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Deep Tissue Massage: What it is and What it is Not

As a male massage therapist I get a lot of new and established patients ask for deep tissue massage.  “Really get in there” they say.  After a brief chuckle I think ‘hold your horses!’  Let’s talk about what you mean by “deep tissue.” 

Firstly there is no commonly accepted definition of deep tissue massage in the literature. The definition most frequently used is the intention of the therapist.  Riggs defines deep tissue or deep massage as: "The understanding of the layers of the body, and the ability to work with tissue in these layers to relax, lengthen, and release holding patterns in the most effective and energy efficient way possible within the client's parameters of comfort."

Let’s go back to the widely used definition of “the intention of the therapist.”  Depth of pressure is completely up to the therapist with the experience and techniques they are confident will produce the best outcome.  Simply driving an elbow into someone’s lower back with max force is a recipe for disaster for both the therapist and patient.  This is what deep tissue is not. 

Each massage therapist is as unique as their individual patients.  There are therapists that market themselves for “deep tissue,” and do tend to work with very firm sustained pressure in their techniques.

For myself I can work with this type of pressure, but my body also doesn’t like it when I do that for very long.  So I have had to find other techniques to obtain my goals without hurting my body.  I have adapted some of the demanding massage techniques to do what I like to consider “focused bodywork.”  A balance if you will.  What I mean by this and what I explain to patients is I will work in an area of the body with focused intent.  You will know you had a massage the next day, but I don’t want you to hate me. 

Just because a therapist’s depth of pressure may not be what you consider to be deep enough doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.  Their intent is to manipulate your tissue to be effective in treatment, minimize strain on their body, and prevent injuring their patient. 

Eric Gorski, LMP