There can be a lot of confusion about what is meant by the term “deep tissue massage." Even massage therapists can often make this confusing, either because they are trying to work with their clients’ expectations, or due to differences in training. At the end of the day, this misunderstanding isn’t a big deal as long as people get the therapeutic service they are hoping for. However, I’ve met enough people who did not get what they were looking for that I would like to share what I know on the subject.
· Deep Tissue: Tissue that is deeper than more superficial tissue.
· Deep Pressure: Pressure that feels deeper than lighter pressure. Not a style of massage, just an amount of pressure.
· Deep Tissue Massage: Massage that affects tissue that is deeper than more superficial tissue.
To affect the deeper tissues of the body, you don't necessarily need to use deep pressure.
Sometimes, we really just want that deep pressure feeling of delicious discomfort while we knead our tired, aching muscles. Deep pressure can also give us a sense that change is happening, which is something we often are seeking when we've been dealing with a particular ache or tension for months or years. However, deep tissue massage is not just about using deep pressure.
The aim of deep tissue massage is to impact the deeper structures of the body. Sometimes this can be done with techniques that use deep pressure to melt through the outer layers and reach those underneath. Other times, a lighter pressure can be employed in a way that reaches deep tissue but also respects the natural healing processes currently at play, or the integrity of sensitive vascular structures such as varicose veins or a body currently taking blood thinning medication. Lighter pressure can also be necessary to communicate safety to your nervous system. While I am happy to push harder if I'm using a technique that feels delicious and useful, it will no longer be helpful if you need to hold your breath or clench your body while you wait for me to stop.
At the end of the day, a person seeking "deep tissue massage" is generally looking for a treatment that addresses their needs. They don't want to feel pampered, and they don't want a massage that feels like it just skims the surface. They may have been coping with pain for a while, and they are hoping to get to the bottom of it and find relief. When someone tells me they are seeking "deep tissue" massage, I usually assume they would like some deep pressure during their treatment. But much more than that, I expect that they are looking to resolve whatever has brought them to me in the first place. Whether that is a persistent ache, a tension that won't go away, or an injury that keeps coming back, the most important thing I can do is use the tools at my disposal to help these issues quiet down or even go away for good.