Deep tissue massage is a type of massage therapy that focuses on realigning deeper layers of muscles and connective tissue. It is constructive for chronically tense and contracted areas such as stiff necks, low back tightness, and sore shoulders. Some of the same strokes are used as classic massage therapy, but the movement is slower and the pressure is deeper and concentrated on areas of tension and pain.

Deep Tissue Massage

How Does Deep Tissue Massage Work?

Chronic muscle tension or injury usually involves adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Adhesions can block circulation and cause pain, limited movement, and inflammation. Deep tissue massage physically breaks down these adhesions to relieve pain and restore normal movement. To do this, the massage therapist often uses direct deep pressure or friction applied across the grain of the muscles.

Will Deep Tissue Massage Hurt?

At certain points during the massage, most people usually feel discomfort and pain. It is important to tell the massage therapist when things hurt and if any soreness or pain you experience is outside your comfort range.

There is usually some stiffness or pain after a deep tissue massage, but it should subside within a day or so. The massage therapist may recommend applying ice to the area after the massage.

Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

Unlike classic massage therapy, which is used for relaxation, deep tissue massage usually focuses on a specific problem, such as Chronic pain; Limited mobility; Recovery from injuries (e.g. whiplash, falls, sports injury); Repetitive strain injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome; Postural problems; Osteoarthritis pain; Fibromyalgia; Muscle tension or spasm

According to the August 2005 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, 34,000 people ranked deep tissue massage as more effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain than physical therapy, exercise, prescription medications, chiropractic, acupuncture, diet, glucosamine, and over-the-counter drugs. Deep tissue massage also received a top ranking for fibromyalgia pain. People often notice an improved range of motion immediately after a deep tissue massage.

What Can I Expect During My Visit?

Massage therapists may use fingertips, knuckles, hands, elbows, and forearms during deep tissue massage. You may be asked to breathe deeply as the massage therapist works on certain tense areas. It is important to drink plenty of water as you can after the massage to flush metabolic waste from the tissues.

What happens when you get a deep-tissue massage?

There is no standard choreography to a deep tissue massage and all therapists have different styles that should be tailored to the client’s individual needs, says Priya, the Trainy of Therapeutic Massage. 

Priya usually starts with the back because it’s the top region of the complaint. He then moves to the legs, shoulders, and arms, and finishes with the neck and head — which he says is most relaxing due to the many nerve endings in the scalp.

Heena starts deep tissue sessions gently, covering a broad area and then focusing on specific muscles or regions. People have different pain thresholds, and this massage may cause discomfort or even be a bit painful. That’s why Priya says clients should control the depth and pressure of the massage.                                                                 

“If you’re not able to maintain your breathing and have to tense up parts of your body to tolerate the pain, be sure to speak up and let the therapist know that it’s too much,” says Priya.

While some discomfort is normal, it’s not required. “If the techniques are too gentle, the work may not be effective at breaking up muscle knots,” says Heena. However, too much pressure or extreme discomfort negates the benefits.

That said, feeling some pain or soreness that lasts a few days after a deep tissue massage is normal. Deep muscle stripping and myofascial release (MFR) can create some bruising or achiness, but joint stretches performed during a deep tissue session shouldn’t cause pain in the days following, says Heena.

Deep tissue massage session lengths vary but typically range from 60 to 120 minutes. Heena says 90 minutes is usually an ideal amount of time to fully address the chief complaint and thoroughly “touch base” on the rest of the body. 


Massage is not recommended for certain people. Infectious skin disease, rash, or open wounds; immediately after surgery; immediately after chemotherapy or radiation, unless recommended by your doctor; people with osteoporosis should consult their doctor before getting a massage; prone to blood clots, there is a risk of blood clots being dislodged. If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before having a massage. Pregnant women should check with their doctor first if they are considering getting a massage. Massage in pregnant women should be done by massage therapists who are certified in pregnancy massage. Massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed skin, unhealed wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, or areas of recent fractures.

Additional tips

Don’t eat a heavy meal before the massage. If it’s your first time at the clinic or spa. Arrive at least 10 minutes early to complete the necessary forms. Otherwise, arrive 5 minutes early so you can have a few minutes to rest and relax before starting the massage.

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