Massage has been used for thousands of years as a way of relaxing muscles and increasing wellbeing. Massage comes in many different ‘flavors’ from gentle relaxation to more vigorous Swedish massage. And then there is deep tissue massage.
If you’ve ever had a sports injury or a muscle sprain, you may have had deep tissue massage as part of your treatment program. It’s a standard part of physiotherapy and other health supports. But did you know that deep tissue massage has a wide range of health benefits that go far beyond treating injuries?
What is Deep Tissue Massage?
Deep tissue massage does what it says on the tin. Unlike the lighter-touch styles of massage, deep tissue massage goes deep into the layers of muscle and fascia to loosen stiffness, free up scar tissue, and restore normal muscle function.
The therapist uses a firm, sometimes even uncomfortable pressure with their hands, digging deep with palms, thumbs, and fingers. Occasionally your masseur might use their forearms, elbows or knees to really work into the deepest tissues of your body to release tension and restore natural blood and lymph flows. They might also use a heating pad or cold pack to help tight muscles relax.
A deep tissue massage comprises firm pressure and slow, even strokes to loosen stiff aching muscles. Usually, a deep tissue massage focuses on the big muscle groups of your body and their associated joints and tendons. You’ve probably noticed that your shoulders, neck, lower back, and hips tend to cramp up during stressful periods. A deep tissue massage can release that tension and help to reduce pain and increase mobility.
A deep tissue massage treatment will last for up to an hour. Be sure to tell the therapist if the pressure is too uncomfortable as they work with your body to release tension.
If you can’t find a personal massage therapist in your area, you can pick up this amazing massage device (we own one and love it, more details at the end of this post).
How is It Different from Other Types of Massage?
Other types of massage often focus on relaxation and take a whole-body approach rather than focusing on particular areas. Although Swedish massage uses similar long strokes, it uses a lighter, gentler massage technique that follows a set pattern and is not designed to focus on treating problem areas.
Relaxation and lymphatic massage take different approaches that are less intense and more focused on releasing tension.
How Does Deep Tissue Massage Work?
Deep tissue massage works by going right to the deepest sources of your muscular tension and pain. The goal of deep tissue massage is to release constriction deep in the body’s structures, to loosen scar tissue and improve impeded blood and oxygen flow that would lead to long term inflammation, pain and stiffness if left untreated.
Because the therapist is working on releasing long-held pain and inflammation, deep tissue massage can sometimes be quite uncomfortable. You may feel quite sore afterward as your cramped-up muscles lengthen and relax, and finally release their pent-up toxins.
What is Deep Tissue Massage Good For?
Therapists recommend deep tissue massage for a range of chronic muscular-skeletal conditions, including:
- Chronic back pain
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Plantar fasciitis
- Repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome
- Severe and/or frequent headaches
There is a growing body of evidence that deep tissue massage can help to reduce pain, increase mobility, and speed up recovery. A study undertaken in 2014 found that deep tissue massage had a similar effect to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen for patients with chronic back pain.
Of increasing interest is the evidence for other health benefits that may not seem as obvious. Deep tissue massage has a profound effect on relieving the symptoms of chronic stress. It has been shown to lower the levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, and increase the flow of the relaxation hormone, oxytocin.
Deep tissue massage can help to reduce depression and anxiety, relieve high blood pressure, and lower your heart rate.
Athletes use deep tissue massage to improve performance and shorten injury recovery time. A deep tissue massage can help the body clear lactic acid, which builds up in muscles after sustained activity and stress. Researchers have also found that massage provides a psychological boost for athletes resulting in improved confidence and focus.
Gentle forms of deep tissue massage can also be used in pregnancy to relieve leg and back pain and to reduce pre- and post-partum depression and anxiety. There are even specialists who provide these services.
Are There Any Side Effects?
You may experience some discomfort after a deep tissue massage as the therapist has worked with long-term muscle dysfunction and stiffness—kind of a “hurt so good” type of experience. This should pass relatively quickly.
Your therapist will advise you to drink plenty of water after a treatment to help flush away released toxins. A hot bath with magnesium salts will also help your body to maximize the benefits of your massage.
Is Deep Tissue Massage Safe?
Deep tissue massage is a powerful modality. It is not suitable for people who have been diagnosed with blood clots, are taking blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder. It is also not a suitable treatment for people with osteoporosis or who are being treated for cancer.
If you have had recent surgery, a skin infection or wound, wait until it has healed before having a deep tissue massage. Even if you have a cold or flu virus, it’s better to wait for your treatment rather than to release more toxins into your body when it’s trying to fight infection.
Deep tissue massage is a potent health treatment. It can be beneficial to resolve long-term muscular-skeletal conditions and relieve chronic pain. It is a non-invasive and safe way to maximize your body’s performance and help you stay fit and mobile longer.
If you don’t have the time or resources to go get a massage at a spa, you can bring the spa to you! We recently invested in the Theragun, which is a device that allows you to do deep tissue massage at home. My husband uses it on the knots in my back and it is AMAZING! He also uses it on his muscles after a heavy lift workout and it speeds up recovery time. If you want to give this a try you can find the Theragun HERE.
Here is a picture of what our Theragun looks like, it is one of the best purchases we have made for our health! Plus, we save a lot by no longer paying for professional massages!
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