Relaxation Massage and Deep Tissue: What’s the difference?

“What’s the difference between Swedish/Relaxation Massage and Deep Tissue Massage?” This is a very frequently asked question. The short answer: Each massage therapist has a different way of doing and explaining deep tissue massage.

My answer:

The “Deep Tissue” part has always confused me. When I first became a massage therapist deep tissue was all about the pressure. Dig in until it hurts and she’s squealing for me to stop. And then dig a little deeper. I never really liked that approach to pain relief. I also hadn’t taken very many continuing education classes or talked to experienced therapists to get the real story about deep tissue. This type of “push as hard as you can” massage was very painful to my hands. I was also not very good at it. After a while I just told people “I don’t do deep tissue. I take a more gentle approach.” This didn’t really do much for me, either, since people in pain don’t really understand a gentle approach, either.

And then I figured it out. For me.

In my massage practice deep tissue doesn’t necessarily mean deep pressure. If you schedule a deep tissue massage for 60 minutes and your focus area is your neck/shoulders it’s possible to get the full hour of work on your upper body. You can also get focused deep tissue work on your shoulders and neck combined with relaxation massage on the rest of your body. This is totally the best way to go. Relaxation is very important to prepare the muscles to be vigorously worked.

I always begin and end with relaxation massage. 

Neck massage

Neck massage

Your muscles are tight and in pain. You want relief. If I were to dig my elbow into your upper traps in the first 5 minutes your muscles would knot up and spasm, it wouldn’t feel good and you’d probably fire me! Instead I start with long slow strokes. I introduce myself to your muscle tissues. I prepare them. They are tense and fully engaged. They need to be coaxed into relaxing a bit before I can get deeper. Hot compresses applied to the muscles help loosen their grip on your bones and allow my hands to massage more fluidly with less pain. Will there be moments of discomfort? Maybe if I release a trigger point. Will I dig in as hard as I can go? Sometimes. Sometimes not. I will move your arms to shorten/lengthen muscle groups. I will use different techniques to release muscle knots and spasms. (Trigger point release, Neuromuscular Technique, Myofascial Release, Positional Release, Stretching and others.)

My goal is to administer the deep tissue techniques in a way that your body reacts as though I am using relaxation. I don’t want your muscles fighting back. I don’t want you holding your breath with your fists balled up. That is not helpful to your muscles or your mind. You should feel relaxed AND well-worked. You shouldn’t leave a massage in more pain than when you arrived. If you do then we need to talk about it so we can make changes to your treatment.

So which massage would you like to try? Swedish/Relaxation or Deep Tissue?


Frequently Un-asked Questions Part 2

I started a conversation in the last post about frequently unasked questions and massage sessions. Massage therapy isn’t scary but since massage on TV or in the movies isn’t exactly portrayed accurately there are many people who have questions. Sometimes questions can seem embarrassing. Years of experience has taught me people are afraid to ask. And if they are afraid to ask then they are afraid to schedule. We therapists write and talk about symptoms day in and day out, but sometimes neglect the “other” questions. Questions like, “Will you see me naked?” I hope I can help answer a few of these questions in these two blog posts.

What should I wear to my massage? 

I actually hear this a lot. What he/she really means is, “Do I have to get naked?!” Or, “Will you see me naked?!”
You may wear what clothes you are comfortable wearing. You are NOT required to get naked for your massage. You may undress to your comfort level. What, exactly, does that mean? If you want to leave on your underwear you should. If you want to bring shorts to change into you should. If you don’t want to remove your socks you should leave them on your feet. If you prefer to be nude that’s OK. You’ll be covered by the sheet and blanket.

The following is what I say to people who are about to get a massage: “I’m going to step out. You undress to your comfort level. Put your things here, lie down and cover up!” (I reach over and pull the sheet and blanket back.) Some people take everything off, others leave on underwear. A few people don’t take any clothes off.

You will be covered with a sheet and blanket at all times. Only the area being worked will be uncovered. Only the back will be uncovered while working there, one leg at a time, one arm at a time, etc.  I use sheets and blankets as the drape not towels like on TV. Your private areas will never be exposed!

Am I too fat to get a massage? 

