The Definitive Guide To Deep Tissue Massage


Deep tissue massage techniques

Techniques used in deep tissue massage involve varying amounts of pressure and strokes. A therapist will use fingers, thumbs and palms, much like a relaxation massage, for lighter pressure. Fists, forearms and elbow are also used, however, as they can help the therapist add more force to the strokes. Deeper pressure is used than a Swedish massage technique, although similar strokes are involved. This doesn’t mean deep tissue massage is just a ‘harder’ version of a Swedish massage – there are different goals and outcomes to both styles. Techniques used by a deep tissue massage therapist include:


In stripping, the therapist will use their knuckles, thumbs, elbows or forearms to massage along a patient’s muscle fibres, in slow, gliding strokes. They will use sustained pressure, and knots or problem areas will be easily identified. This is usually more relaxing than other techniques used, and can help to lengthen out muscles, as well as relax them.


Friction, also known as cross-fiber massage, goes across your muscle fibres, or ‘against the grain’. This breaks up knots, releases adhesions, and allows muscles to realign in a healthy manner. This redistribution also aids in breaking down scar tissue. Friction can feel ‘bumpier’ than stripping, as it goes the opposite way to the muscle fibres. Friction can also be more uncomfortable than stripping, but has just as many benefits.

Trigger Point Therapy

The massage therapist will identify a trigger point, and then slowly apply pressure, using their thumb, knuckle or elbow. They will hold pressure on the patient until they feel a change in the tissue underneath them. This can be uncomfortable, but the patient will feel relief when the therapist releases the pressure. The therapist may ask the patient to breathe out while they are applying pressure, which can also ease tension.

What can I expect from my first deep tissue massage appointment?

While you are sure to leave your first appointment feeling more relaxed than when you went in, there are a few things it is useful to know before your first appointment.

  • Make sure the therapist is aware it is your first deep tissue massage, so they can check in with you during the session. Every person is different, and therapists are not always able to tell if a patient is in inappropriate discomfort – communication is key.
  • As with any massage, the therapist will request you remove your clothes – they will leave it up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with. For a deep tissue massage, it is beneficial to remove clothes down to only your underwear. The therapist will leave the room, and knock to see if you are ready, and already lying under the towel on the massage table.
  • There will be a certain level of discomfort during the massage, particularly if you have problem areas that are holding tension. Excessive pain should not be expected, and it should feel like a ‘good’ pain, as the tension is leaving your muscles.
  • The therapist will tell you to drink a lot of water after your appointment, and to avoid alcohol and cigarettes for a day or so. This is to ensure the toxins released from your muscles during the massage are flushed out of your system properly, and don’t build up.
  • It is normal to experience soreness or stiffness a day or two after a deep tissue massage. As blood circulation increases during a massage, nutrients are delivered to your muscles. This can cause a type of inflammation, especially if you are not used to deep tissue massages. Soreness is a physical response to the inflammation this stimulation can cause. Soreness and stiffness can also be a result of lactic acidosis – a build up of lactic acid in your body. Stretching can relieve some of this discomfort.
  • Lastly, you can expect at least some pain alleviation after your soreness has disappeared! While some areas of tension, particularly scar tissue, can take a while to break down, regular tight muscles should feel more relaxed in the week following your massage.


  1. 2020, Deep Tissue Massage, Massage Envy.
  2. Adrienne Santos-Longhurst, 2018, Is A Deep Tissue Massage What Your Muscles Need?, Healthline Media.
  3. 2018, What Is Deep Tissue Massage? Is It Right For you?, Wellwood Health.
  4. 2019, The Differences Between Remedial Massage and Deep Tissue Massage, Demi International.