Athletes recovering from an injury and those with painful conditions like arthritis can benefit from deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massage can help to restore movement in stiff joints and stimulate the vascular and lymphatic systems to promote healing. But what exactly is deep tissue massage, and how can it help?

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of deep tissue massage, how it differs from remedial massage, and what to expect from a deep tissue massage.

What Is Deep Tissue Massage?

Deep tissue massage is a type of massage primarily used for treating musculoskeletal complaints, including sporting injuries or pain. The technique involves applying firm sustained pressure in flowing strokes to target areas of tightness deep within the muscles and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding the muscles and organs).

Unlike a regular massage used for relaxation, deep tissue massage is a therapeutic treatment technique designed to treat a specific problem, such as muscle tension or joint stiffness. It is used by trained health professionals, such as physiotherapists or myotherapists.

As it reaches the inner layers of the soft tissue, deep tissue massage can help reduce muscular tension and increase blood flow to promote healing after an injury. For the best effect, deep tissue massage is usually used in conjunction with other treatments, such as exercise and taping.

The Benefits Of Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage has both physical and psychological effects. Whilst it is beneficial for treating a range of disorders, including sporting injuries, chronic pain, and conditions like arthritis, deep tissue massage can also positively affect the body overall.

The application of deep tissue massage has been linked with changes in blood pressure, mood, and flexibility. It can also enhance the feeling of relaxation and the perception of recovery in athletes.

Let’s get into the specific benefits of deep tissue massage.

Muscle Rehabilitation

The demands of competitive and recreational sports can take a toll on the body. From injuries to muscle soreness, there are a wide variety of musculoskeletal complaints that can occur from specific movements and activities.

Deep tissue massage can help muscle rehabilitation by:

  • Relaxing tense muscles
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Helping to maintain tissue elasticity
  • Releasing muscle adhesions, or ‘trigger points’ in the muscle
  • Facilitating blood and lymphatic flow through mechanical pressure

Studies have shown that deep tissue massage can affect sporting performance, including vertical jump, hamstring flexibility, and grip strength. Deep tissue massage may also improve the physiological parameters of the muscle, as some patients report an improvement in perceived muscle soreness.

Pain Management

Pain can heavily interfere with everyday life, whether during simple tasks like getting dressed in the morning or during manual tasks in the workplace. Pain is experienced differently from person to person but can be impacted by physical, social, and psychological factors.

Deep tissue massage can help manage pain by:

  • Calm the nervous system by interrupting pain signals
  • Helping to reduce pain and stiffness in the muscles
  • Relieving muscle spasms
  • Promoting relaxation

A systematic review of eight randomised trials concluded massage may be beneficial for patients with chronic low back pain, particularly in combination with active exercises and education. Deep tissue massage is more effective when performed by an experienced therapist who can prescribe exercise and offer individualised advice.

Arthritis Treatment

Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints that causes pain and stiffness and can affect movements like walking or squatting. Due to these symptoms, people with arthritis may begin to avoid activities or exercise, further worsening muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Deep tissue massage can help arthritic treatment by:

  • Increasing soft tissue mobility
  • Reducing joint stiffness
  • Lengthening muscle and soft tissue
  • Improving activity participation (e.g. walking or exercise classes)

Deep tissue massage

Remedial vs Deep Tissue Massage

Remedial and deep tissue massage are often confused or used interchangeably, so it can be challenging to know which is best. However, while deep tissue and remedial massage have some similarities, they are used in different situations.

Remedial Massage

Remedial massage is an adjunct therapy performed by a trained therapist to treat soft tissue, muscular complaints, and other health problems. ‘Remedial’ comes from the word remedy, meaning to improve or correct something. Patients with neck, shoulder, or back pain, headaches, and other musculoskeletal complaints will commonly be treated with remedial massage.

Deep Tissue Massage

In comparison, deep tissue massage is a massage technique used by qualified therapists to target musculoskeletal tension or stiffness, often in conjunction with other treatment techniques like exercise. The use of deep tissue massage varies greatly but is common for injuries, pain, and conditions like arthritis.

The Key Differences Between The Two

The benefits of remedial and deep tissue massage are similar, as they both help to promote healing, improve blood supply, and restore movement. However, the application of each depends on the specific situation, the treating therapist, and the individual being treated.

