Many people ask for a deep tissue massage when they are booking an appointment because they have heard it is the only way to find some relief from muscular pain. Some may have experienced a lighter touch massage which was relaxing, yet didn't really get to the heart of their problem. Others shy away from deep tissue because, although they have heard it is effective, they don't want to suffer for days afterward- never mind during the massage! As you will see here, it is possible to receive deep tissue work while staying within the boundaries of your personal tolerance to pressure.
What Is It?
Essentially, deep tissue work is specific, firm pressure applied with fingers, thumbs or elbows/forearms in order to affect the deeper muscles of the body. It is very useful for addressing muscular tension, adhesions, and scar tissue, all of which can limit range of motion. People with chronic or occasional back, neck and shoulder pain can benefit from this work. We like to think of it as pressing the "reset" button for your body. There are several misconceptions out there about deep tissue massage, even among the therapists who practice it! The most common one is that deep tissue simply means MORE pressure and must hurt in order to work. While it is true that deeper work requires a firm touch and may cause some discomfort at times, it is not the only part of the equation.
In order to get to the deeper layers, the top layer of muscles need to be softened first so that the therapist can "sink" down into the tissue. To achieve this, there is a need for the client to be in a relaxed state, so as to cut down on muscles going on the defensive and guarding. Usually some Swedish massage techniques can be used to "warm up" the tissue and prepare it for the deeper work to follow. It is important to take an active role in paying attention to your bodies reaction to the work. If you feel like you are tensing other areas or needing to hold your breath during a stroke, chances are good that the pressure being used is a little too much to handle at the moment. This can change from day to day,so just because you could "handle it" during your last session doesn't mean you should suffer through too much pressure at any subsequent visit.
Sometimes you may feel a bit sore after a deep tissue massage, particularly following your first session. This can be mild to moderate and usually feels like the aftermath of a strenuous workout.Many times, the area or muscles being worked on have not been moving well for awhile, and just like adding a new exercise, this can cause some soreness in the area. If the soreness lasts more than one day, it is probable that too much pressure was used. Be sure to let your therapist know at your next appointment.
Communication is Key!!
Pardon the over-used phrase, but communication really is the best way to ensure that you and your massage therapist are on the same page. In order to get the benefits of deep tissue, we need to use enough pressure to facilitate a change in the tissue, yet not so much that it causes other body parts to tense up. We like to use a number system with our clients. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is just feeling the therapist's touch, to a 10 where you kind of want to jump off the table and fight back, we like to keep you around a 6 or 7. This way, we are using enough pressure to be effective without the ugly side effect of your muscles tensing up more against the pressure or causing excessive soreness. Of course, if your pain level is maxing out at a 3 or 4, that is perfectly fine.With time, you may find that you are able to handle a bit more, and eventually find greater relief from the deep tissue work. So while we will not talk your ear off during the massage (pet peeve!) we will check in once or twice to make sure that the pressure we are using is agreeable to you and ask for where you are on the number scale. We will watch for signs of too much pressure such as holding your breath or tensing other areas, but we can't always tell. Conversely, if you feel you need more pressure to get to that hurt-so-good place, let us know that too.
Bottom line is: never be afraid to speak up. Your therapist should always be willing to adjust what he or she is doing in order to suit your needs at that moment in time.
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