Deep Tissue Massage: Benefits and Risks

Written by: Kevin Cash



Time to read 11 min

Ever wondered if deep tissue massage could help your ongoing back pain or make you recover faster from an injury? Known for targeting deep muscle layers, this massage is great for getting rid of ongoing pain and helping you move better. It tackles discomfort at its core with deliberate strokes and pressure, offering a holistic solution.

We'll cover a range of topics related to deep tissue massage, from its benefits and possible risks to its effects on muscle and bone tissue.

Let's explore together and see how this intense therapy could change your approach to staying healthy.

What Is a Deep Tissue Massage?

Man relaxing while having massage

Deep tissue massage is a type of massage that targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissues, using slow, deep strokes and sustained pressure. This technique is popular among 63% - 65% of U.S. massage therapists (source).

Deep tissue massage helps break up adhesions and scar tissue using methods such as stripping and friction. Therapists may use their fingers, thumbs, elbows, or even tools to apply the necessary pressure during the massage.

This type of massage works effectively to address different musculoskeletal issues like chronic pain, aid in injury rehabilitation, and improve limited mobility.

How Is Deep Tissue Massage Different from Other Types of Massage

Therapist massaging upper back

Deep tissue massage stands out due to its deep-reaching effect on muscles and tissues, offering relief for chronic pain and stiffness.

Let's explore the differences and similarities between different types of massage therapies.

Deep Tissue Massage vs Swedish Massage

Deep tissue massage and Swedish massage are both popular forms of massage therapy, but they serve different purposes and involve varying techniques.

Swedish massage is known for its gentle strokes, including percussion, kneading, vibration, tapping, and rolling. The massage is designed to improve circulation and induce relaxation.

On the other hand, deep tissue massage targets specific areas of tension and pain in the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. This makes it ideal for those with chronic muscle issues or who prefer concentrated pressure.

Both techniques offer significant health benefits. However, deep tissue massage is particularly effective for addressing specific musculoskeletal problems due to its focused approach.

Here's a quick comparison table to help you understand the key differences between deep tissue massage and Swedish massage:


Deep Tissue Massage

Swedish Massage


Firm pressure and slow strokes

Gentle massages, flowing strokes, and kneading


Targeted muscle tension relief, pain relief

Relaxation, stress relief, improved circulation of blood and lymph fluids


Moderate to firm

Light to moderate

Focus Areas

Specific problem areas, such as knots or adhesions

Whole body, with specific attention to tense areas


Often 60 to 120 minutes

Typically 60 to 90 minutes

Deep Tissue Massage vs Sports Massage

Deep tissue and sports massage both use firm pressure to ease pain, but they focus on different things.

Deep tissue massage works for many problems like arthritis, headaches, and muscle tension, especially if you don't move around much.

In contrast, sports massage primarily aims to assist athletes in enhancing their athletic performance and recovering from injuries. It not only applies strong pressure but also stretching, a unique feature of this massage technique.

Here's a quick comparison between deep tissue massage and sports massage:


Deep Tissue Massage

Sports Massage


Firm pressure and slow strokes

Mixed massage techniques, including stretching


Targeted muscle tension relief, pain relief

Athletic injury treatment, performance enhancement


Moderate to firm

Variable, adapted to athlete's needs

Focus Areas

Specific problem areas, such as knots or adhesions

Muscles, ligaments, and tendons for athletic performance


Often 60 to 120 minutes

Varies; often before or after events or training sessions

When Is Deep Tissue Massage Recommended

Deep tissue massage is great for addressing injuries and long-lasting pain and aiding in post-surgery recovery. If a regular massage doesn't help your serious muscle pain and stiffness, consider a deep tissue massage. If you can tolerate some discomfort, it should be able to improve your quality of life.

Research shows that deep tissue massage helps reduce pain and improves range of motion in the neck for patients with myofascial pain syndrome (source). Doing it regularly can help control long-lasting muscle pain, which is good for your health routine.

If you have certain medical conditions, such as a history of blood clots or if you are receiving cancer treatment, it is important to be cautious. Talk to your doctor before you undergo a deep tissue massage.

