Hello everybody and welcome to yet another edition of Hands On! I have been spending the last week thinking about my career path and how I have become the type of Massage Therapist I am today. I describe myself as a clinical Massage Therapist to those who ask me what kind of massage I specialize in. What this means, to me at least, is that my massage focuses on studying the form of a client for postural cues that can indicate imbalances in the certain muscle groups that are causing a particular result. Whether the result is pain, lack of function or both can also determine what the problem might be.
Anyway, if you were able to go back in time (using a TARDIS for the Doctor Who fans out there) and talk to the pre-massage Dave and tell him all the things I said above you would have probably gotten a response close to, “what?” I am only saying all of this to explain that people who aren’t Massage Therapists hear certain terms and just adopt them as gospel. I have come to talk about one particular term that I think needs to be rethought. That term is “Deep Tissue Massage”
I cannot tell you how many times I have had a client come in and say, “Do you do deep tissue?” To which I have to take a deep breath and start to explain that the term deep tissue is a very misunderstood and subjective term. To start with I do not “Do” anything to my clients, but that is a conversation for another blog. Deep is not a literal term in this sense. It is a sensory term. It all depends on what it feels like to the client. This feeling can change depending on who I am working on and “who” that person might be on any particular day. I say this because I am not the same person today that I was yesterday or tomorrow, nobody is, we all change based of major and minor changes in our body. One day a certain pressure might feel “deep” where as on another day it might not.
What does distinguish my massages from others is what is called engagement. No, this has nothing to do with rings or relationships. Engagement in this particular sense is the way my hands conform and connect to a clients body. It is a firm touch but it is more than that, it is allowing my hands to conform to the contours of the body so it doesn’t feel like I am trying to force a straight plane across a curved surface like I am sanding a board. By doing this it allows the tissues beneath my hand to soften more easily because it feels more natural. When this happens you can work the muscles that are under other muscles, in deeper (literally) areas. The way this works reminds me of an exercise that we were given in class that really helped us understand how “Communicate” with muscle tissue. They took a glass pie plate and put cornstarch on the bottom, they then poured water into the plate and allowed the cornstarch to settle at the bottom. We then were asked to try to poke our fingers into the bottom of the plate. The result was that the cornstarch created a hard spot that prevented us from touching the bottom of the plate. We were then asked to rest our palm on the top of the water and gently let it sink to the bottom of the plate. The result was that in doing so our whole hand slowly sunk as the cornstarch parted allowing us to touch the bottom of the plate. The purpose of this was to show us that muscles react in a similar way. If you poke and push muscles tighten up in defense, but if you sink in slowly the muscles will relax and you can work the muscles beneath the more superficial muscles. This was a very simple exercise that showed more than anyone could explain. The experience was powerful enough that I can still remember how I felt at the time, nearly seven years later.
The point I am trying to make is that certain terms cannot explain what you will experience in a massage session. Because if these terms being used over and over many people are afraid to experience a massage because it is going to hurt. I do not want to have that image in my clients mind before I even lay my hands on them. I never want to cause my clients pain. Now, that is not to say that when I am helping my clients muscles to release that there won’t be some discomfort. This discomfort, is at the clients determination of what they feel is beneficial. Meaning, that as soon as a client says that it is more than they care to deal with, I ease up or change techniques. This is why, in several other posts I have spoken about the importance of communication between clients and their therapists. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read about this very important point I do recommend reading the three part series about getting the most out of your massage. I am posting a link to the first part if you are interested: Tips for Getting the Most from Your Massage Part I.
Well that is my little lesson about “Deep Tissue Massage” and why I prefer not to use the term. What did you think? Did I tell it in a way that made it sink in or was I off the deep end? Let me know in the comments section below or give me a like. If you have any ideas for topics you would like me to cover in future posts please leave that in the comments as well. Until next time remember that we can only go as deep as someone wants us to. Thanks for reading and see you next time.