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Deep Tissue Massage: Is It What You Need?

Deep tissue massage is a technique that targets the inner layers of your muscles and connective tissues. During the massage, a massage therapist uses firm pressure and slow strokes to break up scar tissue and trigger points while easing tension. 

Deep tissue massage zeroes in on the origin and insertion points of your muscles to address numerous physical problems. Deep tissue massage may be beneficial for those who’ve experienced:

  • Sports injury
  • Repetitive strain injury (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Lower back pain
  • Chronic pain 
  • Menstrual pain (e.g., cramps, pelvic pain) 
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Piriformis syndrome 
  • Sciatica
  • Postural problems 
  • Tennis elbow
  • High blood pressure 

The techniques used in deep tissue massage differ from those in a standard or Swedish massage. 

Initially, a deep tissue massage might feel like a Swedish massage because lighter pressure is used to warm up your muscles in preparation for the harder work that’s about to come. Next, your massage therapist will slowly begin to access the inner layers of your muscles with: 

  • Cross-fiber friction: Pressure is applied across the grain of your muscles to break down knots, lesions, and scar tissue formed by injury. This enables your body to recover more quickly and to form strong, flexible tissue. 
  • Stripping: Here, pressure is applied along the grain of your muscles. Using oil enables a deep, gliding movement. Your massage therapist might use their fingers, knuckles, thumbs, elbows, or forearms for this process. 
  • Trigger point therapy: When the therapist locates knots, or myofascial trigger points, they’ll use steady, constant pressure and friction to loosen the muscle fibers and release the knot.   
  • Myofascial release: If the connective tissue covering your muscle, also called fascia, becomes stiff and attaches itself to nearby tissue, it can create musculoskeletal pain. The fascia must then be released by rolling, stretching, and manipulating your skin to relieve tightness. 

While your massage therapist focuses on especially tense areas, you may be asked to breathe deeply in order to deliver more oxygen to your muscles.

Deep tissue massage carries significant benefits, as it has the ability to help tackle various health issues and musculoskeletal problems. Additionally, it could aid in the prevention of future injuries and improve overall wellness. Other advantages include: 

  • Managing pain: Those struggling with chronic pain, menstrual pain, neck and shoulder blade pain, lower back pain, or fibromyalgia might find relief in deep tissue massage. It’s particularly effective with weekly sessions. 
  • Stabilizing blood pressure: Some studies show that deep tissue massage lowers systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial blood pressure in patients with hypertension. 
  • Increasing joint and muscle mobility: Over time, joints stiffen, and muscles become short and tight, limiting your range of motion and causing pain. Deep tissue massage manually lengthens your muscles and stimulates the production of joint lubricants. 
  • Preventing injury: Deep tissue massage increases blood flow, allowing more oxygen to circulate and access different areas of your body. It also prevents the delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) and fatigue, making it a popular choice among athletes. 
  • Boosting immunity: By decreasing cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels and stimulating production of immune cells, deep tissue massage can protect you from infection. 
  • Improving posture: It’s a great way to realign your musculoskeletal system and relax sore, achy muscles so your body can establish a healthier posture.

Deep tissue massage is considered as a fairly safe form of intervention. However, it still has a few minor disadvantages such as pain, muscle soreness, and stiffness. These side effects are usually observed after intense or overzealous massage sessions. 

As for more serious adverse effects, there have been rare cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), thromboembolism, liver hematoma, internal bleeding, and spinal nerve neuropathy.

Before you book an appointment at your favorite spa, get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about deep tissue massage. 

Generally speaking, a deep tissue massage is quite pleasant, but you may occasionally experience moments of pain and discomfort. Once your massage therapist starts working on muscle knots, trigger points, adhesions, or scar tissue, a bit of pain is normal. However, it shouldn’t last too long or reach an intolerable level. Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist if something doesn’t feel right. They can always readjust pressure or switch techniques as needed. 

Though certain techniques overlap, the primary purpose of these two types of massages differ. 

Swedish massage focuses on superficial muscles, aiming for stress relief and relaxation. Though it also boasts many health benefits, it won’t necessarily help you recover from injury or alleviate pain. In contrast, deep tissue massage targets deeper muscles and connective tissues, and it’s best used on a regular basis for those with sports injuries and chronic conditions.

It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before engaging in a new activity, including deep tissue massage. Review your medical history and make sure they give you the green light first. Deep tissue massage is not recommended if you: 

  • Have a blood clotting issue (e.g., thrombocytopenia, thrombophlebitis, DVT, etc.)
  • Had surgery recently
  • Are currently undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
  • Were diagnosed with severe osteoporosis

Your therapist should never massage over skin that is bruised, inflamed, infected, or has developed a rash, wound, or tumor. It’s also recommended that pregnant women avoid getting deep tissue massages. During a healthy pregnancy, however, you may opt for a prenatal session from a therapist who is specially trained in pregnancy massage.

If you’re planning a spa day to relax and unwind, choose a Swedish massage. But if you’re looking for a solution to chronic pain or injury, consider getting a deep tissue massage instead. To get the most out of your sessions, talk to your massage therapist about your goals and update them regularly on your overall health. 

http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1519-38292010000200012&script=sci_arttext

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2007.0665

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2014/287597/abs/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29861215-deep-tissue-massage-what-are-we-talking-about/

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