I frequently get asked if I do deep tissue massage. The answer that I generally give is that I do deep tissue massage, but it may feel different than other deep tissue they have experienced. I don't believe that massage should hurt. Sometimes there are sore or tender spots, but there is a difference between tenderness and pain. Many people have that "no pain, no gain" mentality and believe that the more pain they are in after a massage, the better the massage was. This simply isn't true.
When I first started working as a massage therapist, I was working in spas. It wasn't long before I started getting assigned deep tissue massages. Not knowing much about deep tissue, I asked my colleagues, who told me that it is the same thing, you just press harder, so that is what I did. Unfortunately, therapists who do this kind of deep pressure massage, knowingly or not, only perpetuate the idea that massage should be painful. In this blog post, we will take a look at what a deep tissue massage is and what a deep pressure massage is and how they differ.
Deep Pressure Massage
When you go in for a deep tissue massage and the therapist just seems to be beating you up or really digging into you, that is actually a deep pressure massage. Human tissue just doesn't respond well to this kind of massage. Basically, the more you push, the more the tissue pushes back, so when a therapist works harder, they are actually less deep in the tissue and doing less productive work. This type of massage is more likely to leave you feeling pain and soreness, which is your body reacting negatively. It is normal to feel some soreness after a massage, but to be in pain or hardly able to move is not a healthy response to body work. Some modalities will leave you feeling more sore than others, but none of them should leave you in pain.
Deep pressure massage is also very hard on the therapist. Therapists who do this kind of massage tend to have shorter careers because they develop injuries or weakness from pushing on people all day long. Therapists who do deep tissue massage are not as likely to have a high burnout rate as those who do deep pressure massage.
Deep Tissue Massage
So, if deep tissue massage isn't just pressing harder, what is the difference? Deep tissue massage simply means that the work the therapist does gets deeper into the muscles and other structures in the body. The best way to do this is to work slowly. When a therapist applies firm, steady pressure without pushing, the tissue in the clients body starts to melt and soften. Once the tissue has softened sufficiently, the therapist can begin to work deeper into the body to access the deeper structures.
Therapists who do deep tissue massage tend to have longer careers and lower burnout rates because instead of trying to force our way into someone's tissue, we work with the body, and let the tissue dictate how we work. Not pressing and digging into someone also puts a lot less stress on our bodies. We are less likely to develop injuries and will tend to be stronger for longer amounts of time.
Deep tissue massage should feel good and there should be minimal pain. A lot of clients have trouble telling the difference between regular massage and deep tissue work.
Massage shouldn't hurt. It is important to recognize the difference between soreness and tenderness, and pain. Pain is a response from your body telling you that something is wrong. If your massage therapist is causing you pain, tell them. Please be kind to yourself and your massage therapist by not asking for a deep pressure massage. Your body will thank you.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.