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Deep Tissue Massage


Let's talk about massage.


Although we've been massaging each other for thousands of years there is still a lot we don't know about how it works.  There are a lot of theories and ideas, but there's very little absolute scientific proof about many of the treatments listed here.


One of the things we can say for sure is that

gentle or superficial massage is, apart from in rare cases, always beneficial.

Just being touched, hugged and stroked provides enormous benefits to us, and many scientists will use the fact that gentle touch is also highly beneficial to animals to assert that this is not just a psychological or placebo effect (of course, who is to say that it's not just beneficial to an animal's psyche?)


But deep tissue massage, or any treatment which affects or manipulates our muscle, fat and other deep tissue can have both positive and negative effects, and, I feel, need to be approached with care.


It's hard to define what is a negative effect - even superficial massage can result in detox and release of pent up emotions.  Just a hug or a kind word can reduce us to tears when we're stressed and resisting relaxation.


Unfortunately there are some people who believe that unless a massage is administered with serious pressure it's not doing anything.  I was personally put off massage for years by practitioners who seemed to feel that their job in massaging me was to beat me up.  Recently I was very disappointed with a five star spa's relaxing massage (when I had specifically explained that my doctor had advised me not to have deep tissue massage) which left me bruised for days afterwards.


I've had ongoing arguments with sports massage therapists who applied the kind of pressure that makes me want to yell or throw up.  Their reasoning "it has to hurt to do you any good".  I'm thankful to say that I've since had wonderful sports massages, but I was reticent to try them.


In fact, until recently I was very prejudiced against deep tissue massage.  My back has been so irritable over the last few months that even a gentle massage can make it feel sore afterwards (but sore in a good way, like bruising coming out), and then at times it's been so tense that I've wanted to literally stick a needle in it to relieve the muscle spasm (which I tried with acupuncture).  It was only at the end of a long, gentle massage at Achilles Massage Therapy that I suddenly felt that I really wanted Jerry to go deeper into my muscle with the massage.  As he applied slowly more and more pressure I suddenly got the appeal of deep tissue massage.  Quite frankly it felt so good as the muscle released that I'd have been quite happy for him to grab a hammer and chisel and start tapping into it (he didn't, he just stuck with the hot stone).


A few days later while talking to Warren, my Bowen Technique therapist, I understood even more about deep tissue massage.  His explanation is that when muscles are stressed you need to apply strong pressure to the point of stress which releases the muscle and then you can gently massage or apply heat afterwards to continue the healing.


Going on Warren's explanation it's easy to see why so many people get deep tissue massage wrong, because in order to work the pressure needs to be very carefully placed.  A good therapist can, often without words, find just the right spot where a little extra pressure is required but a bad one can do more harm than good by stressing the surrounding muscle.


To experiment with deep tissue massage I think that you need to work with someone who really listens to you and who you trust, or try massaging yourself at home.  After a while it's easy to feel where the tension is, to apply just the right amount of pressure and then feel the muscles easing off.


See also:

Achilles Massage Therapy


Detox Stage 1

Detox Stage 2


Sports Massage

Thai Massage

Pearl's Blog


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