Deep tissue vs relaxation massage

Targeted treatment and soothing relief

If you’ve ever complained about back pain, sore muscles or even just the aches and pains of day-to-day life, you’ve probably been told, “you need a massage!”

Massage therapy is no longer a luxury reserved for fancy spas, health clubs and cruise ships. Living in an age of texting, hunching, sitting and other repetitive activities, they’ve become a necessity. With so many different options out there, you may be having difficulty choosing which type of massage is right for you.

When considering an appointment with a registered massage therapist (RMT), it’s important to understand exactly what you’re looking for. Two of the most popular forms of massage therapy are deep tissue and relaxation massage.

Familiarizing yourself with the differences between each type of massage will allow you to optimize your comfort, relaxation, and healing.

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What is a relaxation massage?

If you’re looking for a calming, soothing experience that releases tension and melts away stress, you should consider a relaxation massage.

The main goal with this approach is to leave you feeling — you guessed it — relaxed. During a relaxation massage, your RMT will typically use long, gentle strokes that create a nice overall flow for your body. If you need it, they can also use kneading or gentle chopping motions to target specific trigger points.

Relaxation massage prompts a physiological relaxation response in your body that causes your heart and breathing rate to slow, your blood pressure to decrease, your muscles to relax, and the production of stress hormones to decrease. Massage even stimulates your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that causes general feelings of well-being and happiness.

What should I expect from a relaxation massage?

Not only will a relaxation massage leave you feeling loose and relaxed, but there are other health benefits as well.

Massages are scientifically proven to improve your circulation, which has a host of additional benefits, including increased flexibility and healthier skin. Massage therapy also enhances your concentration and productivity, lowers your blood pressure and even provides a small immunity boost.

Relaxation massages are best for relieving everyday stress and loosening general tension in the muscles. They’re not intended for targeting specific conditions like chronic neck pain, back pain, limited range of motion, sports injuries or other injuries. These issues are more likely caused by tension that is buried deeper in the soft tissue and are better addressed by a more targeted approach.

What is a deep tissue massage?

Also known as a therapeutic massage or sports massage, if you have a specific problem that needs attention it’s better to go with this option. With a deep tissue massage, your RMT takes a more targeted approach to treat things like:

  • Inflammation
  • Sports injuries
  • Limited range of motion
  • A lingering car accident injury
  • A condition that causes chronic pain
  • Soreness from frequent physical activity, including sports
  • The effects of a job that involves sitting or standing all day, or repetitive motion

A deep tissue massage uses firm pressure strokes to reach deep into your muscles and other soft tissue, targeting specific muscle groups. It is also used to break up scar tissue, muscle knots or adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) that can disrupt your blood circulation.

What should I expect during a deep tissue massage?

A deep tissue massage can be full-body or focus on specific areas of the body. Your RMT will discuss your problem areas and work with you to design a treatment plan that suits your needs. They may recommend a single session or recurring appointments, depending on the severity of your problem.

Unlike a relaxation massage, you may experience some discomfort with a deep tissue massage. Your RMT will check in with you frequently during your massage to make sure they’re using only as much pressure as is needed. A therapeutic massage should never cause intolerable or excruciating pain.

Deep tissue massage (or any massage that involves heavy pressure) isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant. Instead, we can offer a prenatal massage which accommodates the pregnant body while helping promote muscle and ligament relaxation. It also eases the common symptoms of pregnancy like sore spots, back pain, mobility and even anxiety.

What should I expect after a massage?

Drinking lots of water before and immediately after your massage will give you a more comfortable experience during and after your massage. You may also experience some discomfort post-massage, but that normally clears up after approximately 24 hours. If the pain persists, contact your RMT. The pain may be indicative of an area that needs more attention.

Please feel free to ask all the questions you like before and during your appointment. Be open about your comfort level, your goals and your expectations.

If you’re looking for relaxation and relief from tense, tight muscles, relaxation massage is probably right for you. If you have a specific issue, deep tissue massage can be a helpful part of your treatment plan.

Whatever route you decide to take, you’re sure to come out of it happier and stress-free.

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