Deep Tissue: 10 Tips to Give a Deeper Massage

by ,

New students, especially smaller women, say that they can’t give good pressure.  They’re not able to go deep.  If you think this, you’re wrong.  First pressure is not equal to depth.  I will speak about the difference.  Then I will present some strategies to help you work deeper.  Please understand that depth is not about working harder, putting more muscle into it, or needing to be bigger.  Often I feel deep tissue work is easier than a light Swedish.

Pressure is the force that a therapist uses, hopefully through body weight, not muscle.  The amount of force you use, even if equal, will be perceived differently by different clients.  This perception is depth.  Even the same client may perceive depth differently from session to session.  That’s why agreeing to give the same massage as last time can be a trap.  Students quickly make the link that depth can be achieved through pressure.  Client wants more depth = I need to use more pressure.  It’s not the only way to achieve depth.  How to achieve depth:

  1. Use Pressure: Yes, you already know this method.  Still it is a common way to increase depth, and I must remind you to use body weight, not muscle to increase pressure.  Clients sometimes want deep tissue to be affected deeply for a specific complaint, but mistakenly ask for a full body Swedish with deep pressure thinking they are the same.  Deep tissue relies on anatomical and technique knowledge, not necessarily more pressure.
  2. Master Body Mechanics: If you are going to use body weight properly you must master body mechanics.  This deserves its own post.  If you don’t change your stances, bend your knees, and lean in then your muscles are doing the work.  Goodbye full work day.
  3. Lower Table Height: Don’t limit body mechanics by having your table height too high.  If it is you must muscle it again, and this time you’ll be muscling with weaker muscles.  This is important with larger clients and side lying.  Drop the table down.
  4. Stand a Proper Distance:  If you’re too close to your work then your arms will be bent and cramped.  They’ll fatigue too quickly.  You don’t want to lock out your arms, but you want them to be straight.  If you’re too far from the table then your body weight won’t transfer through your arms, even if they’re straight.
  5. Watch your Tempo:  You must slow down and sink into the tissue to achieve depth.  Remember my rules of giving a better massage.  Don’t bulldoze through tissue.
  6. Use Less Lotion:  If you use too much lotion or oil, then you won’t be able to control tempo.  Your stroke will be too fast to sink into tissue.  Taste the tissue first.  By that I mean palpate to see how much oil the skin already has.  Remember if you use too little salt you can always add more, but once too much is added you can’t take it away.
  7. Use a Sharper Tool:  If your tool is sharper, the client will perceive greater depth.  This is similar to lying on a bed of nails.  If you lie back on a board with ten thousand nails it won’t pierce the skin.  Lie back on one nail and greater depth is achieved.  If you use your whole ulna on the erector spinae, and your client wants more pressure, you lift your arm to use just the olecranon of the ulna.  Without changing the pressure you have changed depth.  Sometimes a client likes the depth, but not the pressure.  This happens when the client feels they can’t breathe because of the pressure on their back.  Change to a sharper tool so you may work with less pressure while maintaining the client’s perception of depth.                                   
  8. Work Muscle Attachments:  Massaging only the muscle belly is doing only a third of the job.  The muscle has an origin and insertion.  These attachments are full of proprioceptors that impact the tension in a muscle.  Work attachments and you may find yourself having to spend less time on the muscle belly.  You may also get better results.
  9. Change Techniques:  Sometimes the techniques you’re using won’t work.  You should switch techniques allowing use of better body mechanics and a sharper tool.  Sometimes the technique you’re using isn’t the most direct way to the tissue you’d like to affect.  For example if you work splenius capitis by the vertebrae then you’ll find trapezius in the way.  You could pressure through it, but don’t forget part of splenius capitis is superficial by the occiput.  Psoas is another example.  Most therapists try to slowly pressure their way through the intestines.  Instead why don’t you sneak in through the side and slide under the intestines?
  10. Stretch Tissue:  I’m not speaking about stretching itself, even though stretching is wonderful.  I’m speaking about elongating the tissue through your massage stroke.  When you’re going through your stroke are you solely pushing on the muscle causing a compression, or are you working the fiber direction trying to stretch the tissue with your stroke?  This is especially good on long muscles.  You have to know your muscles to do this, and you must not use too much lotion, or you won’t have the friction necessary.

Remember sometimes clients lie about how much pressure they can take.  Listen to what they say, but also watch how they respond to your pressure.  Also, just because a client is thin and petite doesn’t mean they will break if you give them a lot of pressure.  Client sets pressure.  Don’t assume for them.