When a client thinks about massage therapy, they probably think of soothing, gentle touches to work away stress or anxiety. But some types of massages are a bit more intensive.
The term “deep tissue” is common in the massage industry—for good reason. Deep tissue massages are designed to focus on the deeper layers of muscle tissue and fascia, the sheet of protective tissue that surrounds muscles, joints, and organs. By reaching these harder to reach tissue and muscles through deeper, harder pressure, this type of therapy can be effective for clients suffering from certain mobility or chronic pain conditions.
This guide will walk you through the requirements for deep tissue therapy—what your clients should expect, the benefits of deep tissue massage, and how to know when you should offer the technique.
What the Patient Should Expect from Deep Tissue Massage
Before you begin deep massage therapy, it’s important that your client knows exactly what the massage will entail—and what they should expect.
First, a deep tissue massage may feel like a typical massage. The massage therapist will prepare the muscles by applying only gentle pressure to the areas that need attention.
Then, the therapist will begin to use specific techniques. Common strokes used in deep tissue massages are friction and stripping. Friction means applying pressure across the grain of the muscle, while stripping involves applying deep pressure along the length of the muscle with an elbow, knuckles, or thumbs.
Be open with your client and lay this out before you start. Open communication is the first step towards successfully applying deep tissue massages.
Benefits of Deep Tissue Therapy
In many cases, deep tissue massages are applied to a specific problem, including chronic muscle pain, mobility issues, or injuries. It’s known to be useful for relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and plantar fasciitis—usually giving clients a wider range of movement after treatment.
For those suffering from back pain, users describe deep tissue therapy as just as effective as prescription medications for relieving pain.
Deep tissue massages are also known to lower blood pressure and improve the function of the heart and lungs. The release of endorphins and oxytocin during the massage can relieve stress, minimize tension headaches, and improve overall emotional health.
Deep tissue massages are even more effective than typical massages because of the level of pressure. This technique can reach scars that occur deeper in the body, which damage muscles, ligaments, or tendons.
Due to the intensity of this technique, some clients may experience discomfort during the appointment, especially when pressure is being applied to an area that causes pain. However, this discomfort should never cross over into serious pain or injury.
The client may also experience soreness, stiffness, and even light bruising after a deep tissue massage. These symptoms are normal and should subside in 24 to 48 hours.
Clients should also be drinking plenty of water after a deep tissue massage—this can help clear the lactic acid that builds in the body’s tissue, easing some of the soreness.
When to Offer Deep Tissue Massages
While there are many benefits to deep tissue massages, it’s not right for everyone. Let’s take a look at how you can know when a client needs a deep tissue massage—and when they don’t.
1. Listen to the Client
Before you decide whether a deep tissue massage would be right for the client, have a conversation with them.
Are they asking for more pressure? Why do they want this? Is there pain, tightness, or discomfort they want to relieve?
In many cases, the pain or discomfort they want to relieve can be addressed through other means. In other cases, the client may have been led to believe that hard or painful pressure is necessary for massage therapy.
By understanding the patient’s goal for the session—and the reasoning behind these goals—you can better help them achieve it, whether or not this includes deep tissue massage.
2. Educating the Client
During this conversation, it’s important that you have a clear discussion with the client about how deep tissue massage works.
Explain the benefits of deep tissue therapy, the side effects, and what exactly a deep tissue massage will entail. Be sure to counter any misconceptions that the client may have. Some may have been led to believe by doctors, chiropractors, and other massage therapists that their trigger points need to be “destroyed” or broken up through intense pressure.
By ensuring the client is fully educated on deep tissue massage, you can ensure that they are better able to participate in the conversation—and decide whether the technique is right for them or not.
3. Asking the Client the Right Questions
The best way to determine whether or not deep tissue massage is right for the client is to ask them the right questions. Determining what they’re seeking relief for—and most importantly, what methods of relief they’ve sought already—can help aid your conversation. Here are some questions you should make sure to ask:
- Have you been to a massage therapist before?
- Are you in pain? Where does it hurt and how does it hurt?
- How does your pain affect your day to day life?
- Do you have any other conditions?
- Are you taking any other medications?
- What other forms of relief have you tried (ex: other types of massage therapy, medications, etc.)?
- What do you know about the process of massage therapy?
4. Identifying Those Who Could Benefit From the Treatment
Deep tissue massage is most beneficial for those who suffer from a particular pain problem. Here are some conditions which might benefit from deep tissue massage:
- Chronic muscle pain
- Recovering injury
- Limited mobility
- Lower back pain
- Upper back pain
- Neck pain
- Repetitive strain injury (ex: carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Difficulty holding posture
- Severe muscle tension
- Osteoarthritis pain
- Fibromyalgia pain
- Piriformis syndrome
- Tennis elbow
This isn’t an all-inclusive list—other clients may also benefit from the pressure of deep tissue therapy. However, this is a good place to start.
Above all, those who can benefit the most from deep tissue therapy are those who are experiencing severe and targeted pain or tension. In most cases, this is pain that they have tried to resolve through other forms of massage therapy, but haven’t found the relief they need.
5. Identifying Those Who Should Avoid the Treatment
Due to the intensity and pressure of this treatment, it’s not right for all clients.
Clients who have blood clots or are taking blood-thinning medication should avoid deep tissue massages, as the strokes might cause clots to become dislodged. If a client suffering from clots wants a deep tissue massage, advise them to consult with their doctor before pursuing this treatment method.
Those who have recently recovered from recent surgery or chemotherapy should also consult with a doctor. While deep tissue massages can benefit those suffering from osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, clients with these conditions could still consult a doctor before undergoing this treatment.
In addition, you should avoid using this high-pressure technique directly on an area with rashes, healing wounds, tumors, hernias, and more.
Expecting mothers should also avoid deep tissue massages. Instead, you should direct them towards massages that are appropriate for pregnancy.
6. Determining the Frequency of Sessions
The frequency of deep tissue therapy sessions will depend on the client and their personal needs.
For patients with a lot of pain or tension in their bodies, sessions should be closer together. Over time, sessions can be spaced further apart until they can be scheduled monthly.
For example, if a patient is dealing with a specific pain complaint, weekly visits for the first three or four weeks might be best. This allows the body to adjust to the treatment of the tissue and bones. It may take a few sessions before the client begins to feel the desired effect.
Then, the client can move to treatment every two or three weeks. Finally, the client can move to every three to six weeks as a form of maintenance, depending on their levels of physical or emotional stress.
Guide to Deep Tissue Massages
When it all comes down to it, you should treat deep tissue massage the same way you would any session. It’s all about making the client feel safe, relaxed, and secure.
For those seeking deep tissue therapy, they’re entrusting their pain, tension, and discomfort to your hands. By opening up communication about the benefits and drawbacks of deep tissue massages, you can make sure they get the most out of their experience—and keep coming back to you for more.
Looking for more resources to support your career as a massage therapist? Take a look at some of our articles to learn more about treatment methods, tools of the trade, and tips to continue providing consistently high-quality services.