Have you ever had a sudden tooth cavity that became so uncomfortable and/or painful that you needed go and see a dentist? It’s quite likely you did not even know it was there until the onset of the pain? Other ailments such as muscle pain take a similar route. Initially we may not feel it to begin with, until the pain and/or stiffness gradually increases to the point where we feel the need to seek out a Doctor; who tend to prescribe painkillers and/or muscle relaxants that work by masking the symptoms not necessarily treating the root cause of the problem.

Massage therapy, on the other hand, has been utilized in the treatment of illness and injury for thousands of years by health care practitioners. Some Chinese writings, dating as far back as 2500 BC, describe the use of deep tissue massage therapy for a variety of medical purposes.1,2. It was advocated for a number of conditions such as musculoskeletal injuries, stress, anxiety, relaxation, detoxification, pregnancy, and even cancer sufferers.2,3,4

What is Deep Tissue Massage Therapy?

The main objective of deep tissue massage is to help restore a balanced upright posture, decrease the symptoms of pain, break down scar tissue and muscle adhesions, and improve one’s range of motion. It is a technique that works on the deeper layers of muscle tissue. When our bodies experience chronic muscle tension or we suffer from a past injury we normally present with adhesions (bands of painful, rigid connective tissue) in, on and around the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Adhesions can block blood, oxygen and waste product circulation this can cause pain, limit our range of movement, and cause further inflammation.5

According to Brummitt (2008) deep tissue massage in fact describes a number of different techniques (i.e., effleurage, petrissage, and deep traverse friction); all of which focus on realigning the deeper layers of the muscles, in order to alleviate chronic aches and pains in contracted areas such as a stiff neck or upper back, low back pain, leg muscle tightness, and/or sore shoulders.

Similar to classic massage therapy, the strokes are similar but the movement is slower, with the pressure deeper and more concentrated on the areas of tension and pain, in order to reach the sub-layer of muscles and the fascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles). A deep tissue massage therapist may use deep finger/thumb, elbows or knuckles for added pressure that focuses on particular areas of your body.

At times this form of massage can be a little intense or uncomfortable but it is excellent for releasing the pain and tension you may currently be holding. The therapist will often use a special blend of massage oil to help break down the adhesions to relieve pain and restore normal movement of the muscle.

How does it work?

A tight or knotted muscle can be likened to a light bulb – when we go to switch it off, it stays on. These muscles are continuously contracted, working when they should be off or resting. In contrast, the inhibited muscle will just flicker on and off when we try to turn it on. Thus the muscle is not working or firing properly even when we need it to.

Deep tissue massage works by physically breaking down the adhesions to relieve pain and restore normal movement of muscles and tendons. This practice assists the muscles to relax whilst removing waste products and increasing oxygen and blood flow into your muscles. This helps your body remove toxins and metabolic wastes from the sore and/or overworked muscles, allowing them to recover far more quickly by circulating oxygen rich blood into the working muscles.

Deep Tissue Massage can help with the following Conditions:

Chronic pain; Lower back pain; Limited mobility; Recovery from injuries (e.g. whiplash, falls, sports injury); Repetitive strain injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome; Postural problems; Muscle tension in the hamstrings, glutes, IT band, legs, quadriceps, rhomboids, and upper back; Osteoarthritis pain; Sciatica; Piriformis syndrome; Tennis elbow; Fibromyalgia; Muscle tension or spasm; After a workout, light exercise, or weight-training; and a lack of sleep (i.e., your body isn’t healing properly during your deep sleep [non-REM sleep]). This prevents your brain from getting the deep restorative sleep it needs to generate enough growth hormones. And it is the growth hormones that your body needs to keep muscles healthy.

According to Consumer Reports magazine, 34,000 people ranked deep tissue massage more effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain than physical therapy, exercise, prescription medications, chiropractic, acupuncture, diet, glucosamine and over-the-counter drugs. Deep tissue massage also received a top ranking for fibromyalgia pain. People often notice improved range of motion immediately after a deep tissue massage.

Tips and After Care

  • Don't eat a large or heavy meal before you come for a massage.

  • Always try to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early so you be briefed, fill out any necessary forms, and can then have a few minutes to rest and relax before starting the massage.

  • Deep tissue massage may sometimes result in some mild muscle soreness or tenderness, which may last a day or two and then subside. Your massage therapist may recommend stretching or the application of deep-heat or anti-flamme ointments to bolster the therapy.

  • Drinking lots of water before and after the massage may help to flush out toxins that are released from muscles and properly rehydrate muscles, which can help to reduce muscle aches and stiffness after a massage.

  • Avoid strenuous activity after a massage.

  • Stretching can help to prevent muscle aches and pain after a deep tissue massage.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice, diagnosis and/or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.


  1. Goats, G. C. (1994). Massage - the Scientific Basis of an Ancient Art: Part 1. The techniques. Br J Sports Medicine, (28), 149-152.

  2. Holey, E., & Cook, E. (2003). Evidence-Based Therapeutic Massage. A Practical Guide for Therapists. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

  3. Cassar, M. P. (2004). Handbook of Clinical Massage: A Clinical Guide for Students and Practitioners. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

  4. Vickers, A., & Zollman, C. (1999). ABC of Complementary Medicine: Massage Therapies. BMJ, (319), 1254-1257.

  5. Brummitt, J. (2008). The Role of Massage in Sports Performance and rehabilitation: Current Evidence and Future Direction. North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, (3)1, 7-21.


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