The Significance of Deep Tissue Massage


A common misconception about deep tissue massage is that it’s extremely painful for the client and strenuous for the massage therapist, consisting of rough and forceful strokes by way of knuckles, elbows and fists. These imaginings couldn’t be further from the truth, and although a therapist may use knuckles, elbows and fists, the reason is to offer an alternative method from hands in order to work deeply layered soft tissue, ligaments and tendons.


Deep tissue massage is used to relieve chronic pain, soft tissue injuries, break up adhesions and target trigger points. It can be applied alone or in conjunction with a Swedish massage, as this relaxing technique prepares the body for detailed and specific manipulation. Deep tissue massage should consist of slow controlled movements with oblique pressure of an angle no greater than 45 degrees to avoid impinging delicate blood vessels and nerves against bone, causing injury. Deep tissue massage lengthens and stretches shortened tissue, encourages blood flow and improves tissue quality.

Effective Manipulation

Think about how you would react if prodded or poked violently. Your body would automatically tense up. The same thing happens to muscles when handled too roughly: they contract and tense up, resisting penetration, preventing the therapist from reaching deeper layers. This is the reason why deep tissue massage should be gentle enough to encourage, not force the muscle to relax in order to penetrate the layers of tissue. Even though deep tissue massage may at times feel a little uncomfortable and painful, it shouldn’t be because of extreme force used by the therapist.


Techniques used in deep tissue massage are very specific and concentrated, working on knotted bands of inflamed and scared tissue that restrict movement and block circulation. The objective is to stretch, loosen and soften the tissue, break down adhesions and crystalline deposits between ligaments and improve circulation to bring pain relief to the client. Deep tissue massage is generally used to relieve tension around the neck, shoulders and lower back. It’s also effective in treating sports injuries, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, whiplash and limited mobility.

Pain Scale

Although deep tissue massage should not be intolerably painful, some pain may be felt so it’s very important for the client to communicate her comfort level with the therapist to determine the pain threshold, relay effectiveness and request a reduction or increase of pressure. The Pain Scale offers a good system in conveying levels of tolerance and ranges from 0 to 10, with 10 being extremely painful and 0 not painful at all.

Trigger Points

Much of deep tissue massage is focused on releasing trigger points. These are hyperirritable spots located in and around various parts of banded muscle fiber in the musculoskeletal system and are sometimes mistaken as being tender spots resulting from fibromyalgia. They are called trigger points because they trigger pain when pressed or palpated, at times causing referred pain. Deep tissue massage can be used to release trigger points and alleviate referred pain.

Palpation Techniques

Cross fiber friction is a technique used in deep tissue massage. Short controlled strokes against the grain of the muscle fiber effectively break up scars and adhesions in soft tissue, and crystalline grit in connective tissue. It’s effective in working on ligaments, tendons and shoulders. Longitude friction works alongside the muscle fiber, lengthening and stretching shortened tissue, and the depth of pressure increasing as muscles relax to allow deeper work. This stroke is effective in relieving tension in the neck. Compression is useful in treating trigger points, increasing blood flow to the area. Using finger pressure or a pinching technique on trigger points is very effective and can instantly release tight and painful spots.

Precautions and Aftercare

Contraindications for deep tissue massage are broken and/or infected skin, deep vein thrombosis, osteoporosis, contagious diseases or convalescing from recent illness. You may find some bruising and soreness after deep tissue massage, and placing an ice pack on sore spots can provide relief. Drink plenty of water following treatment to flush out the stirred up toxins.