Massage therapy is a method of manipulating the soft tissues of the body for purposes of normalizing those tissues or creating a relaxation response. Deep tissue massage is a more focused type of therapy that aims to release areas of tension, or “knots,” in the deeper levels of musculature.
In deep tissue massage, a massage therapist uses manual techniques that target specific areas of tension in deep muscle tissues. Specifically, therapists work to release adhesions, which are rigid bands of tissue that can cause pain and chronic tension and restrict motion. Types of strokes that the therapist may use include: kneading; grabbing or rolling the muscles; effleurage or stroking, gliding strokes that use the entire hand surface; percussive movements, such as tapping or cupping; and friction, in which the superficial surfaces are moved over deeper tissue.
Deep tissue massage is generally used to target a specific area of pain, stiffness or reduced function, primarily by breaking down adhesions that often form as a response to injury. They can cause reduced range of motion and chronic pain. Some of the conditions for which deep tissue massage may be helpful include: fibromyalgia, sports or other injuries to muscles such as strains, sprains or pulls; pain from osteoarthritis or other bone conditions; or repetitive motion injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome.
Frequently, patients notice decreased stiffness and increased mobility immediately after a massage. However, the effects of deep tissue massage therapy are cumulative, and it may require several visits to get lasting effects. Soreness can be expected for a few days following a deep tissue massage, but there should not be any pain.
Although deep tissue massage has been proven safe and effective in the vast majority of cases, it is not recommended for everyone. Pregnant women should consult with a doctor prior to a massage, which is contraindicated in the first trimester. In addition, areas of acute injury that have not healed sufficiently, such as breaks or severe strains, should be avoided as well. Any open skin lesions or wounds should not be massaged, and therapists should avoid massaging a patient with is sick with a contagious condition.
What to Expect
Before a massage, the therapist will discuss your needs and medical history to determine where to focus treatment. She will leave the room while you undress to your comfort level, lay on a massage table and cover yourself with a sheet. The therapist will only uncover the area that she is working on. Deep tissue massage will probably feel relaxing, but may also cause mild discomfort or soreness in areas that are very tense. In addition to manipulating tissue with his hands, the therapist may also use her elbows or massage devices such as rollers to target specific areas. Depending on the length of the massage and areas of the body being treated, you may also be asked to turn over from your back to stomach or vice versa. Your therapist will take care to lift your sheet and cover you as you turn. After the massage is over, you will drink water to help facilitate the flow of lymph fluid and to facilitate the movement of waste from your muscle tissues.