You are not too fat to get a massage. I repeat, you are not too fat to get a massage.  People don’t actually ask this question, but they drop hints. They make jokes about themselves (not funny ones.) Sometimes someone will say, “I can’t get a massage, I’m too fat.” This breaks my heart! You aren’t too fat. You are muscles and bones and blood and nerves and skin. I’ve talked a little about this in another post. You can check it out here if you want. I’ve been a massage therapist for almost 10 years. After thousands of hours of massage I can honestly tell you that every body is different. I have clients of all ages and sizes. I don’t “look at your fat” I feel of your muscles with my hands. My massage table has a working weight of 450 pounds. You are awesome and should be able to feel the awesomeness of massage. Just tell me your concerns and we will work together to make sure you are comfortable.

When should I NOT get a massage?

If you have fever you should stay home. If you have the flu or flu-like symptoms I beg you to reschedule. A few more reasons to reschedule your massage are vomiting, itchy rash, virus, contagious conditions, poison ivy/oak, surgery, stitches, open sores or if your doctor advises against massage. If you are not sure call me, we will decide together.

Did I leave anything out? 

Is there something else you’d like to know? If you have a burning question please leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Sometimes Skin Deep is Deep Enough

Do you ever have one of those days where you aren’t expecting much only to be rewarded immensely? Today has been such a great day all because of one conversation.

I have new client who decided to try massage therapy to ease her back pain. She has the kind of debilitating back pain that keeps her in her chair all day. She can’t go a single day without taking prescription pain medication. She has had surgery and is not wanting another one.

About 6 weeks ago her neighbor brought her to me to try a massage session. We talked for quite a while about her surgery, meds, pain levels, and activity levels. We discussed expectations. I was proceeding with caution with the expectation that she would stop me if it hurt too much. She was proceeding with desperation with the expectation that I might help bring her pain level from a 10+ to 6.

Can I just say… the pressure was on me!

I administered a very gentle massage to her back. Slow, gentle flowing massage strokes for an hour, mostly on her lower back.(Gentle like just applying lotion.) When she left she said she felt great and that nothing I did in the session hurt. She made an appointment for the next week.

When I greeted her this day she told me that she had been extremely sore for 4 days after her massage, but that the excruciating pain seemed to be less for a day or 2. I administered the same gentle massage for an hour. She said she felt great and made another appointment. Each week she tells me that she is very sore after her massage, but that the massage feels good. She also tells me that her pain levels aren’t changing, but she thinks the massage is helping. She sees me every week.

Today was the 6th week. The first question I ask her now is, “How is the pain today?” followed by, “How long were you sore after your massage.”

Today she answered with the most beautiful words. “I didn’t have any soreness after my massage last week.” I nearly cried! She went on to say that her weekend went by with less pain than normal. Less pain. She says she is only taking 1 pain pill per day now. She had been needing to take 2.

The desperation in her eyes is fading every week. She smiles more each time we see each other. She says she is thankful for the small relief she gets because it gives her hope. I do not promise to take her pain away. I simply try to help her to be comfortable.

And I do this with gentle massage. And love. Because I love to try to help people.

Emotional Distress

We gather together in times of distress. Distress could be the loss of a home to fire, the loss of a job or the loss of a family member. Tragic loss throws us into a tailspin of survival and disbelief.

But we are awesome human beings with the ability to survive. And get stronger. And get better. One of the ways we do this is by coming together. Humans are great at coming together. When someone passes away we gather around the close family members. We reach out and touch them.

Hugs are amazing during times of emotional distress. During times of loss hugs last longer because we want to hold onto the person who is hurting. We want to make it better so we hug them and rub their back. We hold hands. We hold each other.

When the words are lost, when the words are muted by the thoughts and background noise, the love can still be felt through the touch. Touching is so important during this time. Could you imagine gathering to show support but not being allowed to touch? What would we do then?

Love, support, hurt, caring, sympathy, empathy, annoyance, hope and faith can all fill a room without a word spoken. Touch communicates these things when voices can’t. Hugs provide support when words don’t matter anymore.

When you are afraid of saying the wrong thing, when you can’t think of the “perfect words,” try sharing an embrace. You will share your strength with someone who may not have an ounce of energy left.

We probably can’t “make it better.” But we can help provide the basic human need for touch. People won’t remember what you said, but they will feel your embrace even after you’ve gone home.

Lactic Acid Isn’t What You Think

When I went to massage school I was told on a daily basis, “Massage flushes lactic acid out of the muscles.” And I believed it without researching. And I repeated it for 7 years. Let’s face the facts. THIS IS WRONG.

