I’m often asked by clients and therapists alike how I would define deep tissue. I remember a professor once telling me that deep tissue was a term coined by consumers to help them convey to the practitioner that they were looking for strong pressure or “intense” work. That sounds quite plausible to me. I think most clients are simply trying to avoid getting the “wimpy” massage. You know, the light half-hearted massage that feels like the therapist is putting absolutely no effort into the treatment.
The problem is that deep tissue means different things to different people. Some therapists believe it requires the use of very deep pressure. Others will use specific techniques that affect the deep layers of tissue without extra exertion. And some will use a combination of both.
I know therapists who will not apply deep pressure regardless of the clients request. Maybe they fear injuring themselves. Maybe they know they have six massages to get through and have no desire to over-exert themselves. And some will just use those techniques that can affect the deeper layers like trigger point therapy and myofascial release.
I’ve found it helpful to ask two simple questions when a client requests a deep tissue massage:
- Have you ever had a deep tissue massage before?
- Is there a specific area of pain or discomfort that you’re requesting the deeper work for?
I find that these two questions will flush out the true reasons for the deep tissue request. Are they trying to avoid the “wimpy massage” trap or are there legitimate musculoskeletal issues that need to be addressed?
Sometimes a client requests deep tissue because they just love pressure. That’s fine but it’s good to know that in advance if possible, before you start treating trigger points and adhesions. I’ve had clients who didn’t want those things, they just wanted the firm pressure and kneading of tissues.
In my own practice, I don’t offer deep tissue massage as a technique. I just offer massage and allow the intake process to dictate which techniques I will apply. If deep pressure is needed I provide it. If trigger points need to be deactivated I do that as well. But I don’t offer deep tissue as a specific modality because it’s entirely too vague in my opinion.
Occasionally, a client will call and ask if I do deep tissue. I say yes, but then ask them specifically what their issue is or what they are looking for in a massage treatment. Once I have an understanding of the client’s expectations, it’s easier to apply the proper technique to satisfy their needs.