Deep tissue massage is a style of massage that is usually practised with oil on skin, with a firmer pressure than relaxation massage. It’s aim is to reach the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue than those underlying the skin.
How does it work?
Our muscles are made of tiny fibres call myofibrils. When our muscles are overused or misused the fibres can adhere together or tear. It’s not really known why this happens but we know that heat and compression helps to break down the adhesions, attracting blow-flow to the area and help heal the tears. This is where deep tissue massage can help.
Deep tissue massage promotes blood flow to the injured area and creates micro-tears in the muscle tissue, to speed up the healing process. Because of this, the area becomes bruised, and this is what causes the pain after the massage. Usually this is only felt when you touch the area that was treated, and normally wont be visible on the skin.
The pain you experience after a massage should only be likened to how you feel after a heavy exercise session, and not a worsening of the pain of your injury that was treated. If your injury feels worse then the massage may have been too firm, or that your condition cannot be remedied with massage.
Who can benefit from deep tissue massage?
Anyone suffering from chronic or acute muscle tension. This can be caused by overuse or misuse, a pre-existing condition or recent injury.
Deep tissue massage can break down old scar tissue left from injury or surgery. It can help alleviate tension built up from conditions like arthritis or inflammation in the joints. It can help manage pain from poor posture or repetitive motion like sitting at a desk all day, using tools or long hours exercising.
What to expect in a massage?
Your massage therapist will start with a kneading style of massage, generating some heat in the tissue to start to warm up the muscle and help you relax. They then might perform firm stripping motions in the direction of the muscle they are treating. A good massage therapist will normally (but not always) be able to feel the change in tissue tension and know where you are tight, where you have trigger points and taught bands.
Unfortunately this can often be uncomfortable. Your massage therapist should always work within your pain threshold and ask you if the pressure is okay. They may even ask you to grade the pain out of ten. Don’t be afraid to speak up if the pressure is too much for you. In this case, pain is not gain. Too much pressure may be doing further damage to the muscle and cause your injury to flare up further.
The massage therapist will just their palms, knuckles, fist, forearm and even their elbow. The speed of the strokes will most likely be slow and even stop and hold at points with more tension until it eases.
Don’t forget to breathe
Be sure to breathe throughout the treatment, this may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people hold their breathe to cope with the pain. If you need to hold your breath, then the pressure is too much. Deep breathing can help you tolerate more pressure and the oxygen will help the muscles release. Your massage therapist may even ask you to take a deep breath ‘into the muscle’ that they are treating.
What to do after a massage?
Your massage therapist should give you after care advise. It is recommended you rest after your massage, drink plenty of water to replenish fluids that have been flushed out during the massage and apply heat to the area you had treated. This will help your muscles recover from the massage and recover from your injury. Another great way to ease muscle soreness after a massage is to have an Epsom salt bath.