There, I said. I was taught something that was incorrect, I repeated it to my clients for years and now I am trying to spread the word– Lactic Acid is Your Friend!

I came across this article in Runner’s World. Take  a look! Spread the word! Lactic acid is NOT the cause of muscle soreness days after your workout. In fact, it leaves the muscle within hours of the workout.

Confessions always make me feel better 😉

Backpack = Back Pain?

My husband is a full time college student. (Proud of you!) I have often wondered why we needed to buy a new backpack every year. That is, until I attempted to haul his backpack in from the car one day! Oh, man that thing is HEAVY! Seriously! This picture shows 6 inches of books and notebooks. I think it weighs around 10 lbs. Some days there is also a laptop shoved in there somewhere. Whew! There is no way I could haul carry that around every day!

What about you? Are you a student? A parent of a student? Have you seen how a person has to walk in order to carry their books and school supplies around? Every time I see a young person slumped over by the weight of their books I want to scream! Actually, I want to run over to them, remove the pack, attach some wheels to the bottom and rub their neck and shoulders. I would probably get in trouble for that, so I am bringing it up here.

People as young as 12 are burdened by heavy backpacks. Watch your child tomorrow. Do you notice his shoulders pulled forward a bit? Is her neck bent down toward her chest? Do you hear his feet slide more than step? Do you hear a grunt or a sigh when she drops her pack to the floor? These are signs of a pack that is too heavy to carry!

If a body is strained in this way every day many symptoms may emerge. The shoulders rolled forward could cause a more shallow breath intake. Shoulder pain is almost guaranteed. The neck pulling forward and trying to support extra weight can likely cause headaches.  All of this could cause headaches, muscle tension, back pain, fatigue, and irritability. Do you really want another something to cause irritability?

Check with your child’s school. Can your child carry a backpack with wheels? She could pull the bag behind her like a suitcase. Offer to give him/her a neck and shoulder rub. Encourage him/her to switch sides often, or try to lighten the load a bit.

I could give you a demonstration of a neck and shoulder massage the next time you get a massage. Or you can both visit and we can work together to alleviate the pain and discomfort. The Comfort Zone Massage is located just outside Paris, AR inside Shirley’s Beauty Shop. (Where the old skating rink was.)

Challenge Completed!

#31 of 31 posts in 31 days

**Cheers** **Waves** **Kudos**

We (over 50 of us) have completed the challenge! 31 blog posts in 31 days is an amazing accomplishment. I have written every one of these entries with heart, determination, and hope that I got it right. Since I didn’t plan any posts some days seemed very overwhelming when trying to decide what to write about. But the words always came.

Today, I’m not writing a conclusion. I feel like I should write “an ending,” but it isn’t the end of this blog. I will continue to communicate here weekly. I’m inspired and excited about writing about massage, the human body and life in general.

Today is the beginning. The beginning of what is to come. I didn’t plan a single post during this challenge, but I’m excited to say that I just wrote down 36 blog post ideas. 36!! (Thanks, Allissa, for the inspiration. It was so simple it was hard to see!)

I will post once or twice a week. I want to answer questions you have about symptoms. I want to start discussions about issues. I want to encourage positive changes in our lives. I want to share tidbits from my life and massage practice.

I want to be involved! I want to learn more with each passing week. I want to be a part of a great community.

If you have a question, email me! Leave a comment. Contact me on Facebook. I’m ready to talk!

PS I can’t wait to get my trophy!

Young People Hurt, Too

#30 of 31 posts in 31 days

What?! Is it number 30 already? These days have flown by so quickly. I hope you have enjoyed these daily posts.

School is in full swing and that means our children are busy. They have school all day, extra curricular activities, sports and homework. Somewhere in there they just “play,” too. I’ve heard people say that kids are too young to feel aches and pains.

WRONG! Just because a body is young doesn’t mean it isn’t going to hurt after over-use. Here are a few causes of aches and pains in young people:

Heavy backpacks
Sitting all day in a desk
Prolonged computer use (eye strain, headaches, neck pain)
Not enough sleep

The list makes me hurt just looking at it! Have a little compassion for your teen or tween. Offer to carry a book. Even though young mouths can have a bad attitude sometimes, let them vent a bit. Allow them a space to be frustrated. Sometimes we all need to throw a little fit. (Don’t encourage disrespect, but let her air her frustrations.)