For example, someone may go to a physiotherapist for chronic low back pain and be treated with deep tissue massage. Yet, someone with a sore neck from poor posture at work may see a remedial massage therapist for treatment. For either approach, it is important to choose a therapist who is trained appropriately.

In general, the key differences between remedial and deep tissue massage are:

  • Situation: For new or existing injuries, or when pain affects movement or function, it may be best to see a physiotherapist for a deep tissue massage. However, for general muscle tightness or work-related tension, remedial massage may be sufficient.
  • Pressure: Deep tissue massage is designed to reach the lower layers of the soft tissue, so it may require deeper pressure than remedial massage.
  • Areas of focus: Deep tissue massage usually focuses on a specific area or group of muscles, whereas remedial massage may target a more general area.

Is Deep Tissue Massage Safe?

When performed by a trained professional, deep tissue massage is a safe and effective therapeutic technique. A trained therapist has the knowledge and expertise to assess each individual and determine if deep tissue massage is suitable for the situation, considering factors such as injury, pain, irritability, and any medical conditions.

Possible Side Effects

Occasionally, mild side effects can occur after a deep tissue massage. Most side effects will resolve within a few days after treatment. However, it’s important to be aware of any side effects and consult a health practitioner if they persist or worsen. Potential side effects of deep tissue massage can include:

  • Muscle soreness
  • Dull or aching pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches or nausea

In some situations, other types of massage may be more suitable or comfortable. It’s always best to discuss any new therapies or techniques with an overseeing doctor. Additionally, any skin allergies should be discussed with the therapist as a precaution before proceeding with deep tissue massage.

Contraindications To Deep Tissue Massage

Although deep tissue massage is beneficial for most people, it may not be appropriate in some situations. Contraindications for deep tissue massage include:

  • Skin infections
  • Open wounds
  • Recent fractures (or other internal injuries)
  • Areas where bleeding has occurred in the previous 48 hours
  • Circulatory problems, such as bleeding disorders or blood thinners
  • Cancer treatment (e.g., radiation and chemotherapy)
  • Any other time where there is a risk of causing any damage to the underlying tissue

If there are any concerns or doubts, consult a doctor before undergoing any deep tissue massage treatment.

What To Do After A Deep Tissue Massage

To reduce the potential side effects associated with deep tissue massage, there are a few aftercare tips:

  1. Hydrate Properly: Drinking enough water helps regulate the normal functions in the body, delivering nutrients to cells and removing waste products. Massage can sometimes be dehydrating for the body, so be sure to drink plenty of water before and after a deep tissue massage to promote recovery and reduce the risk of any side effects.
  2. Avoid Strenuous Activity: Deep tissue massage targets the deep soft layers of the body, which can disrupt the systems and patterns underneath. Adding strenuous activity on top of a deep tissue massage can dampen the benefits of the massage and may overload these systems. Where possible, rest rather than exercise after a massage session.
  3. Get A Good Night’s Sleep: Sleep is essential to recovery. Without adequate sleep, the biological processes necessary for everyday life cannot be completed. After a deep tissue massage, aim to get a good night’s sleep.
  4. Schedule The Next Treatment Session: The first time getting a deep tissue massage is a new experience that the body may not expect, but with regular treatments, the body can adjust. Additionally, treatment consistency can help to accelerate recovery and reduce any side effects. It’s a good idea to schedule the next few deep tissue massage treatments with a physiotherapist in advance.

Deep tissue massage has widespread benefits for both the body and mind. Suited for those with injuries, pain, or conditions like arthritis, it can help restore movement and promote healing. It’s important to consult a trained health professional to get the best outcome. After all, deep tissue massage may be just what the muscles need.

Experience the benefits of a deep tissue massage – consult a local physiotherapist!

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Mel Prior

Physiotherapist

Mel comes to us having completed her Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) at Monash University, having already achieved a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science with Distinction at Deakin University and a Diploma of Remedial Massage from Evolve College. Mel has a wealth of sporting experience working alongside the head physiotherapists at Melbourne Boomers, Dandenong Rangers and Southside Flyers Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) teams. This involved mentoring from the current Australian Opals physiotherapist as well as past and present Australian Diamonds and Opals massage therapists.