03 December 2008

Deep tissue massage

It's intense, unrelenting and, at times, even painful. But as Amy Henderson found out, a deep tissue massage is worth every second of it.

Deep tissue massage focuses on the deeper tissue make-up of the muscles and aims to release the tension and knots which build up as a result of a number of different causes from stress to incorrect posture.

However, it is a massage which is not used on its own as it also incorporates Swedish and Shiatsu massages, which means it's a very intense and focused massage - not for the fainthearted.

Having armed myself with a basic understanding of deep tissue massage I contacted Theresa Jacobs of the Power of Touch, a specialist in this area, to see if she could rise to the challenge of sorting out my very knotted back and neck.

She is a travelling therapist and as such has no set location, but travels to her clients fully armed with portable massage bed and aromatic oils. I actually found this rather interesting as I was in the comfort of my own home and, in familiar surroundings, I could relax more than I normally would in a spa or a therapist's home.

Getting down to business
Before we started she explained that she could not just do a deep tissue massage – she had to feel where the tension and stress in my body was located in order to decide whether deep tissue, shiatsu or Swedish massages or a combination of all three, was needed. Luckily for me, I needed all three.

She also said that the combination served the following purposes:

  • It locates blockages
  • Balances deficiencies and excesses of neuro-muscular energy pathways using a zone massage
  • Tones or disperses tsubos depending on kyo or jitsu (knots and muscle spasm status)
  • Enhances homeostatus of the major functions of the inner organs.

Lying face down on the massage bed wearing only my trousers, Jacobs described what she would be doing. She said she started by massaging my buttocks, as that's where most of one's tension usually lies. She noted I was particularly tense down the left side of my body.

This is where I got my first taste of what the next hour would hold for me, and my unsuspecting knotted muscles.

As she massaged and rubbed my buttocks, which I must admit was a rather strange thing to get used to, she picked up on certain points where there was tension. She then put pressure on that point which she said was to release the knot.

I can't say I believed her at first, because all I was thinking about was how incredibly sore it was, but sure enough, after a few minutes I could feel the tension lift and the pain subside.

After much kneading, rubbing and releasing of knots I never even knew were there, she moved onto my back.

How the three therapies work together
She repeated the same process of rubbing on first the left, then the right sides of my body in long, smooth and firm strokes to warm up the muscle and explained that she used this method, known as the Swedish massage, to 'warm up the sensitive muscular areas' and to feel where the knots were.

After that, the strokes became noticeably stronger and more forceful as she stretched the muscle out. By then that specific part of my body was hot and the rubbing was just a little bit sore as my muscles protested and the knots fought back.

It was at this point Jacobs said that I should focus on whether it was hurting because she was pushing too hard, or because the muscles were sore and knotted. I contemplated this and realised that the fault lay with my muscles. But she did add that it's up to the patient to keep the therapist informed at all times if they are uncomfortable or hurting more than necessary.

This is essentially a deep tissue massage and helps define where the tension lies, and combined with the Swedish massage and Shiatsu, is one of the most effective therapies to get rid of tension and knots.

As she located and pushed in certain points along my back and spine which were really, really sore, her massage became more focused on that spot and the Shiatsu began.

She did this all the way up my back and spine, all around my shoulder blades, and up my very tense neck. It was sore, incredibly sore, but at the same time it also felt really good as I felt knot after knot being released. After a while I could actually feel myself relaxing; and the more I relaxed and put up less resistance the less painful it became.

I did actually find myself tensing all the time and Jacobs gently reminded me every few seconds to relax. This was strange because I hadn't actually felt myself tense up until I forced myself to relax. She recommended I focus on taking deep breaths to help keep me relaxed and this worked quite well. In fact, I almost dozed off I was getting so relaxed at that point.

By the time she had reached my neck I was so calm that I almost felt limp. Obviously the massage on the tender knots was still very sore, but it seemed more bearable than when she'd first started. Possibly because I now knew that the few minutes of pain would be followed by a feeling of tranquil lethargy.

The verdict
Immediately afterwards I felt like I was floating and as clichéd as it sounds, I really did feel like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders – and back, and neck and buttocks…

I was also incredibly thirsty and Jacobs advised me to drink a lot of water and to lie down and sleep for a while after the massage to let my body fully relax.

The next day however, my muscles felt bruised and it hurt to even touch them. Jacobs had warned me about this and said it was because the massage was so intense and affects the deep tissues in the muscles.

Yet, even though I had a very tender bottom and upper back, I did feel much looser and more comfortable. The tenderness only lasted for the day after the massage, which is a small price to pay if you weigh up the benefit of the experience - and the fact I am now virtually knot-free.

Jacobs did recommend a few more massages to work out every last stubborn knot and said many of her clients felt that a deep tissue massage once a month worked best to keep the muscles supple and pain-free.

I would definitely recommend this form of massage to anyone who is tense or stressed. Although it was more intense than I had imagined, my back and neck feel so much lighter and relaxed.

Cost: R300 an hour, or R250 for a double booking. Jacobs also works after-hours and weekends.

Details: Contact Theresa Jacobs
Power of Touch

(Amy Henderson,, April 2008)

Read more:
The mother of all massages


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