Your body is your most vital asset. Whether you’re a professional athlete or a layperson, you’ll need to look after your body and help it heal for maximum performance and good health.
When it comes to helping the body recover, there are many choices available: physiotherapy, chiropractic treatment, and deep tissue massage therapy, just to name a few.
Not everyone benefits from these treatment options equally, however; there are sometimes unexpected side-effects that can cause discomfort.
To maximize your body’s recovery, it is important to first understand what deep tissue massage therapy is and why it can sometimes lead to side effects.
What is Deep Tissue Massage Therapy?
Deep tissue massage therapy - or “Swedish massage” - is a type of massage therapy that focuses on the skeletal muscles. External pressure is gently applied to the affected skeletal muscles to help with tissue recovery.
The body has over 650 named skeletal muscles, which are muscles connected to the bones via tendons. These muscles are essential for movement and unlocking the full kinesthetic range of the body.
As the skeletal muscles are used in a wide range of physical activities, they are prone to wear and tear. Whether you’re working out at the gym, swimming, or even going for a walk, your skeletal muscles accumulate stress, wear, and tear.
When undergoing deep tissue massage therapy, the skeletal muscles are relaxed and realigned to relieve muscle stiffness, soreness, and pain.
Types of Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
There are two major types of deep tissue massage therapy: external massage therapy and massage guns.
External deep tissue massage therapy is administered through someone else massaging your skeletal muscles. This is often done through a licensed, professional masseuse. It is not recommended to receive external therapy from an unlicensed practitioner.
One major advantage of external therapy is that it requires little effort on part of the individual. Another reason why external therapy is a great option is that licensed masseuses have good technical knowledge and experience to optimize muscle recovery.
At the same time, external therapy is often expensive and may not be included in your insurance plan. It is also not available everywhere all the time; appointments with massage therapists often require weeks or months of booking in advance.
Massage guns are portable devices that can offer the same benefits of deep tissue massage therapy without going to a massage therapist.
Where external therapy falls short, massage guns shine; you do not require an appointment with a professional to use massage guns. They are also portable and can be used almost everywhere at any time.
On the other hand, massage guns require some knowledge and effort on part of the user for maximum benefit. Some skeletal muscles, like those of the back, can also be difficult to reach by yourself. In that case, you’ll need someone else to use the massage gun on you.
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Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
The major benefits of deep tissue massage therapy are best seen through the “five R’s” of muscle recovery”:
- Releasing muscle knots
- Relaxing stiff muscles
- Relieving deep tissue pain
- Repairing damaged muscle tissue
- Redundancy of chemical alternatives
Realigning Muscle Knots
Muscle knots - also known as “trigger points” - are muscle fibers that have hardened over time.
Usually, skeletal muscles tighten and contract only when doing work. Muscle knots, however, tighten even when at rest. They are often caused by poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle, but can also occur when overexerting your muscles.
By realigning layers of hardened tissue through external pressure, deep tissue massage therapy can help loosen and release muscle knots.
Relaxing Stiff Muscles
Skeletal muscles often stiffen after physical exercise or hard labor. Still, it is not uncommon for muscles to often stiffen when they are suddenly used after staying dormant for too long; imagine suddenly getting up after sitting in a chair for hours.
Both muscle strain and muscle sprain are prevalent causes leading to stiff muscles. Deep tissue massage therapy targets stiff muscles and helps them to loosen up and relax.
Relieving Deep Tissue Pain
Pain relief for the skeletal muscles is commonly sought after. As the body’s skeletal muscles and joints do a lot of work daily, it is not uncommon for people to seek out ways to relieve this pain.
Deep tissue massage therapy is one of the best options for pain relief. A 2014 study concluded that hour-long massage sessions several times a week for at least a month relieved chronic back and neck pain.
Redundancy of Chemical Alternatives
Medicinal drugs are a common source of treatment for both helping skeletal muscles recover, as well as managing pain.
Painkillers, muscle relaxants, and other pharmaceuticals may work for some but also lead to unexpected side effects and dependence.
Deep tissue massage therapy requires no medicinal drugs. For some people, it can make the need for chemical alternatives redundant.
Common Side Effects of Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
Although deep tissue massage therapy helps most people, some may experience adverse side effects.
Minor reactions to physical therapy are common. More serious side effects, however, rarely occur.
While these side effects can occur in all types of massage therapy, they are more commonly experienced with external massage. The use of massage guns allows for greater control over the massage session, causing fewer adverse reactions.
Pain After Treatment
As previously mentioned, people often undergo deep tissue massage therapy for treating pain. It may therefore come as a surprise that in some cases, deep tissue massage therapy can cause even more pain.
