Deep Tissue Massage is a very broad category of massage therapy. It is
essentially the application of firm pressure on deeper levels of muscle
to address tension, adhesion and scar tissue. It can be applied with
fingers, thumbs, forearm, elbow, some massage therapists use tools and
the Ashiatsu therapists use their feet!
Should it Hurt?
The application of deep tissue massage has varied philosophies along with it, depending on which massage therapist you are working with. Some don't think it should be uncomfortable at all, some think that if you don't feel pain during a session, you aren't affecting the tissue. I guess we fall somewhere in between. When there is a muscle group, which has experienced scarring, is extremely restricted or very congested due to overuse, repetitive strain or chronic postural strain, it may not take any pressure to be sensitive. This sensitivity can present itself as being ticklish, tingly, uncomfortable, painful, or as a tremendous relief. Our philosophy is always to work within the client's comfort zone. When applying deep tissue massage, whether it is for an injury, scar tissue reduction or to increase range of motion in a joint that has been restricted for some time by postural restrictions, we use client feedback to gauge where we should be on the pressure scale. We have a number system we give to our clients who are interested in doing deep work, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. It is a 1-10 subjective scale. 1 on the scale is just pressure-a light touch. 10 is peeling you off the ceiling, and you are ready to go at us with your right hook. In order to minimize our personal injuries (ha-ha), we ask that you tell us before we hit 10. In fact, we ask that you tell us when you are around a comfortable (hurt-so-good) 7. At 7, you should NOT be tensing up other muscles to distract you! You should be able to breathe easily-if you feel like you have to hold your breath, or you are down in the face cradle grimacing your face into funny looks, you need to tell us. We generally watch your breathing to see if you are breathing smoothly during deep work, and we also watch for hand twitches to tell the clue you may not be telling us verbally. :)
Deep Tissue work truly requires good communication for your therapist to understand the level you are comfortable with, and if they need to work deeper into the tissue, or lighten up a bit. Frequently, a consistent pressure will register feeling great in most of your body, but when your therapist works across a spot of high tension or adhesion, you will feel it much more acutely. It is because your tissue is not moving in a healthy way, and there's restriction in the muscle. If it is uncomfortable, you can tell your massage therapist to lighten up the pressure, a simple, "That's really tender today, could you go a little lighter there?" We are grateful for the feedback you give us during session, as it allows us to know what you want from your massage. PRESSURE IS RELATIVE...from person to person, or even day to day, sometimes the same pressure will feel like too much a day later. Everything from exercise, fatigue, hunger, sleep and especially hydration will affect the way your nerves perceive the pressure in your muscles. This is why the feedback is to important for us.
Soreness after a Deep Tissue Session-Long Detailed Explanation
Soreness experienced after a deep tissue massage session can vary greatly, just as with the discomfort during a session. There are things you can do to ensure you are more comfortable, but if you are working on long time tension patterns in a muscle which has caused pain for months or even years, you may expect some kind of soreness. Frequently it will feel like a post-workout sore. The movement in the tissue from deep tissue applications are similar to that of lifting weights, or using a muscle which hasn't moved in a long time. The reason for this is that a muscle is made up of a BUNCH of fibers, and all those individual fibers are either contracted, or not contracted. None of them contract half-way. The way a muscle functions is the fibers contract fully, or not at all. So, if you have a shoulder muscle which, for sake of discussion has 100 fibers in it (of course, it is WAAAAAY more than that), if you have been sitting at your computer for weeks on end, and your shoulders are feeling tight, 40% of those fibers may be contracted, so the feeling in the muscle is tight and heavy. During the deep tissue massage, the response of your nervous system will be to relax many of those fibers, so that maybe only 15 are still firing consistently (resting muscle tone). Those fibers that are no longer working all the time are going to start to work again, as you get up and move around, but they may not have moved for months, or years! Then maybe you start to feel soreness in some of the surrounding areas...well, if there has been a muscle that wasn't able to do it's work, then there are surrounding muscles which have been compensating for it. If some of the muscles in the back of your neck can't contract anymore, you'll recruit some from the front of the neck, the upper back and the shoulders to support your head everyday...so, it's always a team effort where muscles are concerned!
What Can I Do To Lessen Post-Deep Tissue Massage Soreness?
Before the session:Go into the session hydrated. If your muscles aren't hydrated, then the circulatory response from a massage isn't as effective. If you are dehydrated, the body will ration the blood to the highest priority. Your body isn't going to take the fluid away from organs which are necessary for survival, but your joints and muscles are secondary. One of the first signs of chronic dehydration is muscle and joint discomfort. The fluid in your joints (synovial fluid) needs to be plentiful to hydrate the joint through movement. The muscles will be more prone to damage on an everyday basis if chronically dehydrated...think of a new rubber band, and an old, dried out one. Having enough water in your system during a massage will allow your body to flush old 'stuff' (by-products of muscle contraction, old blood) out of your muscles, and system more quickly, helping an old injury to heal faster.
If you are going to exercise the day of a deep tissue massage, do it BEFORE your session. Your muscles will be more relaxed after the session, which means it's really important not to put a heavy load on them, or the joints they support and protect. It's suggested you do no heavy lifting, pounding or twisting the rest of the day, after you have your massage.
Being warm just before a deep tissue massage is great. If you have the chance to workout just before a massage, that is ideal...and honestly, if you are still a little sweaty from your workout, we really don't care. For those who have the luxury of sitting in a hot bath just before their session, that is great too. If you are warm, your muscles will be more relaxed, and the massage will be more effective. For anyone doing an hour or longer massage, we use moist heat packs for added comfort and help with releasing muscles in the back in particular.
DURING the session:This point cannot be stressed enough. People have the tendency to have the mind set when it comes to deep tissue massage that it has to hurt to work. Actually communicating with your therapist when the point of pain becomes just more that uncomfortable would be a fairly good gauge. As in, if you feel like you need to pull away from the therapist and can’t relax through it, it is probably time to tell them. Communicate with your therapist as they can only feel what they are feeling, NOT what you are feeling.
AFTER the Session:You've heard it over and over again, if you've had a massage before...drink plenty of water. The reason for this is the same as above, but remember it will be that much more effective if you are hydrated to begin with. The more you can flush the old stuff out of your muscles and your system after the deep tissue work, the more effective the circulatory response will be, and the better you will feel the next day.
Keep your shoulder bag or backpack off your shoulder. It will recruit the muscles we worked to release during the massage, and cause more soreness!
Keep the alcohol to a minimum or avoid it completely. Alcohol, along with caffeine both have dehydrating effects, and will make your massage less effective.
Some people find that their soreness after deep tissue work is significantly diminished by taking a hot bath after a massage. This enhances the circulatory response, by bringing blood to the surface of the skin and cleansing the system to another degree.
Allow yourself to rest, and if you can sleep on your back, it can help with soreness the next day. This is because the muscles that were released during a massage will get squashed in most other sleeping positions and may cause discomfort the next day.
ALSO, when you receive your first
deep tissue massage, it will be a much different sensation than
subsequent sessions. Most of our clients will share that their second
massage feels SO much better than the first time. Part of this is due
to the fact that when the tissue is manipulated for the first time,
there are many surfaces adhered to one another due to repetitive strain,
or chronic postural positions. Once the tissue is moving again,
particularly if you are following the 'homework' (stretches/ergonomic
suggestions) and awareness we share with you from the first session, the
muscle and connective tissue is bound to be much more hydrated,
nourished and healthy the second go-around. So, don't be surprised if
your second massage is that much more effective in gaining mobility and
much more comfortable during deep work.
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