Therapeutic Massage: The Myth of Deep Tissue

myth of deep tissueWhen people seek out massage therapy they often want deep tissue. “The deeper the better.”  “You can’t go too deep on me.” “I need someone who can really get in there.” The body IS a very heavy, dense part of our existence. As is the physical earth. So it makes sense that people think that they need deep physical work to move their stuckness and pain. However, by proxy, muscles are actually fairly superficial in the body. So why do we call therapeutic massage “deep tissue?”

What people don’t know about therapeutic massage is that it’s function is to bring nourishment to soft tissue. “Deep tissue” is a term that people use for techniques that separate muscles and fascia that are stuck together. Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds ALL of the tissues in our body. It’s function is to remember the ways that we stand and move and keep these memories (as well as postural patterns) to help us. As such, fascia, just like muscle, gets “knotted up” and STUCK. Unlocking muscles and connective tissue can be important in feeling physically better in the body. This work is therapeutic, and it has nothing to do with how deep we go.

Why the MYTH of Deep Tissue Massage?

Myth #1) Where people feel pain is not usually what is causing the problem. 

Pain is the number 1 reason that people seek out massage therapy. The thing about pain though, is it usually manifests in the weakest, overused, and undernourished places in the body. Muscles are fed and kept healthy by water (hydration) and blood (nourishment.) Muscle pain is usually attributed to a lack of oxygen and nutrition in “extremely” thirsty cells. Instinctually we want to touch or have touched the areas that hurt, because touch can help to bring blood to the area. However, going “deeper” into the area that hurts is not necessarily the right strategy. The muscles that we work with in deep tissue massage are primarily muscles of movement, that is, they attach to bones and around joints. To really help the injured or “talking” muscle, we need to balance the tension in the surrounding muscles and fascia as well. This is a major benefit of massage therapy, improving range of motion and circulation.

Myth #2) The deeper tissues in our bodies are our organs, bones, and blood.

These tissues are not what we work with in a typical deep tissue massage. Having studied the organ energies in Shiatsu as well as “deep tissue” techniques, I incorporate both into my work. What I learned early on when I started practicing massage therapy is that deep tissue techniques alone don’t last. I worked in a physical rehabilitation clinic for my first 4 years doing massage. I had the benefit of working on patients every week for years. I started off doing really “deep” work, using elbows and forearms into shoulders, backs, and hips and every time clients went home happy and felt much better. Until the next week. The pain usually returned and we would work on it again. People often believed that they had a “bad back,” and that they were destined to be in pain. It wasn’t until I started incorporating breath work, organ work and shiatsu into my sessions that pain problems started to heal, change and last.

Myth #3) You need a therapist to get to the deep places for you. 

Pain is a message and it’s usually a clear, albeit annoying, one. The physical body responds to pain or injury by tensing muscles around the area to protect it. Your massage therapist can push through that protection, but – it doesn’t allow you to hear the message and address the real issue. Overpowering a muscle is a technique that will eventually harm the therapist and will only offer temporary relief to the client. The BEST healing work that I have facilitated is where the receiver becomes more present and invites the letting go. This is achieved very simply when a client feels safe to relax into their body and listen to the pain. By breathing into it and allowing it’s message to be heard, we give it space to move and finally let go.

Myth #4) The idea that physical pain needs to be addressed in the physical body.

The physical body is the LAST place where pain ends up. Pain is a message, remember, and begins with a spiritual imbalance. This imbalance then moves into the energetic field, enters the mind, and forms a thought pattern which then creates an emotion. The body responds to this dis-ease by making a physical symptom. It does this as a gift because we are living in the physical and thus can feel very clearly that something is off. The process of REALLY HEALING pain is to connect with that pain, FEEL the emotions, find the incorrect thought pattern, be willing to let it go, CREATE a new thought pattern, and allow it to create a new emotional state. WILD, huh? We don’t always need to be conscious of all of these steps, however. Once the connections are made letting it go is actually a simple process of grounding, breathing, ALLOWING, and releasing.

mind-body connection

What happens when the mind-body connection is made during a massage session?

An example that I have is a woman who was in severe lower back pain for 2 weeks. She had received 3 massages, chiropractic, and acupuncture with little relief when she came to see me. I was number 4. After working on the area for a while to no avail, I asked her to deep breathe into the pain in her lower back. “As you breathe into this area, what comes to mind?” Immediately, she said, “my kid, I am thinking about how I want to go back to work, I hate being a stay at home mom, but I feel like a bad parent.” At the moment she said this, her back completely released and she felt no more pain. Once she made the connection between the pain and the mind and emotions, her body let it go. Amazing!

These days, I exclusively do Shiatsu, tending to the physical body like plants in a garden. I examine the state of the tissues (plants) as an expression of the energy (like soil) underneath. Every pain, imbalance, dis-ease is approached from a mind, body, spirit perspective. I work with the physical body while helping people to connect to the other levels involved. Sometimes we identify and move through mental / emotional /spiritual patterns, and sometimes we just breathe, get into the body and relax.

If you have a condition that is calling to you for deep and lasting change, or want to receive bodywork that helps you to explore your mind-body-spirit connection, consider scheduling an Ensoflow Shiatsu session today!


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