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Under Pressure: Why Deep Tissue Doesn’t Mean Anything.

photo by mali maeder courtesy of Pexels

As a massage therapist, one of the questions I get asked daily is, “do you do deep tissue?” This seems to be the bar that most prospective clients set as the ultimate guide for whether they are going to book a massage with someone. But it’s not a very good bar to use. A better question would be ‘can I vary my pressure for more focused work’, or ‘what techniques would be the best for my shoulder/hip/knee issue?’.

For years, (decades really), massage has equated to "No Pain, No Gain", like manual bodywork is some 80's gym rat. The technique of shoving a fist, or elbow, or heaven-forbid, a therapist's thumb, deep into muscle tissue in an effort to get it to relax is about as effective as swinging a sledgehammer at a bucket of oobleck. You remember that goop? The cornstarch and water mixture that was the highlight of your elementary science fair. The harder your pressure, the more it fought back, but if you sank.

A variety of techniques, such as Myofascial Release, Active Isolated Stretching, or even Trigger Point work can all feel deep while still being quite superficial, it all depends on the intention and skill of the therapist.

Why? Because pressure is relative. My deepest pressure may be too light for one client, (and that is a completely different blog topic), and it may be far too heavy for another. So ‘deep tissue’ has become a fancy marketing term to get you invested. More important is if a therapist has the knowledge to know when and IF deeper pressure work is advisable. Just because it doesn’t hurt, doesn’t mean it is not effective. Repeat that: Just Because It Doesn't Hurt, Doesn't Mean It Is Not Effective.

Labeling a therapy as ‘deep’, (and then charging more for it), works for therapists. As a marketing tool it does the trick of making clients feel like they are getting a premium service; after all, if you paid more for it, it must be better, right? But massage therapy is a marathon, not a sprint. Sustained, appropriate therapy delivered consistently is better than a jackhammer.

The next time you ask if I offer deep tissue, I’ll say yes. Because it’s still a term that most people understand. But then while I have you on the table, I’ll educate you on how to tell the difference between Deep Tissue and deep pressure, I’ll offer you the breadth of my knowledge and training, and I’ll try not to make you feel like a truck ran you over in the process.

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