Deep tissue massage uses slow, firm strokes and pressure to ease and release tension deep in your muscles.
What is deep tissue massage?
Deep tissue massage does what it says 'on the tin' - it is a massage technique that works on the deeper layers of muscle tissue.
Similar to Swedish massage, deep tissue massage uses slower and firmer strokes and pressure than other treatments - deep finger pressure that concentrates on particular areas, and follows or goes across the fibres of muscles and tendons.
Deep tissue massage is a blanket term that describes a number of different therapies, and is often used medically by physiotherapists, chiropractors and so on.
Deep tissue massage features in most forms of massage to some degree, including:
Deep tissue massage is a particularly effective therapeutic massage for people with muscle pain.
Here are a few of the less mainstream forms of deep tissue treatments that you might not have come across.
Nobly exhibited by Gwyneth Paltrow in a backless dress, this traditional Chinese medicine practice temporarily leaves raised, red cup-shaped 'wheals' on your skin. A heated cup is placed on your body and a vacuum is created which sucks up your skin. This suction drains excess fluids and toxins from the muscle tissue, and stimulates the nervous system, and brings blood flow to your muscles and skin. The immediate effects look a bit alarming (see Gwyneth) but it is a deeply relaxing treatment.
This specialised massage treatment is used to treat chronic muscular tension, working across the fibres of the muscles.
Trigger point therapy
This treatment puts pressure on certain trigger points, temporarily stopping blood flow to a particular part of the body, and then releasing it, flooding that body part with fresh blood. It sounds weird and it feels weird too; you realise how powerful your blood is when it surges back into your arteries and the limb feels suddenly warm and strong. This treatment kick-starts your circulation as it pours and pumps fresh oxygen around your body. This technique is also a feature of Thai massage.
Balinese and Indonesian massage
These include deep tissue massage which works on the myofascia (see below); the treatment combines a variety of massage techniques, reflexology, acupressure and aromatherapy and is highly effective in healing sports injuries and providing pain relief.
Fascia is a tough tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, organ, nerve, and blood vessel in your body. Myofascial release is a stretching technique that releases tension and therefore pain deep in the body. It is used by physiotherapists to treat patients with some soft tissue problems. It is also called "connective tissue massage".
What are the benefits of deep tissue massage?
Deep tissue massage helps to refresh and relax muscles, increasing the blood flow and therefore the oxygen flow around your body. This gets rid of toxins in very sore and strained muscles, which helps them to strengthen and heal.
Deep tissue massage is often used as physical therapy to treat people who are recovering from accidents, for sports injuries and injury rehabilitation and those in chronic pain. This type of massage therapy increases blood circulation in muscles that are underused and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. It also relieves chronic muscle tension throughout the body, from neck pain to upper back pain, and can break down scar tissue and "knots" deep in the muscles.
Deep tissue massage can also help with both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis pain. People often notice an improved range of motion immediately after a deep tissue massage.
Before you go
The aim of deep tissue massage is not to leave you feeling relaxed and full of bliss; it tends to tackle particular physical, muscular problems. You're unlikely to be lost in an ocean of private serenity, so you can plan to go back to work, drive, or go out afterwards without feeling you'll have ruined it for yourself!
Always let your therapist know if you:
are, or think you might be, pregnant
have a history of heart or respiratory problems
have problems with your joints
have any skin allergies or conditions
have recently had surgery, or are prone to or recovering from injury
you have any other medical condition, or are receiving treatment of any kind
as this might affect the kind of treatment you can have, or on what areas of your body the therapist can work on.
Deep tissue massage is also not recommended for people with acute or long-term mental health problems.
As with any massage, it's a good idea to avoid big meals and alcohol beforehand. You should also drink plenty of water before and after the massage.
What to expect from a deep tissue massage
You may have been referred by a doctor or other specialist for a deep tissue massage. Generally speaking, deep tissue massage is recommended for specific problems, so you may know what to expect already. If you have decided to have this massage treatment yourself, you need to make sure that you give the therapist as much information as you can.
The therapist will talk to you about any special problems you have, how an injury or muscle strain has improved or got worse, your lifestyle, exercise routine, diet and so on, so they know how best to help you.
Depending on how you feel and the therapist or treatment centre you go to, you will either need to wear loose-fitting comfortable clothes or just a towel. Oils may be used, but they are unlikely to be aromatherapy oils. This is not a massage where you expect soft lighting and music either.
The length of a deep-tissue massage session or course will vary depending on what you need. A session is unlikely to last more than an hour, and a course will probably include about six sessions spaced over a few weeks or months, unless you are a professional sportsperson.
Go for a sauna or steam bath before and/or after your massage as this will soothe the soreness, warm the muscles and boost the effectiveness of the treatment.
You may feel a bit sore, or tired after a deep tissue massage though, so give yourself plenty of time to get there and get settled, and to have a lie-down or a shower afterwards. Any discomfort should go away within a few hours.
It is really important to drink plenty of water to continue to flush out the toxins in the muscles.