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Should Deep Tissue Be Painful

There are probably as many answers to this as there are people.


Let me answer this in 2 ways, what I learned in massage school and what I have learned through my practice as a therapist.


In massage school, we learned that deep tissue can be uncomfortable but should not painful.
The rules went like this…
On a pain scale of 1-10, 1 being no pain and 10 being so bad you need to go to the hospital, you should stay at a 5-6. You should keep in communication with your client about the pain level and watch for any guarding or holding of the breath. Deep strokes should be slow and let the muscle pull you along don’t plow through the muscle. Your client should not be sore for more than a day and if they are that is over treatment.
That is what I learned in school and I do still use all of that.

Here is what I have learned working in the Massage field.


I started my career working as a deep tissue and treatment therapist. I went into massage because I wanted to help people. I wasn’t really interested in doing a lot of relaxation massage.
My first few months as a practicing therapist I found out pretty fast that people wanted deep work. I would hear people say, “You can go deeper”. I was using the skills I was taught, and I was afraid of hurting someone.


I started talking to other therapists that I worked with. I mostly heard things like
“I am a punisher, you have to kick their butt, or they won’t think you are doing your job”
I was so confused, I never heard that in school.
I started working deeper on clients and sure enough, they all loved it. The problem was I didn’t. It just seemed like I was digging and that the therapeutic aspect was missing.
About 6 months into my massage career I ended up with Thoracic outlet syndrome. It’s basically a nerve bundle impingement in the shoulder that caused pain and numbness down into my hand.


The owner and therapist at the clinic I worked at offered to do some body work on me.
This was where I learned what real deep tissue was.
It was slow, relaxing and bone deep. I almost fell asleep. It wasn’t painful!
I was sore the next day but the gripping pain I had in my shoulder was gone.
I knew right then I wanted to be that kind of therapist. I was lucky enough to get more massage from him and I started practicing his technique or what I felt was his technique.
Warm up the muscle and then slow pace with deeper and deeper pressure.
I love to call this Deep Relaxation.


I started to build a clientele very fast and I was loving my job. I was seeing results in my clients. They were telling me how great they felt, and I didn’t have to “kick their butt”.
I have had people tell me I have made a difference in their lives, improved their golf game, helped them achieve physical goals and the list goes on.


So, if you ask me, should deep tissue be painful? I will say no way!
That doesn’t mean however that people still seek out the painful deep tissue massage and there are plenty of awesome therapists out there to provide that service.

July 17, 2016

By Jennifer Oulds