What is Deep Tissue Massage?
Deep Tissue massage can aid in reducing chronic aches and pain and relieving stiff areas such as neck and upper back, low back pain, leg muscle tightness, and sore shoulders. A deep tissue massage session will begin as relaxing Swedish massage, with light and gentle strokes to warm up and prepare the muscles, we then gradually increase the level of pressure from medium to firm. Generally we favor slow strokes in order to reach deeper layers of muscle and the layers of connective tissue surrounding muscles called fascia.
What are the different techniques?
While Deep Tissue massage uses a deeper level of pressure to focus on the deepest layers of muscle tissue as well as the fascia (the protective layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints) it isn’t all about the pressure. We use specific techniques and angles to physically break down muscle knots or adhesions and break up connective tissue and scar tissue that can cause pain by disrupting circulation, creating more deposit of “crystals’ or lactic acid and toxins, limiting range of motion and causing inflammation.
Deep Tissue Massage Therapy may include and is not limited to the common techniques listed below:
Muscle Stripping – deep, gliding pressure along the length of the muscle fibers using the elbow, forearm, knuckles, and thumbs. Can be done on extended or flexed muscles.
Cross Fiber Friction – pressure applied across the grain of a muscle rather than moving with them to release adhesions and realign tissue fibers. This technique improves mobility, range of motion and reduce scarring within the soft tissue structures of ligament, tendon, and muscle after an injury. It also reduces the crystalline roughness that forms between tendons and their sheaths that can result in painful tendonitis.
Active Stretches – also called PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) or MET (Muscle energy technique) Where the patient is asked to contract the muscle against static resistance (usually supplied by the therapist). The client is guided through a series of muscle contractions followed by periods of muscle relaxation. This is an effective approach based on the principle of reciprocal inhibition, a theory that explains that muscles on one side of a joint will always relax to accommodate the contraction of muscles on the other side of that joint when indirect pressure is applied. MET is often applied to patients who suffer from muscle spasms.
Passive Stretches – This is simply when the therapist will release and lengthen different muscles and muscle groups by slowly stretching them while the patient remains completely relaxed and unengaged.
Static pressure – In this technique, the therapist uses their elbows, their knuckles, their thumbs or their fingertips to apply firm pressure on tissues in the body. The motion must be very, very slow in order to properly penetrate each muscle.
Negative pressure– In this technique, the therapist uses suction cups to expand the muscles and separate them so that toxins and metabolic waste, stagnant blood and lymphatic fluids can flow easily as they are released.
Trigger Point Therapy – A trigger point is the contraction mechanism of the muscle locked into a shortened position, the treatment of the trigger point involves unlocking that contraction mechanism. This can be achieved by applying pressure with a finger or other instrument to the trigger point and increasing the pressure as the trigger point “release” and softens. There are a number of variations on this technique and a skilled therapist will choose which is right for each patient and muscle treated.
Myofascial Release – The word myofascial means muscle tissue (myo) and the connective tissue in and around it (fascia). Myofascial pain often results from muscle injury or repetitive strain. When stressed or injured, muscles often form trigger points, like contracted knots, that cause pain and tightness. Therefore Trigger point therapy will induce myofascial release. Gentle superficial stretches held for 2 minutes or more can also penetrate through many deeper layers and aid in releasing the fascia.
What are the Benefits?
We have seen this modality significantly reduces stress hormone levels and heart rate while boosting mood and relaxation by triggering the release of oxytocin and serotonin in the body. (Serotonin is a feel-good hormone that promotes the feeling of happiness in a person). Additionally, it has been reported that a single 60 minute deep tissue massage can lower blood pressure.
But when it comes to deep Tissue Massage Therapy we usually focuses on a specific problem such as:
- Chronic muscle pain
- Injury rehabilitation and sport concerns (e.g. whiplash, falls)
- Repetitive strain injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
- Postural problems
- Piriformis syndrome (pain caused by sciatica)
- Low back, upper back or neck pain
- Limited mobility
- Muscle tension in the hamstrings, glutes, IT band, legs, quadriceps, trapezius, rhomboids, etc
- Osteoarthritis pain
- Tennis elbow
According to 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.
Will a Deep Tissue Massage Hurt?
At certain points during the massage, you may feel some discomfort or even some pain as the massage therapist works on areas where there are adhesions or scar tissue…to your surprise you may also find yourself thinking “Hmm it hurts so good!”.
However your therapist should thrive to work around that fine line and you should always report immediately if you feel pain during the massage. The therapist can easily adjust the technique, the level of pressure or further prep the tissues if the superficial muscles are tense.
This is not a “No Pain No Gain” situation! Pain is not necessarily a sign that the massage is working. In fact, your body may tense up contracting the muscle in response to pain, pushing away by offering resistance and making it harder for the therapist to reach deeper muscles.
What Can I Expect During My Visit?
After an assessment you will be told the proposed plan of action for the massage treatment.
You may be asked to breathe deeply at specific times as the massage therapist works on tense areas. Your therapist will ask you several times if you are comfortable with the level of pressure.
After this type of massage, it is common to feel some stiffness or soreness, but it should subside within a day or so.
Drinking plenty water after the massage may help to flush the metabolic waste from the tissues allowing your to fully reap the benefit of this modality and make you feel better longer.
Be sure to contact your massage therapist if you have concerns or if you feel pain after having a massage at firstname.lastname@example.org
Deep tissue massage may not be safe for people with certain conditions. PLEASE OBTAIN YOUR DOCTOR’S APPROVAL FIRST if:
- You have or are at risk of having blood clots( e.g. thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis) due to the risk that they may become dislodged. .
- If you’ve had recent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or any other medical procedure..
- You are pregnant (especially during first trimester and if considering deep tissue therapy)
Massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed or infected skin, skin rashes, unhealed or open wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, fragile bones, or areas of recent fractures. Some people with osteoporosis should avoid the deeper pressure of this type of massage. Certain conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis, may not be able to tolerate the pain of a deep tissue massage.
If you have any conditions and in doubt what type of massage isn’t recommended it’s important to consult your primary care provider beforehand.
Possible Side Effects
Deep tissue massage may result in bruising, however during my 13 years long career I have personally never gotten feedback reporting bruises.
Case reports have reported venous thromboembolism, spinal accessory neuropathy, hepatic hematoma, and posterior interosseous syndrome after deep tissue massage.
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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.