is the only massage that can effect real change in the body to reduce pain. The prevailing mindset is “no pain, no gain”, meaning if it wasn’t deep and painful no meaningful change happened. It is imperative to note that a massage can be therapeutic without it being deep; that precision and mindfulness are what truly mark effective and skillful massage treatment. Some nervous systems can tolerate discomfort in order to break up tissue adhesions, some cannot- and pushing it can make the pain worse. It is helpful, therefore, to use the word “therapeutic” rather than deep tissue because it more adequately describes the goal of such massage while leaving the means of getting there more open to the client and therapists discretion- which can only occur by being present to what’s true in that particular case, with that particular client’s body and therapists skills.

What defines Therapeutic massage is its utilization of problem solving skills to create real and specific soft tissue change, reducing pain and restrictions. Customarily, therapeutic massage involves setting up a treatment plan aimed to achieve said goal. For example, say a client has Frozen Shoulder and wants massage to help with the pain and limited movement. This becomes the goal, which is best accomplished by a series of regular massages about every 2-3 weeks. Progress is marked by the client feeling less pain and more ease of movement for longer and longer periods of time. Either the client will feel fully restored after a series of massages and no longer have the need for massage or it will become clear that massage is needed on an on-going basis in order to maintain quality of life. Additionally, massage therapists will frequently offer client’s suggestions for what can be done between massages to help the process along; these can include stretches, postural adjustments, and/or the suggestion of following a strengthening program with an exercise professional.

Frequently, styles or “types” of massage are confused with techniques. In all reality “types” of massage boil down to intention:

Do you want to relax, reduce your pain, or a little of both? 

The term “therapeutic massage” is really an umbrella term for the different techniques used to reduce pain. These techniques can include, but are not limited to:

  • Trigger-Point Therapy/Tender Point
  • Neuromuscular
  • Body Mobilization
  • Myofascial Release

Swedish massage vs Deep tissue massage

With the idea of intention in mind, it is then easier to understand the difference between what is called Swedish massage and what has been coined as Deep tissue massage. The main difference is that Swedish massage has as its main goal relaxation, while the goal of Deep Tissue massage is to reduce pain and restriction. Swedish massage is the most commonly used massage in the West and typically addresses the whole body. The techniques used are characterized by long, gliding strokes applied broadly. On the other hand, Deep tissue massage should stay limited to a few specific regions of the body at a time as the nature of the work inflames the tissue addressed and stimulates the body’s healing response. Working too many areas like this at a time can overwhelm the body’s ability to successfully restore each area, causing longer lasting soreness, overall malaise, and possibly reduced efficacy after a massage.

Deep tissue massage benefits 

True for any massage, the benefits of Therapeutic massage include increased circulation and lymph flow. What makes therapeutic massage stand apart, however, is its ability to reduce pain and increase range of motion in specified areas of the body. See the benefits of Swedish Massage, as they can cross over depending on the person and his or her health history.

Due to its benefits noted, it follows that there are many specific conditions therapeutic massage can help with. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical pain/Muscle Tension such as low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, knee pain
  • Migraines
  • Joint stiffness due to arthritis
  • Rotator Cuff Syndrome
  • Stenosis, herniated and bulged discs, degenerative disc disorder
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Sciatica
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Recovery from surgery/scar tissue
  • Ease medication dependence

Deep tissue massage side effects

The side effects of deep tissue massage vary from person to person and can vary for you, from massage to massage, depending on whats going on with your body on a given day. For example, high emotion or getting over a cold can effect a person’s response to discomfort, so your usual pressure may need to be adjusted. Communication with your therapist is key in creating the right massage for you each time.

Again, every body is different, so the effect of massage can vary from person to person. However, it is typical to feel some muscle soreness for a day or two after a therapeutic massage. If there is soreness for more than two days, it is important to communicate this to your therapist because this usually signals the massage approach was too intense for your body and the next massage needs to be adjusted accordingly. This can be accomplished by spending less time in a certain area and reducing the pressure used.

Sometimes massage can cause a person to feel light headed or a little “out of it” which is very normal. It is important to sit down a bit, plant feet on the ground, and drink water. Drinking water is not only helpful to ground a person, but also helps replenish the body after a massage.

Deep Tissue massage toxins

It has been widely and inappropriately claimed that deep tissue massage can release toxins from the body. The belief tends to include that drinking water after massage therapy can help your body release said toxins. In truth- there is no solid research out there that supports the theory that massage followed by water intake helps the body release toxins. However, there is plenty of research indicating that drinking enough water can support the kidneys detoxification process, leading to overall good health.