The techniques used in massage require deep pressure applied over the skeletal muscles over extended periods. This can sometimes lead to lingering pain around the affected areas for some time.
Although this may seem worrying, experiencing pain after treatment is a fairly common side effect - stimulating the muscle tissue through pressure can lead to pain. This often subsides within a few days after treatment.
If pain symptoms last for much longer after treatment, seek professional medical assistance before going for another treatment session.
Deep tissue massage therapy helps relax your muscles and release built-up tension accumulated over time. Releasing this tension can lead to deep relaxation, which may sometimes cause drowsiness.
If you feel a little tired after your massage session, you should not worry too much. This is often a good sign - it shows that the treatment is working.
A good night’s sleep is often enough to remedy any tiredness after a treatment session. If grogginess persists in the morning, a healthy breakfast and some caffeine will set you straight right away!
Fatigue In Deep Tissue
Similarly, your muscles may often feel sore immediately after a deep tissue massage therapy session.
The upper layers of skeletal muscle are specifically targeted in treatment sessions. This leads to an immediate muscle relaxation effect. As treatment continues, however, this relaxation may be accompanied by fatigue.
The amount of fatigue you may feel after a session is proportional to the amount of pressure applied to your treatment areas. With massage guns, muscle fatigue happens less often.
Again, post-treatment muscle fatigue is common and disappears within a few days.
Redness on The Skin
The muscles of the body have several blood vessels and capillaries running through them. Extended pressure applied to the muscles over time increases the blood flowing through these muscles, causing the skin to appear red.
Redness on the skin is a fairly common side effect, but should not necessarily be considered an adverse reaction. Feeling some in the muscles can be a good sign - it means that the muscles are responding to the treatment and starting to heal.
It is unlikely for redness on the skin to persist until a few hours after treatment. If you have an underlying skin condition that affects your flow of blood, be sure to mention it to your massage therapist.
Headaches or Migraines
One of the more uncommon side effects after a massage therapy session is experiencing headaches or migraines.
When they occur, they are often caused by bad posture during the massage - resting the head or neck in a crooked position.
The other major reason for experiencing headaches includes having your neck or upper back massaged specifically; a change of pressure near the muscles of the cranium can cause a headache.
If you have a history of experiencing headaches, migraines, or have sinus issues, mention it to your massage therapist before beginning treatment.
The constant pressure applied over the skeletal muscles over time in sessions can sometimes cause deep tissue inflammation. This is especially problematic if an older injury is aggravated.
If you are undergoing external deep tissue massage therapy, it is important to communicate previous injuries to the massage therapist beforehand.
If you're using a massage gun instead, then avoid stimulating any skeletal muscles which are knotted or injured.
A good home remedy for tissue inflammation is the RICE routine:
As always, be sure to consult your primary healthcare provider in case of extended inflammation.
Bruising is rarely experienced as a result of deep tissue massage therapy. Still, you may experience it in some cases after a treatment session.
Improper massage technique causes bruising in almost all cases. This is why you must seek a licensed professional massage therapist - preferably one with good reviews.
Massage guns can also lead to bruising when improperly used. If you’re a beginner at massage guns, be sure to watch some instructional videos on proper technique before trying it on yourself. You will manage to avoid bruising in a majority of cases this way.
Nausea is one of the rarest adverse reactions that you may experience after a massage therapy session.
It is still not clear why some people experience nausea post-treatment; some claim that this is due to toxins flushing out of the body, although there is not enough scientific evidence to support this claim.
Drinking water, nausea medication, and lying down to rest are all good ways to treat your nausea. If all else fails, purging should cause nausea to subside in most cases.
If nausea occurs after more than one session, it may be caused by another underlying health problem. In that case, cease the treatment and seek medical help immediately.
Opening Up Old Injuries
Inflammation is not the only problem that can be caused by aggravating previous muscle injuries. In some cases, overstimulation of the deep tissue can lead to the injury opening up again and worsening.
Other than informing your therapist about old injuries before treatment, the best precaution is to wait out for more serious injuries to heal fully first. Massaging an injured area prematurely may not give it enough time to heal and cause more pain.
Be sure to keep a track of what the problematic areas of your body are, which haven’t fully healed yet. This will help you communicate the extent of your injuries better and give your body the best possible treatment for the fastest recovery.
Deep tissue massage therapy has many benefits and can be done either through an external therapist or with the help of a massage gun.
Side effects, both common and rare, can occur in some cases. A licensed professional massage therapist reduces the chances of certain adverse reactions. In some cases, however, a massage gun is the better choice.
No matter what option you decide, be sure to understand your body’s history, past injuries, and health condition. This, in combination with consulting your medical professional about lingering side effects, will ensure your physical therapy brings the most to your skeletal muscle recovery.