Deep Tissue-That’s Not a Thing

The Problem with ‘Deep Tissue’

When I started working as a massage therapist in 2001, my training was in Swedish massage, anatomy and physiology, pathology, and a smattering of surface knowledge in massage modalities. I spent the first five years of my career studying modalities that I felt were most important at the time. This continuing education was time consuming and expensive, and exciting to be sure.

I have a resume on my desk, at this moment where the therapist claims to be proficient in “Deep Tissue”. For the record, that’s not a thing. Sometimes with better outcomes than others, massage schools started to offer more depth of training in advanced techniques. Yay! Maybe.

How this Happened

Sometime in the last ten years spas and massage franchises started differentiating between ‘relaxation’ and ‘deep tissue’ massage. They charge more for deep tissue and often pay the therapist more. Sounds okay, right?

What seems to have happened is a giant cross-section of massage consumers who equate deep tissue with massive amounts of heavy pressure and undertrained therapists trying to deliver results with inadequate knowledge of pain science risking injury. Not a week goes by where a new client explains to me that they only have the deepest work and I ‘can’t work too deep.’


Truth is, I can. Embarassingly, I have.

All health professions go through periods of great change where science and education trump old myths. Now is one of those times in massage therapy. To do our best as professionals, we have to remain current on research. We know that the human on our table does not give a hill of beans about Neuromuscular Therapy vs Myofascial Release vs Orthobionomy. What they want to know is, “Can you relieve my pain? “, “Is my range of motion or performance increasing? ”

Part of maintaining ethics in any field is transparency, education, and not working beyond our capabilities. Being willing to refer someone to a colleague with more in depth knowledge is not a bad thing. It’s a necessary thing.

Know your healthcare provider, understand their level of education, take a proactive approach to your pain relief. Long term results require planning and partnership.

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