A deep tissue massage targets deep layers of muscle and the surrounding tissues. People may choose this type of massage to treat sports injuries or chronic pain.

In this article, we look at the benefits of deep tissue massage, as well as potential risks and side effects. We also discuss what to expect during a massage and how to find a massage therapist.

A person receives a deep tissue massage to their upper back.Share on Pinterest
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According to a 2018 review, deep tissue massage works to lengthen and relax deep tissue. This type of massage may help manage pain and increase a person’s range of motion.

Deep tissue massage may be a suitable option to treat sports injuries or chronic back pain. The technique is sometimes considered one type of therapeutic massage.

Deep tissue massage can provide many benefits for various conditions, including injury, chronic pain, and certain diseases.

May help back pain

A 2017 study looked at the effects of deep tissue massage in 31 males with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups to receive either deep tissue massage or therapeutic massage without deep tissue massage techniques.

All participants had 10 massage sessions across 2 weeks, each session lasting for 30 minutes.

The study found that deep tissue massage significantly reduced pain compared to therapeutic massage.

May reduce high blood pressure

Research shows that sports massage may reduce heart rate and high blood pressure. However, there are limited studies that look at the effects of deep tissue massage on this condition.

Aids recovery after injury

Research suggests both deep and soft tissue release may aid recovery after an injury, such as an ankle injury.

Massage can help:

  • relieve pain and stiffness
  • improve circulation to reduce swelling or buildup of fluid around the injury
  • speed up healing of muscle strains and sprains
  • restore range of motion


A 2016 case study suggests deep tissue massage helped reduce lower back pain in a 28-year-old pregnant person.

After 12 sessions of deep tissue massage lasting 30 minutes each, twice a week, the participant reported a reduction in lower back pain. Massage increases serotonin, which can relieve pain in the legs and back.

Massage therapy websites also suggest deep tissue massage can support better sleep, improve sports performance, and break up scar tissue.

Therapeutic massage, including deep tissue massage, may also help with:

  • Mental health: Massage may help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also offer relaxation and improve coping mechanisms.
  • Chronic lung disease: Massage may help improve respiratory function.
  • Digestion: In addition to other therapies, massage may help with chronic constipation.
  • Pain relief: Massage may help manage pain in conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and sciatica. It may also help treat headaches and control pain during childbirth.

People may experience discomfort during a deep tissue massage, particularly if a therapist targets problem areas. They can let their massage therapist know if a massage becomes too painful.

Although massage has a low risk of harm, deep tissue massage may not be suitable for everyone. People may want to first check with their doctor if they have any of the following:

  • a blood clotting disorder
  • increased risk of injury, such as bone fractures
  • nerve injury
  • older age
  • any recent surgery or chemotherapy
  • wounds or skin conditions
  • hernia

Deep tissue massage targets deep areas of muscle, while other massage techniques may focus on superficial body regions.

Certain types of massage are best suited to treat certain conditions as an additional treatment method.

Examples of massage techniques include:

  • Swedish massage: Suitable for general relaxation and tension release. Uses a kneading approach to increase circulation and stimulate nerve endings in superficial layers of muscle.
  • Reflexology: Targets pressure points to release areas of pain or tension.
  • Neuromuscular massage: For treating chronic pain and injury, and improving posture and muscular imbalances.
  • Craniosacral therapy: A light massage to deeply relax the body and promote natural healing and alignment.
  • Lymph drainage therapy: A therapist applies light pressure to increase lymph fluid movement and support the immune system. People may use this massage as an additional treatment for autoimmune disorders, cancer, and surgery.
  • Reiki: Light pressure to aid healing, reduce pain, and ease symptoms.
  • Hot stone massage: A therapist places heated stones on the body to relieve stress and tension, which deeply relaxes the body.

A therapist may ask people to lie on their side or their front on a massage table, depending on the massage area.

The therapist may first warm up the muscles with light pressure, before massaging the targeted area with slow strokes and applying deep pressure with the hands, arms, or elbows. This works to release contracted muscles and tissues.

People may require repeat treatments to see improvements in areas of deep muscle tension or injury.

They may also need other techniques alongside massage therapy, such as physical therapy and exercise.

To find a suitable massage therapist, people may want to consider the following:

  • asking a healthcare provider for a recommendation or referral
  • searching a recognized database, such as the American Massage Therapy Association
  • researching a massage therapist’s experience, training, and qualifications
  • checking that a massage therapist is willing to work alongside other healthcare professionals, especially when a person is undergoing treatment for a health condition
  • making sure a massage therapist understands any health conditions or concerns people may have, and checking their experience of treating those specific needs
  • checking to see if health insurance covers the type of massage treatment and if restrictions apply

A person might also want to ensure good communication between themselves, their massage therapist, and their healthcare team to make sure all treatments align.

Deep tissue massage can be an effective treatment method for various conditions, including sports injuries and back pain.

Therapeutic massage may also relieve stress and help with health conditions such as fibromyalgia and high blood pressure.

Deep tissue massage works to relax the body and relieve tension. However, it may initially be uncomfortable due to the pressure on the deep muscle areas.

A person can check with a healthcare provider to ensure it is safe for them to receive a deep tissue massage.