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Deep Tissue Massage: Stress release or stress inducing care? An insight into The Root Bodywork.

Let me just go in hard: I find stand alone deep tissue massage sessions to be an outdated, unnecessary, patriarchal, western approach to massage.

There. I’ve said it, so shoot me. It’s unnecessary & it’s not promoting well-being.

It’s GREAT for sales & it’s an awesomely addictive way to keep your clients hooked to massage therapy. Two things I absolutely despise from the massage industry of the western world.

If you are still reading, do know my sessions have deep tissue elements & I can go very deep IF & WHEN I want to. But I will NEVER offer you a full DT session or charge you extra for it.

I spent the first 8 years of my career as a CTM pressing elbow & thumbs on peoples backs. I remember someone gave me the title “thumbs of steel”. Back then, I was doing deep tissue All. Day. Long. Like a senseless routine, focused on a spot (trigger point for more fanciness) where tension accumulated & “releasing” that over & over.

Truth is you won’t release it for good & let’s face it, the release is -in my experience- always temporary because the muscle has memory & shuts down like a ball right after the traumatic experience of being senselessly overworked over & over & over again.

I know a massage therapist needs to ensure business, but I’m totally against doing so by providing temporary tension release which sells short term solutions & keeps clients hooked to the pain-temporary release-pain never ending cycle. I honestly rather have them addicted to the long term feeling of wellness than to the feeling of pain.

After a deep dive into pelvic health & wellness bodywork for the pregnant & postpartum woman, I began learning about women’s wellness massage for menopause & abdominal care. Then with my work, all my practice & research into Rebozo & the way Thai massage works, I had a moment of self growth in my technique. What ensued for my work was a total, mind blowing experience of transition from the madness of deep trigger point therapy to actually bodywork.

The change: working with mild to firm pressure instead of pain inducing depth & applying a variety of techniques, range of motion & tools to release muscle tension, by addressing the origin & insertion points & the interdependence of one muscle & the next, from head to toe, all while supporting your nervous system.

In simpler words I quit the deep localized repetitive therapy & almost acrobatic maneuvers that sell well on photo but leave clients feeling like over bent pretzels, for a holistic approach using mixed techniques & creating my own bodywork. The Root offers a somatic, wave-like approach working from the hips up & from the hips down to the lower limbs on a continuous basis. Not just a robotic leg-back-neck-turn-leg-arms-neck-go home approach where I force things on you & tell you what you need.

Deep Tissue, not sure if you have noticed, sells as a “more expensive” service in many spas. Same as hot stone or pregnancy massage. This is pure, unadulterated marketing. As a massage therapist that has done everything from Deep to Swedish, Thai, rebozo, pregnancy, hot stone, reflexology, Ayurveda…there’s no difference for me. When proper body mechanics are applied, one style is not more or less taxing for me than another style. But by pricing my session of deep tissue or hot stone more expensive, I tell you that it’s “fancier” more “unique”. Personally I not only disagree but I also find that my sessions have grown so much when I decide what techniques & tools I use based on the client & their situation in situ.

My Root sessions may be just massage, pretty firm or mild, or maybe they include tools like rebozos & hot stones or hot towels & even a massage hammer. I may use a trigger point stick or not. And I’ll certainly apply everything from Ayurveda inspired moves to Thai & Rebozo to whatever feels right. I never know. Sometimes I decide while the massage is happening.

So deep tissue is, in my humble opinion after 17 years in the business, a fancy way to sell you excessive & extreme pressure which you don’t even need. Techniques like Craniosacral therapy which use almost no pressure & barely touch, or like Rebozo which is a mix of swings & hugs, give far more long lasting effects than 90 minutes of deep, pain inducing misery.

I work firm & many times my clients who want deep can’t actually tolerate my firm. When done properly (pressure point & body mechanics of the therapist), a firm massage is in many times more than enough pressure. In a study done about how massage influences autonomic nervous system regulation it was observed that massage can increase stress index levels in pain patients, which thinking about it it’s the opposite goal of what massage is supposed to be. There’s three reasons I can think of that generate stress on a massage:

  1. Discomfort/feeling unsafe: many have been there because of prior trauma or because the therapist assigned is just not a good fit or we don’t feel safe physically or emotionally.

  2. Extreme pain: when you are more tense than relaxed & the massage is making you tense even more because you are exposed to extreme unnecessary pain to make a “knot” disappear.

  3. The combination of both: when you are in extreme pain & feel unsafe or uncomfortable & like “the therapist knows better” & the whole thing ends up being a total fail (a very expensive one, too).

If you are tightening up during a massage, twitching, shaking as a result of deep pressure you are certainly increasing your stress levels which means the massage is working against you in terms of health. In response, your muscles will tense.

I notice twitching & I move away to try & target the muscle or group of muscles differently. Sometimes, when I HAVE to go deeper & mindfully talk to my clients. I acknowledge the pain & I explain, count, anything to bring the experience to a somatic plain. Letting the client breathe through the short lasting exercise AND THEN I MOVE AWAY !

There are so many techniques that have magnificent effects & which don’t need to be “torture”.

The “no pain no gain” philosophy is wrong, outdated & absolutely unacceptable on a massage table.

So, is deep tissue bad?

Not necessarily. When done properly it’s a fantastic technique to reach deeper layers.

Is it necessary to go at it for 60-90 minutes without mercy, forcing the muscles around to contract & your nervous system to enter into alert while you are supposed to be relaxing?

No. Absolutely not. I don’t think even more than 3-5 minutes at a time is necessary.

Are there alternatives?

Always. But many therapists don’t open to new options because information takes a lifetime to change & change is always resisted. Information then never reaches the client but actually trying a new approach always brings a new perspective.

In my sessions I go to deep tissue WHEN & IF it’s needed & always as part of a combination of techniques. The rest will be tools, east & west modalities & a mindful-holistic approach. Finding the tension, connecting the dots, working the body as a system & making YOU a part of the session by acknowledging your spoken & unspoken reactions & inviting you to breathe & take control. THAT is the goal.

This is my personal experience & my own journey as a therapist. This is how I’m evolving & what I’m offering in my sessions. The possibility to give longer lasting well-being means modifying the narrow view of western techniques were pressure equals release & pain equals gain for a holistic, inclusive & traditional approach where movement, vibration, variety & systemic techniques are combined & applied uniquely to you, & which are supportive of your nervous system.

You won’t find this everywhere because it doesn’t sell to the masses to offer tailored care that leaves you feeling WELL & that won’t make you come back in absolute misery in a few days. But if you find a therapist (& I know a few, tho all working independently) that works this way, who thinks sending you home feeling well & knowing you may not be back in a while, keep them, protect them, promote them. We are a species in extinction & we need more therapists who believe in somatic massage & holistic care that WORKS.

Let’s normalize NOT entering a massage room & stating “I know it’s gonna be extremely painful but that’s what I need” & allow for massage to be a well-being, autonomic nervous system supportive experience where you are in control & your body & mind are safe.

For appointments visit the Bookings page of this website & book a session that suits you.


This blog represents my opinion based on 17 years of experience & the various trainings from East & West. This blog is not intended as a medical recommendation. The Root massage is a therapeutic massage created by Kate Brinch Sand for holistic wellness.

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