What is a Deep Tissue Massage?

“Have you ever wondered what a “deep tissue” massage involves?”

The words deep tissue are commonly known and used in the massage industry but how many people in truth understand what this means? I would suggest that when a person hears or speaks of a deep tissue massage they are expecting a harder, stronger or firmer massage compared to the average. However, this does not necessarily correspond to the true offering of what a deep tissue massage treatment offers and I would like to share in this article why this is so and what deep tissue massage actually means.

Deep tissue as the name applies, refers to the deeper soft tissues within the body including muscles and fascia. A common way that many therapists work with accessing the deeper tissue is to press firmer or harder in order to try and access the deeper tissue or muscles in the body. This can sometimes be painful for the client (and draining for the practitioner) and in some circumstances can cause bruising. Of course there are many clients who enjoy this type of massage and subscribe to the “no pain, no gain myth” and will request this and enjoy this style of massage.

However, if you are like me and avoided receiving massage for a long time as I didn’t like how much it hurts, then you may be pleased to hear that there is another way of releasing the deeper fascia and muscles in the body that is not painful, and rather is relaxing, enjoyable and has amazing results.

In clinic, I often have people asking for a deep tissue massage, without really understanding what it is that they are asking for. I like to share and educate clients as to what deep tissue means and the way that we can access working with the deeper muscles and fascia without having to hurt them.

The industry is changing and the way we are now teaching massage has taken a turn to support the client to relax, so that their muscles can release and relax. Ultimately it is important to remember that relaxation is at the basis of any form of remedial massage. If the person is tensing up due to pain, then we are promoting a protective mechanism in the body, muscle constriction, rather than the muscles letting go.

So how do we release the deeper lying muscles in the body without digging deep?

Warmth is the key – use plenty of effleurage strokes to warm up the outer, surface layers of muscles and tissue. Once these are warm and feel softer, then we are able to gently use techniques such as trigger point therapy to access the deeper muscles that lay beneath.

There are many deep tissue techniques that can be used with one of the most common being trigger points. The way I work with trigger points is through feeling and sensing what is happening in the muscle and the client’s body. Having warmed up the area that I am working on, I use gentle circles over the area where I can feel the built-up point in the muscle and gently release it using thumbs through the small movements. Feeling when the muscle releases beneath my thumbs I then use effleurage again to allow for the fresh blood flow into that area to promote restoration of the tissue and reintegrate the local area with the rest of the body.

Whilst receiving this technique, the client may feel a different sensation in their body with the release of the trigger points, but it should not cause a flinching or a high level of pain in any way. I often find clients relax deeply and sometimes even fall asleep.  They commonly report on how lovely it is to receive this type of massage and the results are long lasting and not a quick fix.

– Article by Donna Nolan

Donna Nolan works as a Remedial Massage Therapist at Total Physiotherapy and teaches the Diploma of Remedial Massage at one of Australia’s largest and most reputable massage schools. 

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