For many years, I thought deep tissue massage was simply pushing harder. That seemed to appease most of my deep tissue clients and the managers or spa owners who ran the spas where I was employed.
They’d say "Yeah, just PUSH HARDER and give more pressure” when I’d wonder why a client wasn’t happy with the deep tissue massage I’d just given them.
As I grew in my career and got more education, I learned that deep tissue massage is NOT deep PRESSURE massage.
I can work deeply in to your muscles and soft tissues without using deep pressure just by slowing down my work and heating up the area first, either with my hands, feet, or with a heating pack.
The problem with continuing this idea of "just push harder” is that it's counter productive. The harder you push, the harder the muscles push back. Muscle guarding, as it's called is a signal from the muscle that it has had enough. It won't let you continue to force pressure without injury to the tissue. If you’ve ever heard of someone complain that they were so sore from their massage, this is probably the cause. Honestly, nobody wants to feel MORE pain from the massage than what they originally came in with.
Many therapist retire early from overdoing it on the pressure. Injuring and breaking down their own bodies in the process of trying to help and assist healing for their clients. This simply doesn't have to be the case.
Of course, I don't have anything against deep pressure. My favorite style of massage, Ashiatsu (Barefoot bar therapy) as you will find it on my service menu, is meant to give deep pressure by design. Standing above the table and using the force of gravity + weight just makes that deep pressure happen effortlessly.
What I don't like is the misguided notion that deep pressure = pain and those silly sayings like " pain is weakness leaving the body." Or "no pain, no gain."
Pain is a signal from your body telling you to stop, slow down, and take notice. Those ideas that pain is weakness have no place in massage therapy or fitness for that matter. Many of my clients have chronic pain from a sports or fitness related injury and this tells me that we need to cultivate body awareness.
In my practice, communication between client and therapist is crucial. I can usually tell from muscle guarding or body language when I've reached the client's pain tolerance.....but not always. Sometimes muscles don't react or it's too subtle to notice. Also, some medications clients maybe taking can block this conversation between myself and the tissues. That is why my clients use a subjective pain scale to alert me to any discomfort ( 1-10- 1 being no pain and 10 being excruciating pain.) If the pressure or pain goes past a 6 on their scale, they let me know and my work changes to accommodate them. It keeps everyone happy and comfortable throughout the session.
Deep Pressure: is exerting more pressure or force. It should have skill behind it but many times it doesn't, especially if the therapist doesn't have good training. If it's done right, it's AHHHmazing! If it's done wrong it's painful and dangerous to soft tissue. It can have some emotional side effects as well inciting panic and fear in a client. Done correctly, deep pressure can actually relax the nervous system.
Deep Tissue massage:
According to leading deep tissue massage instructor, Art Riggs, Is simply using techniques to access deeper muscular structures. Any technique will do but most often the therapist uses myofacial release, trigger point therapy, friction, compression, traction, heat and more. Along with expert palpation skills to locate the specific muscle that needs the work. Sometimes you (on the client's end) will FEEL the depth of the pressure and other times you won't. It all depends on the technique being used. Some deep work is done very gently.
Therapists...It's important to get training and learn a pressure intensive style thought the proper channels. I love pressure and compression, giving it and receiving it. I choose to study with THE BEST ashiatsu trainers and instructors. My favorites are the people over at Center for Barefoot Massage and Lolita knight’s Fijian Massage.
Do you enjoy deep pressure?
Have you ever left a massage feeling more pain than you came in with?
Gaia Bodywork PLLC is the private massage practice of Hillary Arrieta LMT and is located in Richardson, TX. offering the best massage services in the area for pain and stress management. Visit Gaiabodywork.com for more information.