The Deep Tissue Conspiracy

What exactly is deep tissue? When I was in Massage school, someone would come in and want “deep tissue”. The individual overseeing us would tell us, just press harder. Hmmm….

After taking my first continuing education class I found many effective ways to solve problems without hurting myself or my client by “pressing harder”. As I became more and more enlightened, I also found that there were a lot of old ideas out there about what “deep tissue” should look like. Some involved words like no pain no gain, (to a point can be true but these were extreme things I was finding) tearing, stripping, ripping, the deeper the better, goodness! Can we say possible tissue damage? Plus why do we want to use these types of words in connection with our body? why do we want to tear and rip our body?

I then learned what really happens when you do heavy body building. The muscle is actually torn creating scar tissue build up which makes the muscle bigger. when you stop doing extreme things the muscle looses the toning. Then I wondered, what happens to the scar tissue, is is possible there could be more scar tissue than muscle in extreme cases? Food for thought. I know I could be raising some from  questions body builders, and I’m not saying there isn’t value in building your body, but could there be something else happening when it goes too far?

Personally, I work on people with scar tissue all the time, Cannot say I have ever seen it be of benefit after the initial reason for it being created in the first place.  Here’s what happens; when you have an injury blood and tissue rush to the area to create like a built in cast, which is great and it does wonderful to support the injured area while healing happens. But, it doesn’t actually dissolve by itself and that’s when you find your massage therapist to help get rid of the problem because then it’s causing other issues like adhesions, loss of range of motion, even can cause pinching of nerves, fascia restriction, Lymphatic restriction…

In addition to these things I had learned, I found that everyone had a different view of deep tissue and for some I seriously could not go deep enough. I also began noticing that while my massages were effective, I was wearing out and became worried about how long I would be able to effectively treat clients. I began seeing that many Massage therapists only had a life-span of about 7 years. If they were massaging longer it was because they weren’t doing this thing called deep tissue or they were not being effective as a therapist, or they were maybe doing 2-3 massages a week.  It was then, I made the decision, I took deep tissue off my menu.

By the time I made the decision to remove deep tissue I had learned a few methods that were much more effective and took much less out of my personal physical strength and didn’t cause my clients such stress on their bodies as well. I decided it was better to work with the body instead of against it and the results were incredible.

I began incorporating techniques such as structural alignment therapy, Craniosacral, Medical massage, lymph drainage, hot stones, among others that I began developing myself, to create the Custom Massage. I found that muscles that don’t release well had a few other things going on. It could be an energetic block, or a lymphatic block, perhaps a muscle needed unwinding. So some of my clients began noticing that they didn’t have to brace so much for the massage and could relax which in turn relaxed the muscles, tendons, and fascia. There was still some discomfort in the process, but the overall result was much more effective.

Instead of ripping, tearing, and stripping the muscles, tendons and fascia, I learned that “deep” is all relative, Craniosacral is a very very light modality but it goes very deep. Cupping, uses negative pressure but the effects for very deep, Lymphatic drainage, also a light pressure, addresses the superficial lymphatic system but affects muscles tendons and fascia.

I’m not saying that a massage won’t be without discomfort when done effectively, but like I tell my clients, there’s a difference between a good pain and an ouch. If you want a fu fu definitely ask for that but for everything else, try on an effective massage versus just “deep”

What is Medical Massage?

Those who don’t know, don’t know what they don’t know. As a Massage Therapist, I can tell you, I don’t know everything. I know about a lot of modalities, but there are some that I haven’t even heard of.  There are Massage Therapists who heard the term Medical Massage and they think to themselves, well, all massage is medical in nature.

This is true to a point, but it isn’t all the way true.  It’s true that there is power in touch and intention. It’s true that the benefits of standard massage include, increased circulation, decreased stress, people tend to sleep better, there’s a reduction in anxiety, helps with headaches, fibromyalgia, and much more! With this small list alone you can see where the idea that all massage is medical comes from. Then there’s the therapist who says well, medical massage is targeted therapy. In a sense this is true as well. Then we have to ask, what specific techniques are you using for your targeted treatment? Are you using a series of specific techniques designed for the area you are focusing on? More often than not these particular therapists are just using the standard 5 swedish strokes and hoping it releases the problem area temporarily.

It is human nature to be skeptic of those things we haven’t done the research or gotten the training to do. I had a  young man tell me to stay away from wordpress. since then he went on to learn more about wordpress and now loves it and suggests I use it also. We tend to not just shy away from things we don’t understand, but we tend to become antagonistic towards them. One might even say Judgemental.

Some may even say, well deep tissue does the same thing. To this I would say more information is needed for that assumption.

Deep tissue massage is very similar to swedish in nature except that there is more focus on a particular area. Some of my clients have told me that they have had deep tissue so aggressive that they wondered if the therapist would rub a hole into their tissue. 😉 of course nothing like that would really happen it may feel like at times though.

