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The term “deep tissue” has become quite popular when describing more therapeutic forms of massage and bodywork. Deep tissue massage simply means that the therapist is targeting the soft tissue beneath the superficial layers of the body. When performed appropriately, it’s quite effective as a method of pain relief. Unfortunately, there are quite a few misconceptions about deep tissue massage that should be noted.

deep tissue massage


#1 – Deep Tissue Massage Is Painful

For many people, deep tissue massage has the unfortunate reputation of being painful. It’s a kind of “tough it out” approach that’s uncomfortable at the time but necessary for pain relief later. I’ll let you in on a little secret though…deep tissue massage doesn’t have to be painful! In fact, it should be extremely relaxing. (We’ll see why below.)

You should always feel free to give feedback during a session and speak up if you’re experiencing pain, numbness, or tingling. I encourage feedback in my sessions, because it provides you with a more pleasurable experience and supports me in understanding your limits. Ultimately, we want to work right up to those limits but not beyond them.

#2 – Deeper Is Better

This misconception is quite possibly one of the main reasons clients “tough it out” through a painful deep tissue massage. Deeper is not necessarily better. Why? Because we’re attempting to influence the physical properties of the tissue AS WELL AS bring the nervous system into a parasympathetic (relaxed) state. To grossly simplify things, your nervous system has two settings, sympathetic and parasympathetic:

  • Sympathetic is your “go” mode. Your fight or flight, get the kids to school on time, and navigate rush-hour traffic mode. During this state, your body releases hormones and alters your physiology to aid you in accomplishing these tasks.
  • Parasympathetic is your “healing” mode. Your sleep in late, do yoga, take a hot bath, and meditate mode. During this state, your body isn’t preoccupied with saving you from the proverbial lions and tigers and bears of the day, so your nervous system shifts the emphasis of physiological processes toward healing so you can go out and play again tomorrow.

The parasympathetic mode is were we want you during a deep tissue massage. Simply put, your nervous system controls your muscles. So to relax your muscles, we relax your mind. If you’re on the table trying to “tough it out”, this can’t happen. To release chronic muscle tension and trigger points, we ideally want to go as deep as possible without sending your nervous system into a sympathetic, fight-or-flight state.

#3 – The One Hour Full-Body Deep Tissue Massage

Occasionally I’ll have a client request a “one hour full-body deep tissue massage“. This does not exist. At least not in my practice. If you want a true full-body deep tissue massage within one hour, one of two things will happen:

  1. Your therapist will not finish on time. In order to work deep, you must also work slow. This gives your tissue time to warm up and stretch with the applied force. To cover the full body and work at an appropriate pace takes much longer than a single hour.
  2. You probably won’t enjoy the massage and may leave worse off than when you came in. If working deeply, but quickly, the therapist is likely to push your tissue beyond it’s natural limits, resulting in pain and possibly muscle strain (actual tearing of the muscle fibers).

So if you want the “full-body deep tissue” experience, plan on booking a bare minimum of 90 minutes. Otherwise, limit the focus of your session to one or two muscle groups.

Ultimately, deep tissue massage is just one way to describe bodywork that’s more intense than your basic Swedish, relaxation massage. It is very effective but should be performed appropriately and by a trained professional with a solid understanding of the musculoskeletal system.