What Is Deep Tissue Massage?
The term deep tissue massage can refer to a wide variety of techniques. Clients are left with a lot of confusion as to what kind of treatment they will receive, what’s healthy, and what’s not. Without knowing what to ask for, clients often get a mediocre massage.
So, what kinds of massage techniques fall under the deep tissue umbrella?
And how can you figure out what to ask for to get a great massage?
Deep Swedish Massage Vs Myofascial Release Techniques
When most people think of deep tissue massage they usually mean “deep Swedish” massage. This is your classic spa style deep tissue massage. Therapists at spas, especially ones at hotels and destination spas, assume they will only see you once. So they will usually perform a broad full body treatment. These kinds of treatments can be very beneficial, helping to loosen up most of your body. However, if you are dealing with specific issues, like a torn rotator cuff or knee pain, a broad treatment likely won’t give the focus necessary to make a difference in how you feel.
In deep Swedish massage the strokes are medium to faster paced. The therapist uses a fair amount of oil, and it feels like they are digging into your muscles. This can feel good…or if too much pressure is used, feel quite painful. You may feel a bit “beat up” for a day or two after as if you worked out really hard. Once your body recovers you’ll feel much looser and more able to move.
Myofascial Release Massage
Another set of techniques that falls under the deep tissue massage umbrella are myofascial release techniques. These include ART (active release technique), neuromuscular therapy (sometimes called trigger point therapy), Rolfing, Structural Integration, KMI, and connective tissue therapy. Myofascial techniques tend to use strokes that are much slower than Swedish massage. Less oil is used to allow the strokes to stretch out all the different layers of tissues including the superficial fascia, deeper fascia and muscle. Most myofascial techniques are used during sessions that are focused on a particular area or issue.
These techniques tend to feel like “good pain” ie it’s uncomfortable but in the right way. It feels like the therapist is really getting at the sources of your aches and pains. The slower strokes allow the therapist to easily find the best depth for you. After the session, you’ll usually feel immediate relief from aches and pains. In addition, you’ll feel much lighter and freer movement. Most clients report not feeling that “beat up” feeling that they associate with deep Swedish massage. This is due to the accuracy of myofascial work…if done well; it’s just the right amount of pressure in just the right places. Focused myofascial release sessions are meant to be layered into a series of sessions that cover the entire body by the end of the series.
How Do You Know When A Therapist Is Going “Too Deep?”
There is a myth that floats around that the more pressure you can take, the better the massage. This is true…up to a point. When you move past that point there is a diminishing set of gains that turn quickly into losses. With too much pressure, you’ll go through a really painful massage experience. And you won’t get anything useful out of the extra pressure. If you allow your therapist to work even deeper than this, you’ll actually be in danger of injury from the massage.
So where is this magic point where you get the most therapy for your buck?
To get the best therapeutic value we invite our clients to give us feedback during massages. We like to give you a scale, from 1 to 10, with the following guidelines:
1 is “barely touching you” – 10 is “totally unbearable and excruciating”
A great deep tissue massage in midtown or the financial district at either of our studios will include a full range of depths up to 8 during the session.
Rarely is there a therapeutic benefit to going above an 8
A 9 or 10 pressure should never be used without a client’s permission and only for a very specific reason. 9’s or 10’s should only last for a few seconds at most.
If your therapist is hitting 9’s and 10’s often please ask them to back off. Extended use of that kind of pressure can cause you injury and has no therapeutic benefit. If they don’t lighten up after making a couple of requests, please ask to end the session. We recommend not returning to work with a therapist that doesn’t respect your boundaries.
The average deep tissue massage strokes should feel like a 5-7 on the scale. These means that it’s slightly uncomfortable but bearable if you open up your breathing. It should feel like that “good pain” that’s getting to exactly where you need things to open up.
When to Let Your Therapist Know They Are Going Too Deep (Or Too Light)
If your therapist is hitting a 9 or 10 on the scale, always let them know. If they have a good therapeutic reason for applying that much pressure they should let you know what their intentions are and allow you to give permission to work at that level before continuing. You don’t have to agree to receive that kind of work if you aren’t up for it in that moment.
One way to know that it’s a 9 or 10 if you aren’t sure is if you are tensing or flinching noticeably under the pressure. If you feel yourself tensing or flinching we recommend letting your therapist know that slightly less pressure would help you receive the work.
A good therapist will usually feel or see you tensing or flinching from the pressure and will know to back off slightly. However, no therapist is perfect. Some clients are great at hiding how they are feeling, even from us.
Conversely, if you wanted a deep tissue massage but the work feels like it’s in the 1-4 range, please let the therapist know that you could take more pressure.
The more feedback you can give to your therapist about how the work feels in your body, the more likely you’ll end up with a fantastic session.
How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Therapist to Get the Best Deep Tissue Massage?
Usually this feedback is best in the beginning of the session so that your therapist can establish a baseline pressure. They should be able to calibrate their pressure to your body. Again, the bulk of a deep tissue massage should feel like it’s in the 5-7 range.
Once you feel confident that your therapist is getting the pressure correct for you, feel free to zone out for the rest of the session unless something feels too light or too deep.
Side note: Great therapists will also include some lighter work at the 1-4 levels on the scale. Usually this is applied during transitions from one part of the body to another to give your nervous system a short break. Gentle rocking, light to medium stretching, and energy work such as Craniosacral therapy can all assist the client in relaxing into the session and opening up to even deeper pressure.
It’s up To You to Get a Fantastic Deep Tissue Massage
Your best bet to getting a great deep tissue massage in New York and around the world is to remember that your relationship to your therapist is just that: a relationship. And like all relationships, communication is key. We all wish that our significant other or our family could read our minds and treat us exactly how we want to be treated. And we all know how that goes, right? We wind up disappointed with the results.
Communicating with your therapist about how the massage feels will help you get a far better deep tissue massage than you would get by keeping quiet the whole time. Even when you are getting a massage on vacation and have no intention of ever creating a longer term relationship with your therapist, taking a few minutes out of the session to give feedback will improve your experience dramatically.
Exercise your right to speak up and get what you want and you’ll always get a great deep tissue massage 🙂
At Bodyworks DW Advanced Massage Therapy, we specialize in medical deep tissue massage for New York City. We include a full range of deep tissue techniques in our sessions, as well as non-deep tissue techniques when appropriate.
If you would like to schedule an amazing deep tissue massage experience, please contact Bodyworks DW Advanced Massage therapy today!