What is a Deep Tissue Massage and who is it good for?

When you hear the words “Deep Tissue Massage” do you immediately think deep pressure? For some, deeper pressure during a massage can feel awesome but for some it may conjure up a somewhat unpleasant image of you on a massage table and a therapist fervently digging their elbow into your upper back while you attempt to use breathing exercises to deal with the pain, to say nothing of the intense soreness and beat up feeling that you likely had for subsequent days following the session.  Guess what?  You probably didn’t need to go through all that, and pain just for the sake of pain shouldn’t be what “deep tissue” massage is associated with.  In order to be effective, massage doesn’t have to be “deep tissue.”  In fact, we are slowly finding (not scientifically speaking, but more objectively as we work with clients and hear their feedback) that a more integrative style of “deep tissue” is not only a more relaxing experience for the client, but some clients are even reporting that when the perfect amount of pressure is given (the hurt so good kind, that never surpasses a 7-8 on the pain threshold scale) their bodies tend to hold the work for longer.

Depending on who you ask, “deep tissue” can mean all sort of things and has somehow managed to become associated with deep pressure, let me emphasize that the two are not the same. As a massage therapist I associate deep tissue with the deep tissue protocols I was taught during my certification.  The essence of deep tissue therapy was to treat muscle groups from the most superficial layers to the most deep layers (hence the name deep tissue), taking care to begin with the origin and insertion of the muscles (attachment sites) and then moving to the muscle bellies, the amount of pressure had nothing to do with the protocol itself.   Pressure was an additional consideration and separate from the massage type. Pressure was taught as something that could be customized and applied during any massage type (Swedish, Deep Tissue, Neuro Muscular, Thai, Reflexotherapy, etc) and was always to be modified based on the feedback and preferences of the client.  The lesson? If your massage therapist thinks the only way to create therapeutic change is by beating you up, it might be time to consider other options.  Second lesson? If YOU think the only way to feel better is to have your massage therapist beat you up it might also be time to consider other options.

Each time the body experiences stress or pain, the sympathetic nervous system is alerted, and in cases of chronic or sustained pain the body might even be triggered into fight or flight mode. Bodywork is no exception to this rule, if you experience 60 minutes of heavy pressure massage that pushes you beyond your threshold of pain or comfort you have likely experienced a fight or flight cycle on some level.  Symptoms of fight or flight include:

  • Increase heart and lung respiration rates
  • Sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Flushed skin/face
  • Dry mouth
  • Temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears
  • Slowed digestion
  • Those with PTSD may experience additional sensory symptoms including flashbacks, and other somatic responses.

Common massage myth: The only way for massage to be effective is if it’s deep tissue. If there wasn’t pain than my massage therapist must not be doing anything therapeutic. False. This couldn’t be any further from the truth, you don’t need to experience pain during your massage in order for it to be therapeutic.  Common massage myth #2: Relaxation/Swedish massage isn’t therapeutic and won’t create any lasting change in my body, it will just make me fall asleep. False. Although you might fall asleep during a “relaxation massage”, that doesn’t mean that something therapeutic didn’t happen; quite the opposite in fact, you likely were so relaxed that your body shifted gears and went into parasympathetic mode or “rest and digest”.  What a gift this can be for those suffering from chronic stress (sadly, most of our clients fall into the chronic stress category), fibromyalgia, chronic pain, PTSD, muscle injuries, or autoimmune disorders.  Sixty minutes of genuine rest and relaxation is beyond just therapeutic- it might even be the best part of the week for some folks.

At Amara, we approach massage styles a little differently, with the hopes of making it as easy to understand as possible.  Our style breakdown is as follows:

  • Relaxation Massage: Swedish full body massage.
  • Deep Tissue Massage: Something close to a full body session, with some focus on trouble spots, pressure can be customized.
  • Treatment Massage: A focus only session (not full body), only spending time on your trouble spots, pressure can be customized.
  • Not sure which category you fall under? Take our QUIZ

Our style breakdown allows you the freedom to choose how much pressure you want, areas you want to focus on and types of massage modalitites you might want integrated (Thai, NMT, Orthopedic, Pre-natal, etc).  So, whether you want 60 minutes of rest, or 60 minutes of focused work, we have you covered! Keep in mind too, that some days your body may want more of a restorative/restful session (an excellent choice during times of high stress), and during other times of relatively lower stress it might be appropriate to do more focused/treatment oriented work.  We hope this post will help you better decide which style of massage is best for you moving forward! Listen to your body and make the choice that feels right, find what feels good for you and let us worry about the rest. As always, we welcome your feedback and encourage our readers to reach out with any massage or blog related questions. BE WELL!



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Amara Massage Therapy & Wellness offers MANY different massage styles. Take the quiz so you can understand which of our treatments might best fit your situation and preferences.

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