Deep Tissue is geared towards stripping the muscle,  and fascia to break up adhesions, and when you break up adhesions you do regain better range of motion. I have to wonder, however, when you strip a muscle such as they do in bodybuilding it creates more scar tissue, so it stands to reason to me that while you may be breaking up adhesions are there more being created? Some may agree, some may not, and some of it also depends on the needs of the client how aggressive the treatment needs to be.

So, what really is Medical Massage? I know I didn’t invest a lot of time and money, just so I could make glamorous claims in my profession and still only do what a new massage graduate does.  Medical Massage has a few different purposes. the first is that we work with a doctor’s prescription in certain cases such as a car accidents, slip and fall, physical therapy and in some states where Massage Therapists can bill regular health insurance, care associated with their doctor or physical therapy visits.

Medical Massage involves specialized techniques to effect rehabilitation to the injured or problem site. These techniques are critical to decreasing pain and dysfunction. my mentor always says you have to prepare the structure for function which is why the massage integration is so crucial.

The outcome of the work we do as Medical Massage Therapists is really and truly outcome based rehabilitation therapy. No it won’t take only one session, but we formulate a series of treatments based on the problem area and work to restore range of motion, stability, and function of the problem area associated with the condition as prescribed by a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist.

Unlike the standard massage we work very closely with other health professionals to create the right balance of care to get the patient functioning at an optimum level according to their abilities.

All in all to me Medical Massage isn’t deep tissue although it goes deep, It isn’t a fu fu massage, although it can be very relaxing, it resonates with sports massage in that there is stretching that can occur. For me and my practice it is the effective massage. There may be some discomfort, but more often than not it is very relaxing. Unlike the light swedish, there may be some client participation required such as resisting against applied pressure in a stretch.

As Medical Massage Therapists we take what we do very seriously and we see amazing results from our clients. We take invest a significant amount of money and many additional hours and years of education beyond Massage school to learn these specialized techniques to be able to give the most effective treatment for our clientele.

How often should I get a massage?

This is a question many people ask me and the answer sometimes isn’t so simple. There could be physical issues that have been ongoing for a while that need to be addressed more often. There could also be limits on time for the client that would be a concern for moving forward.

Recently I told a client that I would rather work 20 min on a client on a weekly basis than 1 hour every 6 months. The reason? well, first off, 20 min of work isn’t much and is usually done fully clothed so the time constraint is easier for the client. This allotted time however is just enough to work out some of the localized kinks in the body. It’s also great to rejuvenate and refresh the body for another week. A 20 min massage is not, however, going to address ongoing problems, or extra tightness that comes up. This is when you really need to look at what is going to be reasonable for you to do. A 90  min massage followed by weekly 20 min massages could be a solution cycling with a once a month 90 min massage.

Ideally, when a client begins to come in I would like to see them once a week for 3 weeks. Unless it’s a recent injury situation like a car accident, then I would like to see them twice a week for 3 weeks, then backing off to once a week depending on how well they are recovering and the muscles are holding.

For others it’s best to start out once a week for 3 weeks. Then the therapist has an opportunity to make headway on the points of concern. By letting it go and coming back in even after a month has gone by the muscles have already begun to go back to their normal routine of tightness and pain.

After the initial 3 weeks, make a plan that fits your budget and your schedule. Ideally every 2 to 3 weeks is perfect to maintain muscle balance and also get and stay on top of any problems that arise during that time. Once the problems start to surface and too much time has gone by, realize that the therapist is now starting over. I always recommend that clients don’t go more than a month without a massage for this very reason.

Once a month may be great if you have a pretty low key lifestyle, but if you are out there being very active and pushing those muscles, you may want to consider visiting your massage therapist a bit more often. For those clients who are older we often see issues creep up more often as well.

One thing to note: Massage therapy is not going to undo your workout, but save your workout for after your massage. A pre-workout massage can be a very wise thing to do as it can relieve pressure in the muscles and even act as a preventative for injury.

Another question I get is how long of a session do I need? While this also varies from person to person, I find that more often than not a 90 min massage is ideal. I have been told that at about 60 min it’s as if the muscles just get warmed up only to have the session over with. 90 min gives a little more time for focus on those tough areas as well as making sure to allow the client a more relaxing session.

Whatever you choose, check in with 3 things to make sure it is in harmony with your lifestyle and your higher self:

1. Time: Making the appointment while you are at the office is the best way to ensure not only that the time slot you want will be available, but you can put it in your calendar ahead of time so you don’t run into scheduling conflicts or emergency situations.

2. What does your body need? Are you in need of an hour of relaxation on a regular basis? Or do you have issues that need several sessions to address? Or is there an injury, new or old that needs specific work. Take these things into consideration when formulating a plan with your therapist for regular sessions.

3. Money. Definitely check in and decide your budget. What are your priorities? If Massage Therapy is a priority I can assure you that it will fit. Many times Massage Therapists offer discounts if massages are purchased in advance or you make a commitment to come in on a regular basis. Check with your therapist to see what types of plans they offer.

Making the time, setting aside the money and checking in with your body will lead you to discover how great you can feel once you decide to have regular Massage Therapy in your life.