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Massages are the bomb. Aromatherapy, warm lotion, whimsical harp music — what’s not to love? But what happens when a gentle relaxation massage doesn’t cut it? Sometimes you need to go deeper.

Here’s everything you need to know about deep tissue massage.

During a deep tissue massage, your massage therapist will use techniques that help alleviate severe muscle soreness. They’ll use skills similar to those showcased in other styles of massage, but the movements will be slower and the pressure deeper.

Your massage therapist will single out specific areas of pain and tension. The tougher touch helps them work out knots in the sub-layer of muscles and fascia. Think of fascia as a net that keeps your muscles together. Have you ever cooked a chicken breast? Fascia is that thin, clear film that surrounds the meat.

While almost anyone can benefit from deep tissue massage, it’s particularly great for athletes and those who have musculoskeletal issues.

Common affected areas of the body include:

  • butt
  • neck
  • calves
  • shoulders
  • lower back

Deep tissue massage offers major emotional and physical perks, helping relieve pain and emotional stress. But did you know it can also help heal you?

Deep tissue massage can help your body bounce back from an injury by increasing blood flow while reducing inflammation. It can also break down scar tissue, which is amazing.

It’s important to give your therapist a rundown before your rubdown. That way, they can calibrate their style and level of pressure based on your needs.

Once you’re in the room

You’ll be asked to undress (to the degree you’re comfortable with) and lie down on your stomach or back. Don’t worry — if you don’t want to take off your underwear, you don’t have to. Plus, you’ll be covered with a sheet.

Some spas have heated massage tables and fans in the rooms for extra comfort. Just let your therapist know your preferences before they get to work.

In the first few minutes of the massage, your therapist will use a lighter touch. Once your muscles are warmed up, they’ll start targeting your painful areas. If you want them to press harder or to ease up, just let them know. They’re there to make you happy and comfortable, so don’t be shy!

Will it hurt?

Sometimes deep tissue massages are uncomfortable or even painful. Some people think that if it hurts, it must be working, but that’s not necessarily true.

Discomfort is normal, but if you’re in actual intense pain, tell your therapist. There’s no shame in asking them to take it down a notch.

You may feel sore for a day or two after your spa-tastic experience. A cold pack or heating pad can help with this. You can also use a topical analgesic like Biofreeze, Bengay, or Tiger Balm.

Occasionally, people feel sick after a massage. Studies show that symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • dizziness

Deep tissue massage is different from other popular styles of massage, like Swedish massage and reflexology. In addition to their hands, therapists may use their elbows and forearms to increase pressure. They may also hold the intensity for a longer period of time than in a relaxation massage.

Deep tissue massage is mainly used to help people with sports-related injuries and chronic pain. If you just want to relax and zen out, you may want to try another style. There are plenty out there, including:

Because deep tissue massage is, well, deep, it’s not the best option for everyone. Certain conditions or factors can come into play.

Pregnancy

You shouldn’t get a massage in the first trimester of pregnancy. Once you’re into your second trimester, you can get massages again! But the style and pressure should be modified based on you and your pregnancy.

You should avoid massaging your feet or hands, because stimulating these pressure points can induce labor. Imagine going into labor on a massage table. No, thanks!

Cancer

If you’re undergoing chemo or radiation therapy, you need to let your massage therapist know. These cancer treatments can decrease your white and red blood cell counts, so you may bruise more easily. Also, a deep massage can be taxing on your body, so a lighter massage is recommended.

Blood disorders

If you have a low platelet count, you’re more at risk of hematoma or bruising. This can also happen if you’re on blood thinners. You should also avoid firm pressure if you’re prone to blood clots.

Skin issues

Some autoimmune diseases — like scleroderma and lupus — can make your skin more irritable. Check with your doctor before getting a massage if you think firm contact will be an issue. You should also avoid massages if you have open wounds or sores on your skin.

Osteoporosis

This condition weakens your bones. Intense pressure can lead to a bone fracture (ouch!), so it’s best to stick to lighter massages.

People have been diggin’ bodywork since at least 2500 B.C, but it seems like massage chains have been poppin’ up like Starbucks for the last 10 years. That means there are more therapists to choose from than ever. Finding the right person is vital to an awesome massage experience.

When you pick your spot, let the spa associate know exactly what you’re looking for. This is also a great time to bring up any preexisting medical conditions. If you don’t want to go to a massage chain, there are other ways to find a therapist. Some even do house calls!

Ways to find a massage therapist:

  • Ask around! Your friends and family may already have a lead on someone awesome.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral.
  • Check out the American Massage Therapy Association’s website.
  • Search the directory of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

While you’re figuring out the right therapist for you, here’s some stuff to consider:

  • Not all therapists do deep tissue work. Most therapists need additional training to perfect this technique. If you already work with a massage therapist, ask them ahead of time if they do deep tissue. If not, they can recommend someone with a firmer touch.
  • Deep tissue massage can cost more than a Swedish massage. Thankfully, certain health insurance plans cover massages. Also, a lot of spas offer memberships and packages, which can reduce costs.

You either like foot rubs or you don’t. And if you do, you know they can be heavenly. If you’re down for foot and calf massage, there are awesome ways to treat yo’ self at home.

Shiatsu foot and calf massager

This bad boy is like an automatronic hug for your lower legs and feet. You slide your legs into the device, and airbags compress and release while rollers knead your muscles.

Many models come with heat and vibration settings too. It’s magical. Plus, you only have to pay for the machine once, and then it’s yours forever.

Air compression massager

This device wraps around your legs. It has internal airbags that gradually increase in pressure before slowly releasing.

Air compression can improve your circulation while alleviating stress. This type of massager can also help with restless legs syndrome and leg edema.

If you have chronic pain, deep tissue massage can provide fantastic relief. But keep in mind that it’s not for everyone.

The first step is to find a massage therapist you vibe with. Every time you go, they’ll learn more about what you and your body need. So make the call and book yourself an appointment.