Assuming your massage therapist is competent, massage always feels good. But one type of massage, deep tissue massage, creates a uniquely satisfying feeling that can also be quite intense. If the LMT is skillful, deep tissue massage relieves tension from muscle adhesions.
These adhesions, commonly known as “knots,” often stem from persistently contracted muscles. Repetitive movements, poor posture, and stress can cause imbalanced holding patterns and overworked muscles. For instance, if a person works at a desk for hours every day, the body will attempt to support that slumped posture.
Work stress may cause the trapezius shoulder muscles to fire repetitively. A poorly positioned screen and/or desk can lead to postural asymmetry, with short, tight chest muscles and tired, sore upper back muscles. As the upper back muscles become tighter and tighter, the person will experience more pain, and he or she will naturally avoid movement in this area of the body. Other muscles may become tense as they attempt to compensate for the postural imbalance. This process is often referred to as the pain-spasm-pain cycle. As muscles tighten, circulation is decreased, delaying healing.
Such body patterns are temporarily relieved with Swedish massage techniques, but they will tend to persist (along with the pain) until the therapist targets deeper tissues. By working slowly and deeply, therapists can break up “stuck” tissues and provide longer-term relief. This is the basic benefit of deep tissue massage. Here are a few more advantages of this massage modality, as shared by massage therapy schools.
- Elongation of chronically shortened muscles. With slow, deep strokes, therapists can lengthen muscles and move patients toward postural homeostasis.
- Improved circulation. As tense muscles are loosened, circulation increases. This means that more nutrients reach muscle tissue, and more cellular waste products may be removed.
- Stress relief. A favorite phrase among body workers is “The issues are in the tissues.” In other words, stress, sadness, and other emotional concerns are deposited in the body as muscular stress. Deep tissue massage can help alleviate long-held muscular tension as well as the emotions that originally created that tension. Another sign that deep tissue massage reduces stress: It often lowers heart rate as well as blood pressure. As a 2008 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine found, a 45- to 60-minute deep tissue massage can lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and also lower heart rates by around 10 beats per minute.
- Pain alleviation. Long-term muscular tension can lead to serious pain. In the example described earlier, the desk worker would likely experience pain in the upper back, shoulders, and neck, as these muscles would need to work extra hard to maintain a slumped desk shape. By releasing deep tension, deep tissue massage can also help reduce pain. Research supports this conclusion. For example, a study in Manual Therapy found that deep tissue massage for the posterior calf muscles, along with stretching exercises, helped reduce plantar fasciitis pain.
- Ease of movement. The body creates scar tissue around injuries as well as overused muscles. This scar tissue limits range of motion. Deep tissue massage helps break up scar tissue, allowing the patient to feel freer in his or her movement.
If you’d like to experience these benefits for yourself, consider booking a clinic appointment at one of your area’s accredited massage therapy school. Here in Portland, the East West College clinic offers student and alumni massages. Visit our clinic’s website to make an appointment today.
4 Benefits of a Deep Tissue Massage, Massage Magazine
Massage: Get in touch with its many benefits, Mayo Clinic