Deep tissue therapy is a massage therapy involving putting deep pressure on the muscles to reach the inner layers of your muscle tissue. The goal is to do more than provide a relaxing rubdown and go further by releasing muscle tension hidden away in hard to reach places in your body.
A masseuse uses a combination of slow strokes and firm pressure to reach deep beyond the fascia (tissue surrounding your muscles) and into every layer of the muscle.
Imagine booking a Swedish massage, but the masseuse leans in to create even more pressure and directly target muscle knots that cause pain and stiffness.
Have you tried massage therapy but haven’t found the right technique for relieving your pain? Deep muscle massage therapy may be what you’re looking for.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about deep body massage.
How Deep Tissue Therapy Stops Pain
While it’s possible to turn to one of several massage techniques to relieve fatigue, stiffness, and soreness, deep tissue therapy is often regarded as one of the best techniques for relieving chronic muscle pain.
The first few minutes of the massage involve a lighter pressure more akin to Swedish or other styles of massage. A lighter touch warms up your muscles and prepares them to be broken down.
Although it resembles a Swedish massage at first, several distinct techniques are used to release the muscles and relieve pain, including the use of active participation from the person on the table.
Here are a few of the techniques used to break down muscle and relieve pain:
Passive motion is the process of using one hand to manipulate a specific muscle while working on your body with the second hand. Myofascial release is a type of passive motion.
Active motion requires you to work with the massage therapist to stretch the muscles
Cross fiber friction involves applying pressure on the grain of the muscle. The process releases the adhesions (bands of rigid tissue) and allows the tissue fibers to move back to where they naturally fall.
Stripping is the most common technique associated with deep tissue massage. It uses a deep gliding pressure applied along the length of your muscle fiber. Your masseuse will identify how much pressure is required and will use their forearm, elbow, knuckles, or thumbs accordingly.
If your muscles don’t respond to slow stripping, the therapist will move into rapid stripping. Rapid stripping is effective, but it’s also aggressive and may be very painful.
What to Expect Before and After Your First Massage
Deep tissue therapy is not a Swedish massage, nor is it close to a sports massage. It’s important to go into your first massage knowing that you will likely experience some discomfort. However, that discomfort is a normal and even essential part of the process because discomfort is inherent in the techniques that break down muscle knots.
Here’s what you need to know before you meet your masseuse:
Before Your Massage – Dealing with Pain
While discomfort is expected during a massage, serious pain isn’t normal. The phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ does not apply to deep tissue therapy. Instead, the pain you feel should be more akin to ‘good pain,’ like the pain you feel when a masseuse finds a pressure point on your back and manipulates it.
For the massage to work, you need to communicate with your masseuse. If you have a low pain threshold, tell them in advance. Additionally, let them know what kind of pain you’re experiencing during your massage; it will tell them whether to apply more or less pressure.
Understanding pain before your massage is important because it will impact the effectiveness of the massage.
Most people try to avoid getting hurt. They avoid getting shots because needles hurt. They do their best not to fall from a great height.
The same principle applies to a massage. When a masseuse applies more pressure than your body can handle, your body won’t relax and let the masseuse manipulate your muscles.
The opposite will occur: your muscles will tighten up and may even end up tighter than when you arrived. It’s a natural reflex, and you need to overcome it.
Because of this, you might need several sessions to see results.
In the first session, the masseuse will work within your comfort level to initiate your muscles to the process of deep tissue massage.
Subsequent sessions will include deeper work, but your body will be able to adjust slowly to the pressure.
Keep in mind: there will be some phases that will always hurt. The process of relieving tension from scar tissue will almost always require deep pressure and some pain. Scar tissue is a tick area of connective tissue that was created when your body was healing from some type of injury. Because of the density, serious pressure is required. However, the pressure does create healing in the end.
After Your Massage
If you’ve ever had a Swedish massage, you might expect to walk out feeling rejuvenated.
It’s unlikely after a deep tissue massage.
After your massage is over, your masseuse will give you time to collect yourself. It’s uncommon for you to feel tired, dizzy, or sore after a massage. Do your best to schedule your deep tissue massage on a day where your schedule is limited.
Don’t schedule a deep tissue then drive for four hours. And don’t get a massage before going to the gym. Instead, go home and let your body recover.
If you find bruises on your body after the massage, keep note. Bruises are abnormal because even though the masseuse is applying pressure, they shouldn’t be damaging the skin. It’s a sign that too much pressure fell on one spot. While bruises don’t hurt you, it may be a sign that they overworked a muscle.
Bruise easily? Don’t take aspirin on the day of your treatment to avoid unnecessary bruising.
Remember, being sore is normal both during and after a massage. But pain, particularly pain that limits mobility, isn’t.
The Benefits of Deep Muscle Therapy
We’ll be honest – deep massage isn’t the most enjoyable treatment available from a massage therapist. But the pain you experience on the table is the annihilation of the chronic pain you experience every day.
Stop Taking Those Pills for Your Back
Deep tissue massage breaks down the causes of lower back pain to provide a significant reduction in your pain while simultaneously improving your ability to function. In fact, deep tissue massage alone may allow you to stop taking the medication you use to control your pain.
A clinical study published in The Scientific World Journal compared the effects of deep tissue massage along with a combined treatment including both deep tissue massage and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Participants involved were an average age of 51.8 years old, and all had chronic lower back pain.
After two weeks of treatment, both groups saw a significant reduction in pain. More importantly, there was no meaningful difference between the group that only had a massage and the group who received both the massage and medication.
The bottom line: massage works just as well, if not better than those pills you’re taking.
Prevent Chronic Tension Headaches
Do the tension in your neck and upper back turn into debilitating headaches? Deep tissue massage could relieve them – and keep them gone.
Researchers wondering whether massage could outperform other headache therapies put together a clinical trial to explore how and why deep massage could prevent headaches. In the study, researchers provided 21 women with ten sessions of deep massage for their upper body. The therapists were instructed to find the patients’ trigger points and massage them forcefully.
The women were asked how they felt immediately after and then again at three and six months after their sessions. Everyone reported an increase in their range of movement in every direction and they saw a serious decline in the number of days their neck was sore.
Prevent and Recover from Injuries
Deep tissue techniques don’t just break down knots. They also elongate muscles while improving blood flow, creating lean, healthy muscles.
Some professional athletes use deep tissue as part of their regimen to stay healthy and prevent injuries as well as to recover from injuries faster. If deep tissue is too much, consider a regular series of sports massages in its place.
Deep Tissue for Deep Relief
Deep tissue massage is no walk in the park, but it’s one of the best massages available for achieving lasting relief from muscle pain.
Because the therapist targets the inner layers of your muscle, they’re able to break down knots and scar tissue that causes you pain, limits mobility, and just makes you miserable.
There’s no reason to live with muscle pain. If you think you might be a candidate for deep tissue massage, talk to a local masseuse or physiotherapist about a potential treatment for your injuries.
Love, hate, or love-hate deep tissue massages? Share your thoughts in the comments below.