What is deep tissue massage?

There seems to be a common misconception about what deep tissue massage is.  Most people think that it means:

1. It’s going to cost more

2.  It has to hurt to be effective

3.  You are going to be sore after

I am going to break it down and hopefully dispel the myths and give you enough information so that when you do get a massage, you know what you are in for.

1.  Cost

At spas and massage “chains”, there is a price difference between swedish massage and deep tissue massage.  In this setting, I am not sure of the reasoning behind this concept of charging more, other than if the establishment and/or the therapist has the mentality of having to use more muscle to get deeper and the therapist is being compensated more for the extra work they have to do to accomplish this.  Have you yourself requested deep tissue and paid the extra money?  What is your concept of what deep tissue is?  I am hoping when you are done reading this, you will have a better understanding of what it is you are looking for.  I want you to feel good about shelling out the extra $10 – $30 more for your session.

In my humble opinion, unless you can get proof that your massage therapist has had extra training in something like neuromuscular therapy, orthopedic massage, and/or anatomy trains, just to name a few..there is no good reason that you should be paying more.

A good massage therapist will effectively integrate different types of bodywork to best serve the client.  Doing only one modality is limiting and not as effective.

2. No pain, no gain

A HUGE misconception about deep tissue massage is that it needs to be painful to be effective.  The massage therapy field is constantly changing and evolving and at one time, this thought process may have been in place.  However, as there is more measurable research out there, studies have shown that if the therapist goes in too deep too fast, the body will tense up, making it virtually impossible to access those deeper muscles.  Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to accessing deeper muscles in our bodies.  And a pain scale is subjective, so a 5 out of 10 on one person’s pain scale could be completely different than another person who get’s the same amount of pressure applied.  Communication with your massage therapist is key to making this a pleasant experience.  The slower, the better.

Another clue to effective treatment is working tight muscles.  If you go in and get a massage and ask for them to just work on where it hurts, it may feel good at the time, but there will not be any lasting effects.  In fact, sometimes it may even exacerbate the injury.

Tight muscles are usually on the front of our bodies: quadriceps, hip flexors, superficial abdominal muscles, chest muscles, and anterior neck muscles, all contribute to the pain we feel in the back of our bodies.  If you think about how we spend most of our time, it is in a forward flexed posture.  The muscles in the back are weak and inhibited because of this postural pattern.

One more note on no pain, no gain that should be addressed.  If you have adopted this misconception into your belief system that the only way you are going to feel better is if someone hurts you, then this will be true for you.  Our minds have an enormous impact on what we experience and how we experience it.  If we are able to keep an open mind, healing can occur with many forms of treating the body and mind.

3.  You’re going to be sore after.

This concept goes with the latter point.  If you are told or believe that you are going to be sore after, then that will be your experience.  If a doctor tells you it’s going to take you at least 6 months before you feel better after a surgery, it’s more than likely going to take that long, unless you are efficient at exercising mind over matter.  Setting your own intention can be helpful in quicker recovery.

If structural work is performed during your massage, you may hurt in a different place.  Being sore after is ok as long as it doesn’t last more than 48 hours AND after that soreness is done, you feel better than before you had the treatment.

I hope this helps give you a better understanding of what deep tissue is.  I also need to be reminded of the pain level of my clients.  I have certain clients that tense up when my hands are going towards the hip flexors or to the armpit to access subscapularis.  So receiving feedback from you, the client is key to my success in helping you.  In case you wanted to learn more about the different “deep” modalities I have included some links below.  I am certified in James Waslaski’s Orthopedic Massage and a teaching assistant for him.  I have also taken courses with Paul St. John and in Structural Integration.

Please feel free to share your experiences with deep tissue massage.

Orthopedic Massage:

James Waslaski

Whitney Lowe

Erik Dalton

Neuromuscular Therapy:

Paul St. John

Judith Delaney

Structural Integration:

Tom Myers


32 Daniel Webster Highway, Suite 16
Merrimack NH, 03054

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(978) 577-5905

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I look forward to my massages. Have been coming for 2 years now and find them very beneficial. A necessary part of my health care.

— Janet G.

I was recommended to go here by a co-worker. I definitely am happy with my visit i have had. Simply amazing!

— Karen R.

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