Don’t discourage the weekend nap. Young people need rest. If they are loaded down during the week, let them cat-nap on the weekends.

Bring them in for a massage. Teens and tweens have an incredible amount stress. Massage can be a safe place for them to unwind. Plus we can work on that sore neck to alleviate some of those headaches. We can all work together on proper computer posture to prevent further back pain.

We can work together to help your young person navigate this world. Healthy, nurturing touch is essential from birth. We can work together to prevent pain, correct posture, boost self-esteem, reduce stress and improve moods.

Sounds like a plan to me!



#22 of 31 posts in 31 days

Twenty-two days I’ve been typing words into this white box. There is always a blinking cursor. No matter how many words I type the cursor keeps blinking as if to say, “what else do you have to say?” I accepted this challenge and I WILL finish! Since I accepted this 31-days-in-a-row-challenge someone has offered up trophies to those of us who finish! I’m going to get that trophy!

I took this challenge to get out of a writing funk. I love to write and I love to share helpful information to all my wonderful readers. But in the real world sometimes work, family and other things can make me push things to the side. I was suffering writer’s block. I was neglecting my brain. This challenge has kick-started my brain! I am now disciplined to write something every day. I think I’ve improved my writing a bit and I know I am able to come up with ideas a little better. I’m getting a little tired, but I’m inspired to finish!

What have you done lately to challenge yourself? Have you started running? Do you have plans for a first 5K? You rock! Keep it up! I’m proud of you!

Have you just started going to a workout class? Zumba, maybe? Or Yoga? You don’t look stupid, I promise. Keep going! You inspire me!

Have you started a novel? Short stories? Don’t give up. My husband’s late uncle Mike always had this to say when someone asked him how in the world he could write a book, “If you only write one page a day, after a year you’ll have a 365 page book.” Remember that when you’re feeling over whelmed. One page at a time. You’re awesome!

Quitting smoking? DO IT! It may be one of the hardest things to do but you can do it. I DID IT. I did it! I quit smoking over 3 years ago. It.Is.Hard. But keep it up. You will feel amazing and I think you are amazing for trying. I could say “One day at a time,” but the first few days are tough. ONE HOUR AT A TIME!  You can do it! Keep it up!

You all are helping me with my challenge, I thought you might need a little push, too! Whatever your challenge is, I believe in you!


#16 of 31 posts in 31 days

Maybe they are not so much confessions but a way to answer some questions that I get asked. Sometimes there are comments or questions during the session. Maybe you don’t say it out loud, but you’re thinking it.  So here it goes!

Confessions from a Massage Therapist:

I don’t really care if you forgot to shave your legs before your massage.  Seriously, I don’t even notice until you bring it up. So stop stressing about it! 🙂

I don’t think that you are rude if you don’t want to talk during your massage. I will follow your lead. If you don’t talk, I won’t talk. It’s your massage time you deserve silence if that’s what you want.

You can talk as much as you want during your massage. Some people relax more while talking. I will listen to you with open ears. I will try to keep my mouth shut. I will provide quiet support. Or we can laugh hysterically talking about reality TV and Soap Operas.  😉

If you get massage from me right now and we tend to talk and you really wish it was more quiet, tell me. PLEASE tell me.  You will NOT hurt my feelings, I am specially trained to work in near silence. We can talk later!  🙂

If you don’t tell me the pressure is too light, I probably won’t know.  Speak up! I want you to have the BEST massage experience every single time. If I need to apply more pressure let me know!

When I work on the muscles I really get into it.  My brain focuses so much and I become very focused on what my hands and the muscles are doing. Once my client even startled me because it was so quiet when she asked a question that I jumped!

Your feet are not ugly. I’ve seen bunions, crooked toes, missing toes and extra toes. And they aren’t ugly.

Your skin is fine. I’ve been a massage therapist for 9 years. I’ve seen psoriasis, eczema, moles of all shapes and sizes.

You are not too fat. I repeat: you are not too fat.

Sometimes I’m just as nervous as you might be.  I strive to do the best job I can but each person and each session is different.  I have to bring my A game every time.

I never get tired of hearing about how great someone feels after a massage.  If your neck has stopped hurting, that’s awesome!  I love it when someone tells me that the tingling in his hands has stopped.  I love to hear about the headaches that don’t come back for weeks!

I love being a massage therapist.  🙂

These confessions aren’t earth-shattering gossip, just honest thoughts from a massage therapist.

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