Dangers of Deep Tissue Massage
When most people think of massage, they think of candle-lit rooms, sounds of babbling brooks, and relaxing essential oils filling the air. No one thinks that they may end up in the emergency room after getting a massage, but in rare cases it can happen.
The most popular form of massage in the United States is the Swedish massage. This is the type of massage that comes to mind if you ask someone to envision him or herself getting a massage.
Swedish massage is a series of light to moderate pressure strokes that enhance blood flow to muscles and stimulate lymph to drain away toxins from the muscles to be handled by the liver and kidneys.
Swedish massage is generally considered safe for any healthy individual. Anyone whose kidneys and liver are in good working order should be able to process the extra waste products that are moved into the blood and lymph during a massage.
Swedish massage is a powerful type of detox for the body and can make you feel great afterwards which is why it is so popular, but people with kidney or liver problems should be sure to consult a doctor before having a massage. If you are one of these people and you have your doctor’s OK, always be sure to tell your massage therapist and write it down on the paperwork you fill out on your first visit.
Not All Massages Are About Relaxation
There are other types of massage – lots of them – and many of these other massage types/styles known as “modalities” by professionals, utilize quite a good deal of pressure in order to break up a connective tissue called fascia. Breaking up body tissues is what leads to the potential dangers of deep tissue massage.
Fascia is the white web-like structure that grows all over our bodies under our skin and around muscles, organs, and joints. Fascia is essentially what holds us together – and aids in strength – like lifting.
Ever wonder why doctors go in through the front of our bodies when they do kidney surgery? Even though the kidneys are located along the back side of the body, cutting through the fascia in the back (known as the lumbodorsal fascia) can cause very serious problems for people because it is responsible for how force is channeled through our bodies when we squat, bend, lift, etc.
Why Would You Want to Bust up Fascia if It’s So Important?
Fascia is not a fixed entity. It is continuously growing and if we are always in the same position, our fascia will grow to that form, not allowing us to have proper posture. Think of people you know who work on a computer all day – head and shoulders rounded forward. When they get up from working, their bodies do not revert back to normal posture with head in alignment with the spine and shoulders back and down. These folks are excellent candidates for massage that addresses breaking up fascia so the body can realign itself.
When fascia grows where it is not supposed to – like joining muscles together that should not be joined, when we get dehydrated and fascia changes to a stickier form (it is a weird critter that can be fibrous or gel-like depending on the situation), or when there is poor circulation, after surgery or injury we develop adhesions. Adhesions are just thick areas of dehydrated fascia that stick together and often stick to surrounding skin and muscle, and they are often painful because they no longer allow our bodies to move in the usual way.
Deep massage techniques are a great way to get rid of adhesions, and there are numerous types of massage that can do this effectively. Some commonly known modalities are: myofascial release (myo = muscle), deep tissue massage, Rolfing, Thai massage, sports massage, etc. These massage modalities are very effective when used correctly, but they are also the ones that pose the dangers of deep tissue massage.
What Was that You Said about Having to Go to the Hospital?
Deep massage techniques can be extremely beneficial, BUT there are a few super important things that you need to be aware of before getting one. Failure to do so, could land you in the hospital.
Don’t do too much of a good thing
Deep tissue massage can lead to injury if it is done too quickly (not allowing the muscles time to relax so that deeper work can be done safely), or if it is done too intensively. Not all deep tissue massage is painful, and it is not unusual for it to be uncomfortable – to a small degree.
There is a huge difference between “slight discomfort” and pain. Don’t go into a deep tissue massage expecting for your therapist to hurt you. If it does hurt, ask for him or her to back off of the intensity.
Too much pressure too quickly can injure you. Most of us are familiar with the soreness after deep tissue massage. While you may feel sore after a deep tissue massage, that is not always the case. If your therapist is doing it correctly, there can be little to no soreness.
Your muscles and connective tissues have to relax first before deep pressure can be effective. If your therapist goes too deep too quickly, you could end up with a good deal of bruising or a tear or a tendon. The last thing you want out of a massage is a new injury.
Professional tip: If you can afford a 90 or 120 minute massage, then do it. The longer a therapist has to work on you, the better your expected results can be – and the less soreness you will likely feel afterwards. In my experience, one hour is just barely enough time to work quickly through most areas of the body in a way that brings about relaxation. Right about the time that I feel the client’s body give into the massage and relax, the time is up.
The most beneficial massages that I have given, whether deep tissue or more standard Swedish, were at least two full hours in length. The result is like night and day. If it is within your means – do it. If you are getting someone a massage as a gift – get them a full 2 hour massage. They will be your best friend for life. Also, by giving them a full two hour session, if they choose a deep tissue massage, then they have less risk of facing the dangers of deep tissue massage.
Don’t try to relive years worth of problems in a single, one-hour session
Effective deep tissue work takes time – as in several sessions, even if you opt for two hour long sessions. It is the therapist’s job to know how much your body can take at a time. When you are massaging someone, you can tell if muscles and fascia are releasing or getting tighter.
If you keep insisting your therapist should go deeper, he or she may do so for fear that you won’t return if they don’t give you what you want when they know that what they are doing will probably be counter-productive.
Also, remember to let your therapist know if he or she is causing pain above mild discomfort. Communication is key. Don’t try to tough it out. The “no pain, no gain” idea doesn’t work for massage. You may end up very sore the next day as a result, or worse – which leads me to my next point…
Prepare your body before you go to a massage (especially a deep tissue massage) and follow up with the correct care for your body afterwards.
There is a “magic potion” that is available to everyone at no cost that can both prepare the body for and aid it after deep tissue massage: water. Sorry, I know you were expecting something much more exciting.
Water helps to lubricate tissues like fascia prior to getting a massage and then helps to transport away wastes that are produced when fascia is broken down and muscles sustain minor crushing during deep tissue massage. Sounds horrible, but that is what happens – and it can bring a great deal of relief when tissues have become stagnant and are not moving properly, getting good blood flow or lymph circulation. Water is critical to this process functioning correctly – so drink up before and after you get your massage!
However. that thing about the hospital…it’s possible. The pain that many people feel after a deep tissue massage is from rhabdomyolysis, or skeletal muscle breakdown (rhabdo=skeleton +myo=muscle + lysis=breakdown). This is the same thing that causes people who have severe crush injuries to die. Wow! That does sound serious, right? Yep. Too much of a good thing, plus not enough water, or kidney/liver problems can add up to serious problems with deep tissue massage.
Does that Mean You Should Avoid Deep Tissue Massage?
Absolutely not! Provided your kidneys and liver are functioning correctly (they filter the wastes out of the blood), that you are well-hydrated (so that the waste byproducts can be moved from your muscles to your kidneys and liver), that your heart is in decent shape, and that you aren’t over-doing it (plan on several sessions, not just one), and you aren’t pushing your therapist to do more than he or she feels comfortable with, then you should be just fine.
Deep tissue massage can be extremely effective. Now that you are armed with all the stuff you need to know, go find yourself a great therapist! (And don’t forget to book for 2 full hours!)
If deep tissue massage isn’t right for you, check out the different types of massage that exist. You’d be surprised at just how effective other types of massage can be.