What to Expect During a Deep Tissue Massage Session

Before you start the deep tissue massage session, you'll have a conversation with your therapist. Discuss your expectations for the massage and the areas of your body that need attention. It's important to disclose any health conditions, injuries, or specific concerns to ensure safety and effectiveness.

You can lie on your back, stomach, or whichever position feels most comfortable on the massage table. The area of your body that's uncovered will receive the most attention during the massage.

The therapist will use firm pressure and slow strokes to reach deeper muscle layers during a deep tissue massage session. They might also stretch and knead to make the therapeutic massage feel more intense.

Some people might find the strong pressure massage hurt a bit, but others should find it satisfying. You may experience slight aches after the massage session, but this usually subsides after a few days.

After getting a massage, remember to drink lots of water to get rid of toxins that were released and get the most out of the session.

Does Deep Tissue Massage Hurt?

Therapist using elbow to massage upper back

Is a deep tissue massage going to hurt? Deep tissue massage might feel a bit uncomfortable, especially if your muscles are tight.

It's important to tell your therapist how much pressure you can take. That way, you get the most help without feeling too much pain.

Here are some tips to make a deep tissue massage more manageable:

  • Breathe Deeply - Oxygen helps relax muscles.

  • Communicate - Tell your therapist if the pressure is too much.

  • Stay Relaxed - Tensing up can make it more painful.

Always remember that deep tissue massage isn't meant to be painful. It is designed to apply deep pressure to target tension and knots. You minimize any discomfort you may experience when you communicate with your therapist.

11 Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage offers a range of advantages for those seeking relief and wellness. Let’s explore each of the benefits.

1. Inflammation

Deep tissue massage reduces inflammation by breaking up adhesions and reduces swelling by boosting blood flow.

A deep tissue massage can be beneficial to active individuals. It helps address factors that cause swelling and soreness in the body and boosts agents that fight it. This helps recipients of the massage recover faster after tough workouts (source).

Trigger point therapy is a form of deep tissue massage that specifically focuses on inflamed muscle knots. This therapy provides pain relief and aids in the faster healing of inflammation.

2. Reduces High Blood Pressure

Deep tissue massage also offers benefits for high blood pressure. This massage helps release endorphins, your body's natural painkillers, to relax muscles and lower arterial blood pressure.

High blood pressure and ongoing pain in adults decreased significantly after receiving a deep tissue massage, leading to big drops in blood pressure levels, including diastolic, systolic, and mean arterial pressure (source).

Always talk to your doctor before scheduling a deep tissue massage, especially if you're concerned about your blood pressure. This massage might be able to help with it, but it's important to get the go-signal from your physician first.

3. Aids Recovery After Injury

Deep tissue massage can be helpful for recovery, especially if you're dealing with sports injuries or chronic pain. This massage is a good option for people who like natural healing.

Deep tissue massage works by improving blood circulation and speeding up the healing of muscle strains and sprains. This not only relieves pain and stiffness but also helps restore your range of motion.

If you're an athlete or a person dealing with injury issues, adding deep tissue massage to your recovery plan could lead to significant improvements in how you feel.

4. Reduces Back Pain

Deep tissue massage can make a big difference if you have back pain. It targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, breaking up the knots and adhesions that cause discomfort in your back.

Deep tissue massage also enhances blood flow, which helps decrease swelling or fluid buildup in the back.

You might notice your back feeling looser and less swollen after each massage session. Deep tissue massage could be the solution you're looking for if back pain has been a recurring issue.

5. Reduces Pain Perception

Deep tissue massage is highly effective at reducing pain perception by targeting knots and adhesions deep in the sub-layer of muscles. This temporarily increases your pain pressure threshold and potentially decreases pain perception at muscle tender spots (source).

This specialized technique also includes trigger point therapy, which focuses on specific painful knots or trigger points, providing significant pain relief.

Deep tissue massage helps free up tight or injured tissues by focusing on these trigger points. Applying appropriate pressure helps expedite your recovery and can offer immediate relief.

6. Reduces Chronic and Lower Back Pain

Deep tissue massage is a powerful remedy for chronic and lower back pain. It was found to reduce pain as effectively as ibuprofen (source).

Deep tissue massage can help ease persistent lower back pain by releasing endorphins that relax the blood vessels and make it easier for the body to pump blood.

Massages, including deep tissue massage, provide short-term relief for individuals suffering from chronic back pain, according to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study.

