A type of massage therapy, deep tissue massage involves applying firm pressure and slow strokes to reach deeper layers of muscle and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles). It's used for chronic aches and pain and contracted areas such as a stiff neck and upper back, low back pain, leg muscle tightness, and sore shoulders.
Deep tissue massage usually focuses on a specific problem, such as chronic muscle pain, injury rehabilitation, and the following conditions:
Not all of these benefits have been scientifically proven. But if you are interested in a massage to prevent sports injury, address sport-specific concerns, or to help with muscle recovery after sports, consider getting a sports massage.
While some of the strokes may feel the same as those used in Swedish massage therapy, deep tissue massage isn't a stronger version of a Swedish massage.
Deep tissue massage techniques are used to break up scar tissue and physically break down muscle "knots" or adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) that can disrupt circulation and cause pain, limited range of motion, and inflammation.
At the beginning of a deep tissue massage, lighter pressure is generally applied to warm up and prepare the muscles. Specific techniques are then applied. Common techniques include:
At certain times during the massage, you may feel some discomfort or even some pain as the massage therapist works on areas where there are adhesions or scar tissue. Pain isn't necessarily good, and it's not a sign that the massage will be effective. In fact, your body may tense up in response to pain, making it harder for the therapist to reach deeper muscles.
You should always tell your massage therapist if you feel pain during the massage. The therapist can adjust the technique or further prep the tissues if the superficial muscles are tense.
If you have any condition, it's important to consult your primary care provider first to find out what type they recommend. For example, people with certain conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis, may not be able to tolerate the pain of a deep tissue massage.
Deep tissue massage is more than just a massage with deep pressure. The goals and techniques are different from a Swedish massage. While it may help with certain conditions, remember that massage doesn't always have to hurt or make your body sore to be effective. To get the most out of your massage, communicate with your massage therapist.