When you think of a “deep tissue massage” you’re typically led to believe that this is going to be an inherently painful experience. This misconception is a widely believed notion. Not only should deep tissue massage NOT be painful, I’m going to tell you that if it’s painful it’s not actually as deep tissue as you want it to be.
As a simple reiteration of the term “deep tissue massage”, we understand that it refers to the act of accessing and manipulating structures that are deeper than the more superficial muscles/tissue. You might think it unnecessary to make such a remark here, but it is essential to be clear on this point.
Why Is It Not Deep Tissue If It Hurts?
Good question! I’m glad you asked.
When we experience pain, it is very difficult to relax. If we experience pain in a treatment our muscles contract. Contracting muscle essentially creates a barrier that pushes the prying hands of your therapist away. In generating pain signals, our deeper tissues become largely inaccessible to meaningful manipulation.
If your hope is to be “deeply moved” (see what I did there?) by your massage treatment, painful massages are only going to get you “superficially moved”.
So How SHOULD Deep Tissue Feel?
Without pain we can relax more completely. Deeper layers of tissue will be much more accessible to your therapist when you are relaxed.
Just because it shouldn’t hurt, doesn’t mean it cannot be intense. The ideal level of intensity for each person will be different, but one universal measure of appropriate sensation is breathing. If your breathing is deep, the pressure is good. When your breathing is short or held, it is too much.
With slower movements our bodies release even more “space” for therapists to move into. Besides the fact that a gradual approach allows the manipulation of much deeper structures, it’s also much easier for your therapist to do.
Pausing with pressure on a particularly tough “knot” can be more advantageous than moving over it constantly. With less movement, sinking into the deeper tissues becomes possible without eliciting a pain-response. Additionally, evidence suggests that sinking pressure techniques could be more effective at reducing pain than gliding techniques (reference).
Besides the fact that painful massage can actually cause serious damage, it doesn’t equate to a deep tissue massage. Getting to the deeper structures of the body takes time, finesse and trust. Not just trust of the person, but the trust of your tissues. The best trust builders for your tissues are the above 5 tips.