So you like it deep eh? I will be the first to admit that I must feel some sort of “pain” when I go in for a massage or any type of body treatment. No pain, no gain, right? I even state that I specialize in “deep tissue” massage on my business cards. And truth be told, the only reason I state that is so that people know I don’t do “relaxation” massage. I don’t work in a spa, I will not massage with scented oils and I sure as sh!t will not listen to waterfalls and birds all day while at work. I have put my time in and over the years, you learn what works for you and your clients. Those who do not like my treatments, please, I take no offence, go see someone else. I take great pride in doing my work my way and those who appreciate the art of it, I welcome back onto my table. But for those who think by telling me to go “deeper” I do not posses the skills to do my job adequately, I feel like I should explain about the most common misconception about such treatments.
Deep tissue. The term itself is a misnomer. Most people think, pain. They associate the term with pain and discomfort. And for most people, it is. As a therapist, I do not look at the term “deep tissue” and instantly think how much pain can I enforce on my client. Let’s break it down, shall we? The word ‘deep’ means “underneath; or further away from the surface; intense or extreme”. So deep, can be anything below the surface. In medical terminology, bones are deep to the skin. Layers of muscle are either superficial, close to surface, or deep, below the surface. Your organs are deep to your skin and your bones are also deep to your muscles. So it’s all relative to your staring point. In massage, the starting point is always your skin. Your skin varies in depth ranging from 0.5mm to 1.5mm depending on which part of the body we are referring to ie. eyelids or soles of the feet and you don’t need a microscope to see the difference, but here it is:
Once we get through the initial layer of skin, we can start feeling for muscles, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue and bones. In order to reach the many different layers of tissues, we need to start slow. Once again, we have a starting point, the skin. The skin is the largest organ of the body and it’s main job is to protect the internal structures from harm from the outside world. So in order to penetrate this layer, we need to start by introducing this layer to touch and this doesn’t mean I’m going in with elbows or machete like motions. Slow and steady, just like that tortoise.
Our somatosensory system allows our brain to decipher what stimulus is targeting our skin (touch from the therapist) and therefore we are able to relax our bodies in turn relaxing our muscles and all tissues in the body. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Therapists need to be able to decipher with their fingers what it is they are touching. Palpalatory skills are scarce in this industry and in my opinion make or break a good therapist. I will admit, when I first started, I couldn’t tell you what the hell I was touching let alone what effect my touch was having on tissues. This comes with practice. Just like anything else in this world, practice does make near damn perfect.
Once we are able to relax and move the most superficial layer of tissues then we can start by going further into each layer. Anatomically speaking, there are many layers of tissues. If you were to take a closer look at the human body, you can only palpate to a certain depth before the layers of tissues become too thick. Once you reach a certain layer, you simply cannot penetrate further. Yet, this is where a majority of people want you to go “deeper”. I used to spend all my energy on trying to get “deeper” with little or no results. Why? Because our bodies, anatomically speaking are the same, yet each person deciphers touch differently. When you attack tissues aggressively and try and force movement or change in texture, you are doing more harm then good. Most of the time, the client cannot tell me what tissues I’m targeting, only I know what it is I’m feeling for when in comes to tissue texture. The client, you, can only tell me what you feel in regards to the level of pain I’m inflicting (and this is all based on each individual and their capacity for pain). Most of the time, it is pain and discomfort but this will not get me the desired result. I need to be able to target the appropriate tissues and target them precisely. Only then, will I achieve the right response. I always think of the tortoise and hare, slow and steady.
My kids played a huge part in helping me make this video to demonstrate the difference between fast and slow movement when it comes to tissue texture.
In essence, some people just like to feel pain. In this case, I suggest taking on a sadomasochistic hobby and not a massage. But what do I know? I’m just a professional.
meraki [may-rah-kee] (adjective) word used to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put “something of yourself” into what you’re doing, whatever it may be