What is a Deep Tissue Massage?

Published on August 12, 2020 by arothstein

Massage therapists providing clients with a deep tissue massage

One of the techniques you may seek to master is deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massage is one of the many techniques learned during a massage therapy program at a vocational school.

Touch is a powerful healer. Even a gentle embrace can give people a sense of relief from their stress. As a massage therapist, you will be helping people overcome pain and injuries related to injuries, sports, or associated with medical conditions. You will come to understand how various massage techniques can assist with healing the innermost layers of muscle or connective tissue.

Becoming a massage therapist means using touch to assist clients with injury prevention and management, as well as rehabilitation. You will work directly with your clients to improve their overall well-being. You will also learn to assess someone’s physical condition, then provide them with therapeutic sessions that complement other treatments they may be receiving.

What is Deep Tissue Massage?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), massage therapy involves “manipulating the soft tissues of the body.” Such therapies have been utilized for thousands of years. This gives the modern-day massage therapist a variety of techniques and tools to relieve pain, such as Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, Shiatsu, myofascial release, and so on.

Deep tissue massage is like other forms of massage, but it is generally used for a single purpose: penetrating deep layers of skin, muscle, ligaments and tendons to break up scar tissue that has formed from an injury or surgery and to reduce tissue and muscle tension. This massage offers slower and firmer movements. The goal is to accelerate healing by reducing inflammation and increasing circulation to the affected area.

Because deep tissue massage requires the massage therapist to use a firm touch to reach the affected tissues, this technique is recommended for clients who are comfortable with more pressure.

Techniques Used During Deep Tissue Massage

Before understanding how deep tissue massage benefits the body, you need to understand the techniques involved. Most manipulations carry over from other forms of massage therapy and bodywork. Yet, as a massage therapist, you can adapt the techniques to suit your client’s needs or to match their individual preferences.

There are four techniques that are used during a deep tissue massage:

Stripping – the characteristic movements of the deep tissue massage include penetrating, gliding movements and applied pressure to the entire length of a muscle using the thumbs, knuckles, elbows, and forearms.

Friction – uses fingers, palms, and circular or transverse motion, the massage therapist rubs the muscles and connective tissues at various angles.

Myofascial release – a therapy that pinpoints the fasci, an elastic sheath that wraps around the muscle, with sustained pressure to increase circulation and reduce tension.

Cross-fiber work – sometimes referred to as transverse friction massage or cross friction massage, this technique uses two fingers to apply friction in a direction perpendicular to the muscle or scar tissue. It is similar to traditional friction techniques that work to breakdown certain fibers and accelerate healing.

Who Should Get a Deep Tissue Massage?

Deep tissue massage helps repair minor muscular injury and relieve chronic pain. There are a few reasons a client will ask for a deep tissue massage.

Chronic Pain

Some of your clients will have a condition that exacerbates chronic pain. Deep tissue massage is an alternative medical treatment to medication, offering a more holistic approach to relieve chronic pain. There are also those that suffer from disorders like fibromyalgia, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, and tennis elbow. Deep tissue massage is helpful to reduce the symptoms of these conditions.

Being an Athlete

Sports is rough on the body and works every muscle. As a serious athlete or weekend warrior, your client will need deep tissue massage to remove scarred tissue and rejuvenate muscles. This will either be an ongoing treatment, or for those that over do it every once in a while, a treatment as needed.

What Types of Issues Benefit from a Deep Tissue Massage?

The greatest benefit of deep tissue massage is the reduction of pain. Here are some of the issues that benefit from this form of massage:

How Is Deep Tissue Massage Different from Swedish Massage?

Most people have experienced Swedish massage at least once, and it may even have inspired you to become a massage therapist. You should know that the Swedish style and deep tissue massage are not identical. In fact, while both forms of massage therapy did use many of the same strokes and techniques, they differ in purpose and the pressure used. Here are some the key differences between Swedish and deep tissue massage:

Intended Purpose

Swedish massage therapy is used for relaxation and relief from muscle tension caused by daily activities, such as extended commuting hours or slouching at the computer desk. A Swedish massage uses light pressure and gentle manipulations. Meanwhile, a deep tissue massage is meant to treat musculoskeletal and sports-related issues and chronic pain. This form of massage uses heavier pressure to dig into muscles and relieve chronic pain.

Area of Focus or Application

Swedish massage techniques target the superficial tissue and focuses on the places of tension in the body, neck, back, and shoulders. Deep tissue bodywork, on the other hand, goes deeper, aiming for the adhesions within muscles, myofascial, and the joints, thereby relieving stiffness and inflexibility.


While both types of massage therapy utilize knuckles, fingers, and palms to perform the manipulations, a massage therapist may also use their elbows and forearms to apply even more pressure to the body.

What a Deep Tissue Massage Session Is Like

As a deep tissue massage therapist, you are going to work with many people with various aches, pains and medical conditions. Many clients will walk through the door not knowing what to expect, and some of them may be confused about the differences between a Swedish massage and deep tissue massage.

If this is their first session, you can expect to review their medical history, as well as some questions about how they currently feel or what they have recently experienced. You can then explain what you are going to do, what techniques you use, and how those manipulations will help them with their pain, stress, spinal alignment, and even their general wellness.

Be certain to listen for any contraindications. For instance, as a deep tissue massage therapist, you will have to understand the potential risk of such a massage therapy. Those individuals with a risk of deep vein thrombosis or who have skin conditions or rashes, infected skin, abdominal hernias, cancerous or benign tumors, fractures or fragile bones, pregnant, or blood conditions like hematoma should first receive clearance from their primary care physician before receiving deep tissue massage.

Once you have reviewed deep tissue massage with the client, the session can begin. First, you will work through the superficial layers of muscle, as if giving a Swedish massage. This is the only way the deeper tissues can be reached effectively. Should you neglect this important step, the client will most likely experience more pain during the massage.

Gradually, the pressure increases to prevent against “muscle guarding,” a natural reaction of the body against pain. During your massage therapist courses, you will learn how to read body language to understand how a client is feeling during a deep tissue massage. There are also numerous techniques that assist you in distracting the client from the force of pressure being applied.

Final Thoughts

Helping others can be both challenging and rewarding. Becoming a massage therapist will allow you to help those with chronic pain live happier and healthier lives. Take the first step to a rewarding career and learn more about massage therapy at Broadview University.

Did learning about what a deep tissue massage is interest you? Ready to start a program to become a massage therapist? Broadview University developed the Massage Therapy certificate program with your future in mind. The certificate program is designed to emphasize skills and knowledge for entry-level employment as a massage therapist. The Massage Therapy program at Broadview University prepares students to take the MBLEx licensing exam offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Board (FSMTB). Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible for professional membership in such associations as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP).

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist.

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