Deep Tissue Massage
One Method to Relieve Lower Back Pain

What is Deep Tissue Massage?

Some believe that Deep Tissue Massage means that the therapist pushes as hard as possible with their elbow into someone’s muscles. The more it hurts, the more effective the work.“No Pain, No Gain.” Right?


This is not only an inaccurate and potentially harmful picture of this type of massage, but such misguided practices can bruise muscles, elicit a defensive reaction in a client’s body, and worsen pain cycles. Also it does not convey the rich possibilities afforded by this versatile style of bodywork.

Properly executed deep tissue work should not cause the client to grit their teeth in agony. On the contrary, it should be performed with great sensitivity to the client’s comfort level and can be deeply relaxing.

Properly executed deep tissue work should not cause the client to grit their teeth in agony. On the contrary, it should be performed with great sensitivity to the client’s comfort level and can be deeply relaxing.

While deep work can be intense, and sometimes requires moderate discomfort to achieve it’s ends, that intensity is typically the result of tissues being stretched in a profound way.

The result is often significant pain relief, greater freedom of movement, and a more fluid sense of balance in the body.

A Working Definition

(Adapted from Art Riggs's excellent book, Deep Tissue Massage: A Visual Guide to Techniques)

Deep Tissue is NOT...

• A hard, painful massage

• A massage that follows the “No Pain, No Gain” motto

• A massage requiring extraordinary strength and effort

• A massage which causes the recipient to be sore for days afterward

Deep Tissue IS...

• A massage working with the layers of the body’s tissues

• A massage focused on relaxing and lengthening these tissues to improve their health, their flexibility, and their overall function (i.e. — to support the joints in particular, and the body in general)

• A massage whose purpose is to work deeply into and with these tissues in the most efficient way possible (i.e. — with the practitioner working with a relaxed body and using the least amount of effort possible)

• A massage in which the primary goal is less about general relaxation and more about promoting change in structure by releasing muscular and fascial restrictions

Why Study Deep Tissue Massage?

Being properly trained in Deep Tissue work is fast becoming essential for massage therapists. In some chiropractic offices it’s a required skill, and increasingly health clubs and spas are recommending their therapists be proficient in deep tissue techniques.

For the therapist working in her own practice, being able to provide deep tissue work has become essential for maintaining a thriving business.

The reasons for the popularity of Deep Tissue Massage are easy to understand: chronic pain of all kinds (back, shoulder, neck, hip) is caused by accumulated tension and rigidity in the body, often a symptom of shortened fascia and fascial adhesions.

Deep Tissue Massage, when properly applied by a well-trained therapist, is extremely effective in relieving such problems.

While Swedish massage is wonderfully effective for many issues, it is not effective for restoring length to shortened fascia.

What is Fascia?

The fascia, or connective tissues, literally holds the body together, wrapping around every muscle, nerve, organ, blood vessel, and bone.

These wrappings are all interconnected in a three-dimensional maze. In a healthy state, the fascia is made up of thin, lubricated, elastic sheets of tissues that support and facilitate physical movement.

But injury, lack of movement, postural distortion, repetitive movement patterns, and aging can cause the fascia to lose its elasticity such that it becomes thickened, tough, and rigid.

Also, the fascia between two or more muscles can become adhered together such that when you move one muscle you actually drag several others along as well.

As a result, range of movement deteriorates, and the involved muscles can become quite painful. If this phenomenon progresses to several parts of the body, quite serious dysfunction and pain is possible.

To learn about the origins of Deep Tissue Massage go to the Rolfing page.

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Stephen O'Dwyer, cnmt

Neuromuscular Therapist & Pain Relief Researcher

Stephen O'Dwyer, CNMT


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