One of the biggest misconceptions about deep tissue massage that I have come across as a therapist, is that most people believe that it means applying a lot of hard, deep pressure, and that it is going to hurt. The term ‘deep tissue massage’ actually has nothing to do with the amount of pressure that is applied, but about working the deeper tissue layers of muscle and fascia in order to correct, and heal an area of dysfunction.
As a sports massage therapist I treat a lot of athletes, and active people. They naturally have the “No Pain, No Gain” mindset, and many of them WANT it to feel painful. When someone comes to see me requesting deep tissue massage I often find myself educating them on the difference between deep tissue, and deep pressure. It should never be the goal of the therapist to make it painful just to please the client. A deep tissue massage should be slow and thorough, working through the muscle tissues layer, by layer. Giving an increased amount of attention to the “knots” and trigger points found along the way. Many therapists make the mistake of trying to ‘force the issue’. Any skilled therapist will tell you that they get much better results by allowing the tissue to respond on its own, and release under a slower, more focused approach as opposed to forcing it. As with most anything, if you take the forceful approach, it is usually met with increased resistance. Muscles will have more of a tendency to ‘push back’ against a lot of pressure, and with that you aren’t really accomplishing anything with the treatment, except maybe some bruising and soreness the following day. A deep tissue massage also is not meant to be used for a “full body session”, unless you have a specific area of complaint to focus on.
I am not saying that you won’t have any pain, or discomfort during a deep tissue massage. Working on the trigger points and already sore, tight areas will be somewhat painful. It is usually described more as the ‘hurt so good’ feeling though. It should never be unbearable to the point where you feel as if you can’t relax, or breathe through it. I always tell my clients that on a scale of 1-10, if the intensity of what I am doing goes over a 6 or 7, that I will need to back off. Everyone has a different tolerance level, so communication and attentiveness is key during a deep tissue massage.
I have received a lot of massage for my own personal injuries. Some of the treatments I have gotten were definitely more of the ‘deep pressure’ massage, and others were truly deep tissue. Pretty significant difference between the results I had post-massage between the two types. The ones where I received thorough, deep tissue work I recovered much quicker and felt greater relief from my issue.
The next time you get a massage to address a specific complaint, pay attention to what the therapist is doing during the session. You can tell if they are really focusing in on the area, or just pushing hard. And as always, remember to drink plenty of water after a deep tissue massage.