Deep tissue massage is one of the most confusing terms in the massage profession. It means different things to different people. It has been used by many to mean deep pressure or to mean working on the deeper structures of the body. Myofacial release work and Neuromuscular therapy has been labeled deep tissue as well as Rolfing and Rolfing offshoots. I have seen deep tissue be associated with and also called sports massage. I have seen people use oils/lotions and some not use anything at all between the giving hands and receiving skin.
The term has no clearly defined meaning, leaving it up the the therapist and client to determine what it is for them, what meaning it has for the client/therapist and how it will be given and received. You can read more about various definitions of deep tissue massage on my other site www.massageschoolnotes.com
Getting the pressure just right though for your clients is one of the main concerns in building a massage business. The top complaint about massage therapists and one of the top reasons why people don’t come back is that the amount of pressure given during the massage was not what the client wanted. Getting clients to rebook and to refer their friends and family members to you depends on getting the pressure just right.
Clarifying What Deep Tissue Means to You and explaining it to your client.
The whole goal of massage is getting the pressure just right. Just right for the client to get the results that they want. They want a specific feeling: to feel better, to feel touch, to have less pain and more movement. When you get the pressure just right, you will have a lifelong client. Getting the pressure just right with every client is a process of honing your communication skills to make sure you are on the same page.
Defining pressure with your client. Pressure is perceived differently by different people. The same amount of pressure on one part of the body will feel different when applied to other parts of the body. What is perceived as light touch to you can also feel like intense pain to someone.
- Ask about the amount of pressure people like before their session and ask what types of massage they have had previously. A person who has had Rolfing sessions or Shiatsu or other deep forms of massage that were painful, may have a different vocabulary about pressure.
- When you are working on them ask them specifically if the pressure is OK by asking if they want more or less pressure applied. Just asking “Is the pressure OK” is not specific enough.
- Remember that people will often not tell the truth because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or think that you are the expert and should know what is best for them. (Transference)
Defining pain with your client. There are different perceptions of pain and different ways to describe pain. There is something called good pain—that feeling you get when pressure is applied to a muscle or area and it just feels good yet it could almost be considered painful—but it feels so good. Pain like that can also feel good in the moment but it can also leave a person feeling pain that evening or the next day and leave people with bruising and feeling exhausted the next day.
As we come to understand more about pain and the fact that pain is more about the nervous system than the muscles. Muscular relaxation is a result of the nervous system changes as a result of touch.
There is also pain that is damaging to the body. Where the line is between good pain and damaging pain is really unknown and different for each person…so how do we get the pressure just right?
- Ask them specifically how the pressure feels.
- Tell them to let you know if you should stop.
- Make sure you do stop, no matter if you think you should or not.
- Remember that they might think that you should be able to read their minds and know what is best for them, because they see you as the expert. (Transference)
Is bruising normal?
Bruising can happen after even a light touch massage. It depends on the person’s health and situation.
People who need really deep (pressure) tissue massage.
There are some people out there with areas on their body that are so tight that they do not feel pain or pressure in the same way. Oftentimes when you work with them applying really deep pressure, the tissue will start to awaken and they will feel more.
People often like feeling really deep tissue massage even if it is painful.
Some teachers and types of massage actually teach that the pain is part of the session and learning experience. Zentherapy- an offshoot of Rolfing, Shiatsu, and other types of massage are like that.
Every massage therapist should be skilled in giving deep tissue massage. If you find it to difficult to give deep tissue massage, you most likely were not taught correctly. Deep tissue is NOT about using your strength. It is about using your body weight in applying pressure along with getting the client into their body more to receive the pressure. You have to learn to sense when someone is tightening up more in response to your pressure. Causing more tension is not the goal. Keep monitoring the pressure using the Goldilocks Principle: not too long, not too short, not too superficial, not too deep—just right.
Use the Massage Therapy Pressure Scale from Medical Conditions and Massage Therapy: A Decision Tree Approach by Tracy Walton
Medial Conditions and Massage Therapy: A decision Tree Approach.
Includes the Massage Therapy Pressure Scale to help you get the pressure juussst right.