Deep tissue massage therapy is similar to Swedish massage, but the deeper pressure is beneficial in releasing chronic muscle tension. The focus is on the deepest layers of muscle tissue, tendons and fascia (the protective layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints). Here are five primary techniques for accomplishing "deep tissue" between-the-muscle-fibers massage:
- Active Motion: In this technique, the client is working with the therapist in order to flex and stretch the muscle being worked as the therapist is applying firm pressure on it. When the client flexes a muscle, the fibers spread and the therapist can wiggle in between the muscle fibers; when the client stretches or relaxes the muscle, it softens to allow the therapist to work in a little deeper. The continuation of this alternating flex and relax/stretch allows for the most effective and painless penetration of the muscle tissue possible. Each muscle pair (the same muscle on both sides of the body) may take as long as 15-20 minutes to work efficiently, but can be sufficiently worked in as little as 5-10 minutes if worked lightly. Rolfing and Active Release are two examples of this type of deep tissue manipulation.
- Passive Motion: This technique is similar to the Active Motion technique, except that the therapist is working the muscle with one hand and moving the body part being worked with the other hand. This technique is much more relaxing for the recipient, but is much more taxing for the therapist. A full-body treatment using this technique by a single therapist is nearly impossible, unless your therapist looks something like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Myofascial Release is one example of this type of deep tissue manipulation.
- Static Pressure: In this technique, the therapist is using thumbs, fingertips and even elbows to apply firm pressure to individual points on a muscle. In order to encourage the muscle to relax and allow penetration in this technique, it is necessary for the therapist to move very, VERY slowly. One individual muscle may take as long as 20 minutes to cover sufficiently, and this technique often causes bruising and slight discomfort. Trigger Point Therapy is one example of this type of deep tissue manipulation.
- Muscle Stripping: There are at least two variations of Muscle Stripping: Rapid and Slow. Rapid Muscle Stripping is the most aggressive and painful of the techniques discussed here, but may also be the most effective in extreme cases such as chronic pain conditions caused by incorrectly-healed or untreated past injury. In this technique, the therapist is using knuckles or elbows to firmly and rapidly "strip" the muscle while the client is breathing deeply and performing a rapid stretching movement with the body part being treated. It is recommended only in extreme cases, or when a rapid result is desired. In Slow Muscle Stripping, the therapist is using thumbs or elbows with very slow, firm, deep movements.
- Negative Pressure: This technique involves the use of suction cups applied to the body, which causes the muscle fibers to expand and separate, as opposed to traditional pressure-strokes used in mainstream massage which compress the fibers together. By expanding the muscle tissue, it allows for additional space within the muscle for lactic acid and other toxins to flow and be released from the tissue more completely and more rapidly than with traditional massage techniques. The suction that occurs also forces body fluid to flow through the tissue, which further encourages toxins to be "flushed" from the area. It also allows the therapist to more effectively re-align tight muscle tissue fibers, which relieves the proverbial "knot" that is created by tension and excess lactic acid buildup. The down-side of this technique is the potential for "hickeys" to occur, which can be very alarming to a massage recipient who hasn't been fore-warned about their potential for occurence. This technique is also known as Cupping Therapy or Massage Cupping. Using less pressure and gliding strokes with the suction cups, Negative Pressure may also be used as a relaxing “feel-good” massage technique.