by Jodi Kilde Hales

Deep tissue massage is often the last resort for a person hoping to escape physical pain that seems immune to all other treatments. The person is looking for relief from the kind of chronic pain that has affected the quality of their daily lives. They may have been told, “nothing can be done,” and then prescribed a cocktail of pain pills that may interfere with the pain, yet do nothing to address the source of the problem.  

But deep tissue massage can scare people off, too. The biggest misconception people have is really a misunderstanding about what it is and what it is not.  Deep tissue massage and deep/firm pressure massage are not the same. Understanding the benefits of deep tissue massage can mean the difference between positive results or no results.  

The first thing to bear in mind is that the goal of deep tissue massage is therapy and rehabilitation, not relaxation, even though you may feel deep states of relaxation during a deep tissue massage.

The term “deep tissue massage” refers to methodically and strategically working through each layer of muscle tissue and focusing on any trigger points or muscular dysfunction. It has nothing to do with the amount of pressure applied. It involves manipulation of the fascia and other supportive tissue that disrupt circulation, cause pain, limit range of motion, and cause inflammation.

As a chronic pain massage therapist I understand that healing is more likely to occur when you work with the muscular system as opposed to against it by applying more pressure.

In my experience, firm/deep pressure massage is more forceful and aggressive. Even practiced at its best, it forces the muscular system to go against its natural function, which is to protect the spinal cord and internal organs.  Because of the body’s natural wisdom,  the muscular system will guard against what the therapist is trying to do and can ultimately lead to soreness and bruising, and is unlikely to provide pain relief.

Don’t get me wrong, there will some discomfort during a deep tissue massage as it works to lengthen, release, and realign deep layers of muscle and tissue from the holding patterns that are causing your pain. However, it will be temporary.

I am always amazed by the body’s natural capacity to heal itself when you work with its natural intelligence and not against it.   I believe deep tissue massage is a way to simply assist the body in healing itself.    

Jodi Kilde Hales is a chronic pain massage therapist specializing in deep tissue massage. She has spent the past 20 years working in this field.