What is deep-tissue massage?

What are the Methods of application?

The manual massage consists of five well-known techniques

  1. Effleurage
  2. Petrissage
  3. Tapotement
  4. Frictions
  5. Vibrations

Each of which can be performed in a variety of waysThese are the strokes that form the basis of Swedish massage, and their effects vary according to factors such as the strength and speed with which they are delivered and the physical and emotional states of both the recipient and the therapist providing them.

In this guide, you are going to learn how compressive and stretching techniques can be used to help you work more deeply into tissues the skin, muscles, and their supportive fasciaif this is your intentionThere are many variants on how these techniques can be applied, which together form the basis of deep tissue massage

Compressive Techniques

You are already using compressive techniques: broadly and lightly when you effleurage, more firmly and with a wringing motion when you petrissage, and during ‘holding’ techniques whenever you hold a muscle or lift it away from underlying structures.

You might even be using your fingers or thumbs to apply deep localized digital pressure to specific spots on a muscle, such as when treating trigger spotsHere you are going to learn how to apply deep pressure while safeguarding your hands, fingers, and thumbs, and in doing so you will explore the best ways to use your forearms, fists, and elbows.

Squeezing techniques are also discussed, as is advice on the use of massage tools, which is valuable for compressing specific spots on a muscleYou will learn how to apply each of these compressive techniques statically, and then how they can be combined with stretching techniques to provide really deep tissue massage.

Tapotement is a form of compression but will not be discussed hereThe short, sudden strike of these percussive techniques (e.g., clapping and beating) compress tissues suddenly and rapidly and are stimulatory in nature, aimed at inducing vasodilation, vibrating tissues, and triggering cutaneous reflexes

The compressive techniques described in this guide are slow, sustained, and aimed at facilitating deep relaxation and a reduction, rather than an increase, in the tone of musclesEverything you need to know about the application of compressive techniques

Figure 1

These illustrations show the effect of different types of compressionThe layered-looking boxes represent a cross-section of the skin, muscle, and bone

A) Noncompressed tissues
B) Tissues compressed using the forearm
C) Tissues compressed using fist
D) Tissues compressed using the elbow
E) Tissues compressed using a massage tool

Fascia is not shown but is found beneath the skin and wraps around and invaginates muscles, as you knowYou may have heard the riddle: ‘Which makes the deeper impression into a carpet? an elephant’s footprint or a lady’s stiletto-heeled shoe?’ Many people quickly answer the footprint of the elephant because the elephant is so heavy

However, when applied to the same kind of surface and using the same weight, penetration is deeper when applied to a smaller surface areaSo the lady’s heel may well leave the deeper impression on the carpet, although she is obviously much lighter than an elephantHer heel directs weight to a small, localized area, whereas the broad flat pad of the elephant’s foot disperses weight over a larger surface area, thus making a less deep impression in
the carpet

Understanding this helps us when working with the compressive techniques needed for deep tissue massageNotice that the depth of compression achieved using a massage tool (E) is equal to the depth of compression when using your elbow (D), although the tool covers a smaller surface area.

The reason is that you are usually at a slight mechanical disadvantage when using a massage tool and thus not able to deliver as much weightThis is also the case when using your fistThe fist covers a smaller surface area (C), so you would expect to be able to press more deeply into tissues than when using your
forearm (B)

However, when using your fist or a massage tool, you often work with your arms held straight, directing pressure through your elbows and wrists, which need to be kept in a neutral positionMaintaining this position with your arms requires more
effort than when using your forearms (in which case you simply lean on the client, transferring your body weight to him or her).

Notice too just how deeply you can compress tissues when using your elbow or a massage toolYou could press the tissues right up to and onto the underlying bone, but this is neither safe nor desirableRemember this when working on thinner muscles and
those that lie close to the bone.

Types of compression:

Figure 1.1

A) noncompressed tissues
B) tissues compressed using the forearm
C) tissues compressed using the fist
D) tissues compressed using the elbow
E) tissues compressed using a massage tool

Understand that the illustrations in figure 1.1 are designed to help you differentiate the effects of different forms of compressionHow much you actually compress tissues will depend on your strength and leverage, as well as on which sort of tissues you are compressing and the state of those issuesMuscles depress more readily than tendons.

Muscles with a high state of tone are harder to compress than those with a lower state of toneClients with muscle tension are more likely to sense your pressure as being ‘deep’ compared to when the same pressure is applied to clients whose muscles are relaxedSo, although you will learn how to compress tissue very deeply, you will not always want to do so.

Stretching Techniques

Whenever you massage, you stretch tissuesUnless you are using very large amounts of oil and a feather-like touch, even light effleurage stretches the skin slightlyIn this guide, you’re going to learn how the stretching of skin, fascia, and muscles can be specifically incorporated into your massage treatment

Unlike the kind of stretching you might perform after exercise or a passive stretch you might incorporate at the end of a treatment for your client, the kinds of stretching described here are specific to the application of deep tissue massage

You will learn a variety of stretching techniques both with and without the use of oil, plus how to enhance these with tractioning of a limbMoving the joint associated with the muscles on which you are working can also be used to increase the stretch in tissues, and this technique is also presented

Together, these stretching techniques are intended for use as part of a massage treatment, You will also learn where they are best used on the body.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 presents more diagrams that might help you visualize the effects of stretch on skin and muscles (figures 1.2a and b)As you can see in figure 1.2a, with lots of oil and little compression you glide across the skin, and there is very little stretch

The effect here would not be considered deep tissue massageHowever, with no (or less) oil (figure 1.2b), you may grip the skin and stretch it, and this shearing force might stretch the underlying fascia and muscle too slightly.

Combining Compression and Stretch Techniques

Finally, notice what happens when you combine the forces of compression and stretch

Figure 1.3

When compression and stretch are used together, the therapist usually angles the direction of pressure so that it is no longer perpendicular to the tissues but instead acts on them obliquelyThe result is that while the tissues are physically compressed less deeply, clients often report feeling a deep compressionThis might be because of the stretch receptors in the client’s muscles and tendons are activated, signaling stretching sensations to the brain.

Modifications and combinations of the forces of compression and stretch provide you with a wide variety of treatment optionsFor example, using oil and a broad surface area (such as the forearm) provides lighter compression and little stretch; using less oil and a
smaller surface area (such as the elbow) provides deep compression and greater stretch.


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