Many clients seek massage therapy to ease tension and to relieve pain, but what is the best approach? Is more pressure better than less? And what exactly is deep tissue massage? Let's start with the basics, the bread and butter of massage therapy, the scoop of vanilla in the ice cream sundae...Swedish massage.
Swedish massage is the root of most therapies practiced today because it is the building block of a relaxing massage. Swedish massage can be very light pressure to medium and Swedish is fluid, gliding over superficial layers of muscle to promote relaxation and increase circulation. If a client is not relaxed, their muscles are still tense and that's not a good level to start digging in deeper. Instead, we are trained to use Swedish massage to relax the client, warm up the tissue and knead the muscles. Healthy blood flows, full of oxygen, to all the tissues to promote healing.
While using the Swedish techniques to warm up the muscles, a skilled therapist is also using the lighter pressure to assess the situation. If a therapist is going in all elbows, full-steam ahead, it is likely they will miss an important clue to the puzzle. Therapists can feel areas of tension; they may notice a muscle pulling the structure out of alignment or they may rub over a knot. Every client is different, so we start at a base level to gauge their pain tolerance. The therapist will add other techniques that may require more or less pressure, especially where clients feel a knot.
Every muscle has two points of attachment in the body; as the attachments move closer, the muscle flexes. If it flexes too much, too abruptly and/or for too long a duration it can form an adhesion, aka knots. The major difference that separates a Swedish and deep tissue massage is in the intention of the therapist in addressing these knots. Some muscles are stacked on top of each other, so no amount of heavy Swedish is truly going to address a knot deep in the layers. A skilled therapist is aware of which muscles are superficial and which muscles are deep, and how to access these areas.
Most deep tissue techniques require consistent, med-heavy pressure that begins at one attachment point and continues on the path of the muscle all the way to the other attachment point. At this point, your therapist may direct your breathing or ask you to focus on the tenderness or pain in the area. Because not all pain is created equal, we gather more clues to the puzzle and tow the line of client's comfort. Wincing and holding your breath is not beneficial to promote circulation. It's definitely acceptable to say "That pressure may be a little much" so that the therapist gains more information from you during the massage.
At Absolute Body Balance, our licensed therapists take the time with each client to discuss the reason for their visit as well as goals for the massage. This information is used to best determine a treatment plan that works within the clients availability and budget. Since one massage is not going to correct years of poor posture or heal a torn muscle, it is best for clients to communicate their expectations so that the therapist can give them a truer sense of what they can accomplish.