This week’s FAQ Friday turned into FAQ Saturday due to a very busy schedule yesterday. This week’s question: Is deep tissue more effective than other types of massage, and what do you suggest for clients who love deep pressure?
The quick answer: nope, deep tissue is not more effective than other types of massage. In the past we believed that pain in the body was usually an “issue in the tissues” and by massaging the body we were releasing tension and adhesions and helping to correct these “issues in the tissues.” We now understand that massage appears to be beneficial because it can help sooth the nervous system, sending signals to the brain saying, “hey, we’re safe, so you can dial down those feelings of pain or tension.” The brain then sends the signal back to the body, decreasing those negative feelings of pain or tension. It’s the brain that creates these sensations (pain is an OUTPUT from the brain), and it’s the brain that can decrease these sensations. It really isn’t an “issue in the tissues” so there no need to smash and bash the muscles trying to relax them by creating pain.
It is suspected that massage that is too deep may contribute to central sensitization, which is essentially a hypersensitivity to pain. If the body views deep massage as pain, for example, it can cause there to be more pain with less provocation. Pain can create changes to the central nervous system, which can make a person more sensitive and can create more pain. A deeper massage could create temporary relief of your pain but also create sensitization causing more pain and issues in the long term.
If you enjoy pressure that “hurts so good,” and find relief with this type of pressure, I suggest trying Ashiatsu. With Ashiatsu, I use my feet to apply broad pressure. The pressure can be anywhere from very light to very deep, but the nice thing is that by using feet, the pressure isn’t “pointy” like using an elbow or fingertips.
Many of my long term clients have made the switch from deep pressure to pressure that is lighter and more soothing to their nervous system. They’ve found that this switch has allowed them to have better results with a longer duration of relief. I often throw in a type of bodywork called Dermoneuromodulating (or DNM for short). This type of work consists of slow, gentle stretches to the skin which the body tends to find very therapeutic and relaxing. I also suggest trying a Hot Stone Spot Treatment where I massage one or two trouble areas with heated stones. The body seems to enjoy the novel sensory experience of the heat, and it does feel incredible!
One very important point to mention - regardless of the type of massage you receive or the depth of that massage, if there is ever any discomfort or pain PLEASE don’t be afraid to speak up and let your massage therapist know. I promise that it won’t hurt my feelings, and it’s important that you do not leave your massage feeling worse than when you came in.
Melissa's a licensed massage therapist located in Wausau, WI.