A type of massage therapy; deep tissue massage uses 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.
While some of the strokes may feel the same as those used in Swedish Massage therapy, deep tissue massage isn’t the same as having a regular massage with deep pressure.
It’s 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 the massage, lighter pressure is generally applied to warm up and prep the muscles. Specific techniques are then applied. The most common techniques include:
Stripping – deep, gliding pressure along the length of the muscle fibers using the elbow, forearm, knuckles, and thumbs
Friction – pressure applied across the grain of a muscle to release adhesions and realign tissue fibers.
According to Consumer Reports magazine, 34,000 people ranked deep tissue massage more effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain than physical therapy, exercise, prescription medications, chiropractic, acupuncture, diet, glucosamine, and over-the-counter drugs.
Deep tissue massage also received a top ranking for fibromyalgia pain. People often notice improved range of motion immediately after a deep tissue massage.
Deep tissue massage may not be safe for people with blood clots (e.g. thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis), due to the risk that they may become dislodged. If you have blood clots or are at risk of forming blood clots, it’s essential that you consult your doctor first.
If you’ve had recent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or any other medical procedure, it’s wise to check with your doctor before starting massage therapy. Some people with osteoporosis should avoid the deeper pressure of this type of massage.
Massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed or infected skin, skin rashes, unhealed or open wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, fragile bones, or areas of recent fractures.
If you have any condition, it’s important to consult your primary care provider beforehand 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.