What is Deep Tissue Massage?

Key Points

☆ To get the most out of your massage, communicate with your massage therapist.
☆ Massage should never, ever hurt. "No pain, no gain" does not apply here!
☆ Deep tissue is focused on solving problems, so a full body massage is not always possible.

Defining Deep Tissue

A type of massage therapy, deep tissue massage involves applying firm pressure and slow strokes to reach deeper layers of muscle and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles) It's used for chronic aches and pain and contracted areas such as a stiff neck and upper back, low back pain, leg muscle tightness, and sore shoulders.

Deep tissue massage is more than just a massage with deep pressure. The goals and techniques are different from a Swedish massage. Remember that massage should never have to hurt to be effective.

What to Expect

While some of the strokes may feel the same as those used in Swedish massage therapy, deep tissue massage isn't a stronger version of a Swedish massage.
Deep tissue massage techniques are used to break up scar tissue and physically break down muscle "knots" or adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) that can disrupt circulation and cause pain, limited range of motion, and inflammation.

At the beginning of a deep tissue massage, lighter pressure is generally applied to warm up and prepare the muscles. Specific techniques are then applied.

Potential benefits

Deep tissue massage usually focuses on a specific problem, such as chronic muscle pain, injury rehabilitation, and the following conditions

  • Upper back or neck pain

  • Low back pain

  • Limited mobility

  • Recovery from injuries (e.g. whiplash, falls)

  • Repetitive strain injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Postural problems

  • Muscle tension in the hamstrings, glutes, IT band, legs, quadriceps, rhomboids, upper back

  • Osteoarthritis pain

  • Sciatica 

  • Piriformis syndrome

  • Tennis elbow

  • Fibromyalgia

Do Deep Tissue Massages Hurt?

You should always tell your massage therapist if you feel pain during the massage. 


Massage should never hurt, and it's not a sign that the massage will be effective. In fact, your body may tense up in response to pain, making it harder for the therapist to reach deeper muscles.


The therapist can adjust the technique or further prep the tissues if the superficial muscles are tense.

Techniques Will Include

Stripping: Deep, gliding pressure along the length of the muscle fibers using the elbow, forearm, knuckles, and thumbs.


Friction: Pressure applied across the grain of a muscle to release adhesions and realign tissue fibers.

Trigger Point Therapy: Specific, deep pressure applied to release knots

Myofascial Release: Light pressure technique which stretches the membranes surrounding and supporting muscles

Massage therapists may use fingertips, knuckles, hands, elbows, forearms, and plastic or wooden massage tools during a deep tissue massage. You may be asked to breathe deeply as the massage therapist works on tense areas.

After the massage, you may feel some stiffness or soreness, but it should subside within a day or so. Be sure to contact your massage therapist if you have concerns or if you feel pain after having a massage.

Drinking water after the massage may help to flush the metabolic waste from the tissues.

Side Effects & Precautions

  • Deep tissue massage may not be safe for people with blood clots (e.g. thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis), due to the risk that they may become dislodged. If you have blood clots or are at risk of forming blood clots, it's essential that you consult your doctor first.

  • If you have blood clots or are at risk of forming blood clots, it's essential that you consult your doctor before getting a deep tissue massage.

  • If you've had recent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or have another medical condition, it's wise to check with your doctor before starting massage therapy. Some people with osteoporosis should avoid the deeper pressure of this type of massage.

  • Massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed or infected skin, skin rashes, unhealed or open wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, fragile bones, or areas of recent fractures. 

  • If you have any condition, it's important to consult your primary care provider first to find out what type they recommend. For example, people with certain conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis, may not be able to tolerate the pain of a deep tissue massage.

  • If you are pregnant, you should check with your doctor if you are considering getting a message. Deep tissue massage (or any strong pressure) should be avoided during pregnancy.

The Deep Tissue Spa

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