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  • Mary Carolla

The Deep Tissue Issue

“Do you do deep tissue massage?” is a question I am asked from time to time. I get that question a lot less than when I was a new massage therapist, (I think) because I’ve gotten a bit better at explaining the type of work I do and what clients can expect from a session with me.

So, do I offer deep tissue massage?

No, but yes. Kind of. It depends.

What is deep tissue massage?

The challenge lies in defining deep tissue massage. How the general public perceives deep tissue versus how a massage therapist or bodyworker views it are not always the same.

When some folks request deep tissue massage, what they are often asking for is super-firm pressure. “Go as hard as you can; you can’t hurt me!” I assure you that yes, I could hurt you, but I may very well hurt myself in the process. And as I am not in the business of hurting myself or others, I do not provide that kind of extremely firm pressure work. I’ve been a massage therapist for 20 years, and I’d like to continue for (at least) another 20, so I take care to do work that is not quite so hard on my body. Plus, depending on your circumstances, that kind of heavy pressure may not be appropriate and could do more harm than good. (Not to mention, if you are wincing in pain or clenching your muscles in reaction to the pressure, it’s generally counterproductive to the purpose of a massage.)

There’s a place for very firm pressure work, but it is not my particular niche. I do know some awesome and talented therapists who do provide firmer types of bodywork, though, and am happy to send folks their way.

So, that’s the “no” part. What about the “yes”?

I think my answer lies in more “deep” and less “tissue,” in a manner of speaking. A massage session can and should affect the client on a profound level, but that does not not necessarily require more pressure. Sometimes, firm pressure is absolutely a part of it. But, often, it’s not, and it does not have to be. Over the years, I have found that my clients get the best results when we are keeping the pressure level short of pain or intense physical discomfort and working with the body in a way that feels good. To me, this is an indication that I am working with the body’s nervous system rather than against it.

Massage is absolutely not a no-pain-no-gain endeavor. The answer to pain is usually not more pain. We can work together to create body-friendly sessions that leave you feeling calm, refreshed, and in a place of ease. That is a profound experience, even if it’s not “deep.”

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