I Can Handle the Pain, Part III
Hopefully Part 1 and Part 2 have primed us to reframe this statement. Now when thinking “I can handle the pain,” instead of hearing a phrase loaded with resignation, overwhelm, and gritted teeth, the connotation has shifted to one underlain with positivity and a clear plan of action. When that action includes massage, often clients come to looking for “deep tissue” massage because they have heard or have experienced that as the only type that provides relief.
Asking for deep tissue massage sounds like “you can use as much pressure as you want” or “I have a high pain threshold” or “I want to feel beat up when we’re done.” I’m sure a few of you reading have said something along these lines. (And that picture to the right is what I imagine you think you want when you say them.) Notice how all of these assume that to be effective, therapists have to lay on the pressure and lay it on heavy. However, this is a major misconception.
Heavy Pressure vs. Deep Tissue
“Deep” is a directional term in anatomy indicating toward the interior of the body or close to the bone. So when we talk about “deep tissue” we are working with the tissues – muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia – farther from the skin. It does not indicate amount pressure levels.
Part of the reason “heavy pressure” and “deep tissue” have become colloquially synonymous is likely due to our culturally generalized belief that more is always better. A little exercise is good, so exercising all of the time must be better. Cutting some carbs is good, so eliminating them all must be better. If a little pressure relieves some pain, being beaten and bruised must be better. The extremes sound silly, but it you get the point and probably have examples of your own.
Another reason the two terms seem interchangeable is because many of us have seem to have internalized the mildly masochistic, high school gym mantra “No Pain, No Gain!” If it doesn’t hurt, if we can’t really feel it, then nothing is happening. While healing naturally can come with some discomfort, deliberately inducing pain is rarely the way to go.
Dispelling the Myth
We can reach deep tissues and the root of the issue through gentle methods, by working with the body, with techniques that focus on finesse over force. Reaching deep tissues is easily accomplished through gentle holds, manipulations, stretches, and compressions. These methods do not always deliver the expected “being massaged” sensations though they are extremely effective. Other health professionals may disagree or have different preferred approaches but this is my opinion and experience.
For example, I worked with a client who suffered with intense low back pain for eight months. She saw doctors and chiropractors and did self-care in the form of stretching and foam rolling, but found very little relief and still could not perform ordinary activities such as playing soccer with her children or sitting comfortably in her car. The only techniques I used in our sessions were SMRT (Spontaneous Muscle Release Technique) and some myofascial stretching strung loosely together with occasional Swedish strokes. No elbows, no traditional deep tissue moves, no crushing pressure. Often this client would report that she could feel the effects of my working on her hips in her shoulders or elsewhere in her body and she always off the table surprised at the huge difference our session made. We worked together for six weeks and her back pain completely resolved.
Why It Is Important
There’s no denying that pressure can feel good. It is also worth noting that traditional, heavy pressure deep tissue can be highly effective when done correctly. But the misconception that “deep tissue” must be painful or heavy handed to work is harmful in that it can intimidate some, preventing them from seeking beneficial treatment. Even if the thought of “pain for gain” isn’t off-putting, I’d like to refer back to a question I asked in Part 1: If you don’t have to deal with the pain, why should you? And a new question: If your main goal is pain relief, wouldn’t you be open to try any technique that can reach and resolve the source of your issue?
So… Does a gentle yet effective deep tissue massage sound appealing to you? Or would you still prefer the “beat ‘em up” styles? What’s your preference and why? Let me know in the comments below!
For questions you can also contact me directly at (856) 857-7535