What is deep tissue massage?
The term can encompass several different techniques such as trigger point therapy , myofascial release, shiatsu, and neuromuscular therapy to name a few. Therapists often apply deep pressure with their fingers, knuckles, forearms and elbows. The techniques should be performed with intention and at a slower pace.
With these techniques, not only are the superficial body structures addressed, but the therapist also accesses deeper structures of muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments. Deep tissue massage can be very therapeutic and effective in treating chronic pain, range of motion limitations and breaking up scar tissue and adhesions.
Personally, I like to receive deep tissue massage. I enjoy knowing that my tight muscles are getting a bit of a talking to and are being advised to lighten up and relax! However, I don’t necessarily enjoy feeling like I’m being bruised and like I’ve been run over by a truck the next day! The key is knowing the difference between “good pain” and “bad pain”.
As a therapist, it can be challenging to know where that line is for each patient. Each person has a different pain tolerance, body sensitivity, and mental stamina for deep tissue massage. Only the client can tell what is “good pain” and “bad pain”. Thats why communication between therapist and client is so important.
What is “good pain”? What is “bad pain”?
Besides being a bit of an oxymoron, “good pain” feels like the applied pressure is releasing a tight structure. People often describe it as “it hurts so good” or a “releasing pain”. Some clients find it useful to breath deeply while the technique is being applied, but they are able to remain relaxed. The technique feels therapeutic.
A “bad pain” doesn’t feel like any muscles or structures are being released, instead it can feel more like a bruising, tearing or a sharp pain. Clients sometimes feel like they have to grit their teeth and force their muscles to stay relaxed through the techniques. Breathing quickly, sweating and shaking of other body parts is also a sign that the technique may be too deep. I think a common misconception is the “no pain, no gain” theory. A therapist being elbow deep in muscle tissue for the sake of “getting deep” isn’t necessary or effective. Clients believe that in order for the technique to be successful, it must have to hurt. Not true! If a client can decipher the difference between their “good pain” threshold and their “bad pain” threshold, they will be able to distinguish the difference between a therapeutic treatment or just a painful treatment.
As mentioned, the key to a successful deep tissue massage is communication. The therapist can’t know where your pain threshold is if you don’t tell them. A good therapist will ask about the pressure. To say “thats a bit too much pressure” is great information for the therapist. Or, you can establish a pressure scale that is simple and accurate to use (“1” is very light and “10” is too deep). Communicating with numbers is a straightforward way to establish the right depth but not interfere with the flow of the treatment with too many words.
Is it ever ok for the “no pain, no gain” theory of massage? Not usually, however, there are some techniques that are more painful such as friction therapy, where the goal is to break down scar tissue. This can be very uncomfortable, and should only be performed with a thorough explanation of the technique and consent from the client. Some other techniques such as trigger point therapy, may have an initial intense pain feeling, but it should quickly subside, and not veer too far into the “bad pain” zone. Again, your therapist should explain the purpose behind the techniques and communicate with you regarding your pain threshold.
Post Treatment Soreness
After a deep tissue treatment, you may feel slightly sore. SLIGHTLY. Like you’ve had a good workout. This may last for a day or two, but shouldn’t interfere with your activities. Usually applying heat (having a bath or using a heating pad) or gently stretching will decrease some of the post massage soreness.
If, on the other hand, you can barely get out of bed the next day and it interferes with your activities, then the massage may have been too deep! A question to ask yourself is: “has my initial complaint been addressed?” Have your headaches decreased? Does your shoulder feel better and now has more range of motion? Has your low back pain dissipated ? Basically, does your body feel better after the treatment? Or does it feel worse? Do you cringe at the thought of another treatment but resort to the “no pain, no gain” theory? Or do you gladly return to reap the benefits of the deep tissue treatment?
I hope this article sheds some light on what to expect from a deep tissue massage.
While there may be information related to certain medical conditions and their treatment on this website, please consult your doctor or other healthcare professional to determine if a treatment described in the website is appropriate for you.
Kirsten Hammond is a Registered Massage Therapist and owner of Evolutions Massage Therapy Clinic- Saanich, BC & Sidney, BC & Brentwood Bay, BC