7. Increased Range of Motion

Increased range of motion is one of many benefits of deep tissue massage. This massage can help loosen tight muscles that limit movement and cause pain.

The stretching and loosening of tight spots make the joints more flexible. When circulation is improved with the massage, your body can move more easily.

Having increased flexibility and range of motion can be especially helpful for athletes or people recovering from injuries.

8. Improves Posture

Deep tissue massage does more than just relax you. It targets the root of your poor posture by easing tight muscles and correcting imbalances in your body.

You'll notice better balance and body coordination after a deep tissue massage session, leading to improved posture. You can maintain these benefits and enjoy a more balanced, aligned posture through this massage therapy.

9. Breaks up Scar Tissue

Deep tissue massage not only soothes chronic muscle pain but also tackles tougher issues like scar tissue, which often forms after an injury or surgery.

The application of focused pressure and strokes through a deep tissue massage breaks down adhesions, and increases blood flow and circulation to a scar. This is crucial for breaking up the scar tissue and promoting healing.

Deep tissue massage can significantly improve your range of motion by targeting these scarred areas. This means less pain and more freedom in movements that might have once been restricted.

10. Reduces Stress

Deep tissue massage is great for boosting your mental health. When you get this massage, your body releases endorphins, often called feel-good hormones. These happy hormones help you feel more relaxed and less stressed.

Endorphins also lower cortisol levels, the hormones that are linked to high levels of stress. This decrease not only calms your mind but can also lead to improved sleep.

Deep tissue massage also stimulates the production of oxytocin, the "bonding hormone." This hormone is important for lifting your mood and improving how you interact with others.

11. Reduces Headaches

Deep tissue massage is good for managing headaches. It tackles the root causes of headaches, like chronic muscle tension and stress.

A deep tissue massage loosens neck stiffness and knots in the shoulders and upper back to alleviate tension headaches. Since a deep tissue massage also reduces stress and anxiety, that can help reduce the frequency of headaches.

Side Effects of Deep Tissue Massage

Man relaxing while having a Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage has lots of health perks, but there are possible side effects. This massage uses firm pressure to reach deeper muscles and tissues, which can sometimes cause discomfort or pain during or after the session.

1. Feeling Sore

You might feel some soreness after trying a deep tissue massage. The massage uses strong pressure to reach deep into your muscles, which your body might not be used to, so it may cause discomfort.

Soreness should go away in a day or two, and the benefits of the massage should be greater than any temporary discomfort immediately after.

To ease the soreness from a deep tissue massage, try these tips:

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Do some gentle stretching

  • Use heat or ice therapy

  • Rest your body

It's alright if you feel a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be bad or last more than a couple of days. Talk to your massage therapist if your pain doesn't get better or gets worse. You might need to change the pressure or take a break from deep tissue massages until you feel better.

2. Bruising

Deep tissue massage techniques can occasionally result in bruising, even when effective. However, methods that involve stretching joints are less prone to causing bruising.

Massage can also sometimes cause bruising when focusing on specific problem areas using techniques such as deep muscle stripping and myofascial release (MFR).

Talk to your massage therapist or see a healthcare provider if you see the bruising or pain getting worse. They can give advice and make sure you're safe and comfortable during and after your massage sessions.

Deep Tissue Massage FAQs

1. Who Should Avoid Getting a Deep Tissue Massage?

If you've recently had surgery or have a blood clotting disorder, deep tissue massage might not be for you. Always check with your healthcare provider before booking a session to ensure it's safe for your specific health conditions.

2. Is Deep Tissue Massage Safe During Pregnancy?

Deep tissue massage isn't recommended during pregnancy due to the risk of complications. Prenatal massages specifically tailored for pregnant women are a safer option.

3. How Often Should You Get a Tissue Massage?

Generally, scheduling one every 1-2 weeks works well for maintenance. However, your specific needs and your therapist's advice should guide the exact frequency.

4. Why Can’t You Shower After a Deep Tissue Massage?

After a deep tissue massage, it's wise to skip the shower for a bit. This gives your body time to soak up all the good effects of the massage. Jumping into a shower too soon might make you feel dizzy or light-headed, so it's best to wait.

5. Are There Any Tools for Deep Tissue Massage?