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What is a Deep Tissue Massage?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Deep tissue massage is a style of massage that is designed to get into the connective tissue of the body, rather than just the surface muscles. When a massage therapist performs this type of treatment, he or she uses a variety of techniques to deeply penetrate the muscles and fascia, loosening them and releasing tension. Many clients have a more intense experience with a deep tissue massage, but also feel that it is more beneficial, because it addresses deep-seated muscle pains. Like other types of massage, it is most beneficial when undertaken on a regular basis, so that therapist and client can work together to correct long term problems, relax the body, and prevent injury.

Most massage therapists have at least some deep tissue training, and are able to go deeper during a regular massage if necessary, but to get a truly good, deep massage, it is an excellent idea to go to a massage therapist who specializes in this type of treatment. Most spas have several massage therapists who can offer a basic deep tissue massage integrating a number of techniques and styles customized for your body for maximum impact. In addition, a number of specific schools of massage such as myofascial release and Rolfing are specialized massages, and some clients prefer to work with massage therapists who have studied these techniques. Experiment by trying several massage therapists to find the one that is right for you.

One of the defining differences between deep tissue and regular massage is the use of tools. A standard massage usually only involves the hands and lower arms of the therapist. During a deep tissue massage, however, the therapist will use elbows and fingers for deep, penetrating work in the muscle. In addition, penetrating tools such as ceramic, glass, or wooden props may be used as well. A deep tissue massage also tends to be very slow, and the massage therapist will use long, flowing strokes to ease in and out of the muscle. Going in too quickly can cause the muscle to tense up, which is not a desired reaction. Many massage therapists also maintain firm pressure at trouble spots for several minutes to achieve muscle release before moving on to the next area of the body.

When clients go to get a deep tissue massage, they should talk with the therapist about any outstanding issues they would like to see addressed in the massage. Most therapists are happy to concentrate on a single body part for an entire massage to achieve lasting results that the client will truly feel. It is also important to communicate with the massage therapist about pain; a massage should never hurt, and if it is painful, it will be counterproductive. The massage may be intense, but if a client starts to feel pain, he or she should communicate that immediately. At the end of the session, lots of water should be consumed to help the body express the toxins released during the massage.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon269227 — On May 17, 2012

I went into my first DTM expecting discomfort and pain. I didn't think the pain would last two days!

I've been told by colleagues that the the massage was not done correctly. She didn't warm my muscles up first with a light massage but merely put a blanket on me for a few minutes before digging in.

And dig she did! I watched videos where the deep tissue extent of the massage consisted of long deep sweeps using entire forearms. During my massage she ground my muscles with her fingers against my bones, much like one would grind corn on a stone to make masa. I could hear her repeatedly cracking up fascia.

This morning I woke up stiff and drained. My neck, shoulder blades and scalp are extremely sore. I'm sending my husband in for one next week to see if it's just me. He's had DMT post-op from the doctor that fixed his knee.

To add insult to injury, the woman actually did the tupperware/used car sales man sales pressure tactic of asking me when I would like to schedule my next massage. Not "if", but "when". I wasn't rude and even tipped her but there's no way I am going back and paying for that pain again.

By anon192599 — On Jul 01, 2011

Hey anon, glad someone agrees with me instead of saying deep tissue shouldn't hurt. I give mostly deep deep tissue and people either hate it or love it. If you can handle the pain and it does hurt, it is so worth it. I wish I could find more therapists willing to do this. Most won't because it hurts the therapist also. If more therapists would do this it would be easier on all of the ones willing to do it. My hat's off to you anon! Keep up the great work.

By anon153683 — On Feb 17, 2011

I just had a deep tissue massage today (1 and 1/2 hr) and am having a Herxheimer reaction. It feels as if I've been hit by a train. I'm limp as a noodle. I took a detox bath later. He hit some bad spots. But I withstood it, knowing the end result will be positive. Hoping I'll feel better in the A.M.

By anon133598 — On Dec 11, 2010

I give deep tissue massages on a regular basis and worked for a Back Center (spinal decompression clinic). The only way to deliver results is slow deep, penetrating pressure even if the receiver is feeling pain from the muscle being worked.

Most of the time they feel the pain because they are not letting go or are tensing up the muscle more than it already is. Tight muscles do not go away unless heat is applied or deep tissue is given. Only give heat if there is no inflammation which is heat.

If the area is inflamed then do not receive a deep tissue until it is cooled. Inflammation is pain. Ice the area 20 min on and 20 off until the inflamed area goes down.

By anon70097 — On Mar 11, 2010

I have given and received many deep tissue massages. In my experiences they do hurt to receive them, but the benefits are so great that the pain is worth it.

I have received many that were not painful and the end results were not as beneficial. I did six deep tissue massages today and they were very deep. These clients always come back because of the results they received. They say it hurt for a few days but after that they felt great.

A great deep tissue does hurt but is well worth it. It is not for everyone, not everyone can handle the pain, but if you hurt and you tolerate pain well, it is a great way to feel better.

By anon47393 — On Oct 04, 2009

Pain is an indicator to the body that something is wrong and that it needs to be fixed. If you are in pain and receive a massage that causes you more pain, then the whole time you are receiving that massage your body is trying to figure out how to defend itself against it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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