Recently one of my regular clients came in for her appointment and sheepishly admitted that she had “cheated” on me by going to another therapist while she was out of town on vacation. I didn’t mind — I am happy when my clients take good care of themselves, even when away from home. But I did get a kick out of her description: “It was like a form of torture compared to you!” After asking a few more questions, I confirmed that my client had not, in fact, experienced torture. That was a bit of hyperbole. But she did get a deep tissue massage — and for someone who’s not used to that, it was probably quite a shock!
While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different massage techniques, the most popular methods are deep tissue massage and Swedish massage. Which one of these popular techniques is best for you? Well, it depends on what you want to accomplish.
Swedish massage vs deep tissue massage
There are three main differences between these techniques:
● Purpose: Swedish massage is good for stress relief and can also help to stimulate blood flow. That’s why it’s sometimes called a “relaxation massage.” It’s good for people who want to maintain their health with regular self-care for the mind and body. Deep tissue is more suited to relieving pain in muscles and connective tissue, such as pain associated with sports injuries. Both techniques can help with headaches.
● Amount of pressure: Swedish massage generally uses light to moderate pressure near the surface of the skin. Deep tissue uses strong pressure — enough that it can sometimes be uncomfortable. (While it can be intense, always tell your therapist if it crosses the line into painful!).
● Techniques used: With Swedish massage, the therapist often uses the palms of the hands and extended fingers to apply long, gliding strokes and kneading motions (kind of like kneading bread dough). With deep tissue massage, the therapist typically uses the thumbs, knuckles, heels of the palm, and even elbows to apply steady, focused pressure.
There’s one thing that both techniques have in common: you’ll feel better when you’re done! However, after a deep tissue massage you might feel a bit sore for a few days.
What about trigger point massage?
Trigger point massage is, essentially, a form of deep tissue massage. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Like I described in the myofascial release blog, one small issue in the body can cause pain or mobility problems in a different area. So the goal of this technique is to find the trigger point (such as a muscle that is tight or knotted up) and then massage it until the muscle “releases.” Sometimes you can even hear a popping sound when this occurs.
There’s no reason to choose just one
Especially for clients who have longer massage therapy sessions, I tend to use a mix of both Swedish and deep tissue massage. It’s especially nice to use both for clients who have pain in their neck, back and shoulders because they’ve been holding stress-related tension in these areas. Combining techniques can address the stress and the result of it.
I always start with Swedish massage to warm up and loosen the muscles, then transition to deep tissue for trouble spots.
During your next visit, feel free to ask me what techniques I’m using and why. And if you are getting a deep tissue massage, always speak up if you feel it’s too intense. Massage is healing, but it should never feel like torture!
Photo: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash