The other night at work an Esthetician asked me “What is Firm Swedish?”
One of my massage therapist coworkers was in the break room with us at the time and turned to hear my response…
I began to try and explain that it is a Swedish Massage with a firmer pressure, then I said “ok, realistically it is a gentle Deep Tissue because Deep Tissues by definition is accessing the deeper layers of the muscles instead of just the superficial ones and I have no idea why we even bother muddying the waters with all the various terms we use.”
My coworkers eyes widened and she said “You are right, Swedish is gentle and relaxing, its not supposed to be firm pressure.”
Firm Swedish is for people wanting more of a Deep Tissue therapeutic effect without the pain or discomfort often associated with Deep Tissue massage
In all honestly there is not a lot of difference between the stokes, moves, and methods that I would use during a Firm Swedish Massage and the ones that I would use for someone asking for Deep Tissue.
In fact many of the Firm Swedish massages that I do end up being Deep Tissue work and some of the Deep Tissue work that I do ends up being more of a Firm Swedish depending on the need and tolerance level of my client.
Pressure is subjective!
We then discussed how all these words “Firm” “Deep” “Light” and “Medium” are all subjective and vary widely from not only the clients but the therapists as well.
One client’s idea of medium pressure is another client’s idea of deep, some say light when they really want medium, and some say light when they want feather light pressure.
My idea of light may be too light for some or too heavy handed for others, each persons perception of pressure is different and each therapists idea of pressure is different.
I find its easier if the client says something like “I want results but I don’t want to be put in pain” or “really go to town on those shoulders” or “please no elbows” to give me a better idea of what it is they are seeking. Communication is always the key to getting the massage experience that you desire.
Deep Tissue Massage Does not have to be painful!
If you search the internet about Deep Tissue massage you will find that page after page all state “Deep Tissue does not have to be painful to be effective.”
Unfortunately many people believe in the “no pain no gain” concept, this includes many Massage Therapists.
The idea that you have to tolerate a painful session because “you really need this” is not correct. If you are wincing, flinching, or tensing up then your muscles are not going to be able to relax and it may be counter productive to the goal of getting your muscles to loosen up.
Of course there will be people who will argue that point and say that the muscles will feel better after two or three days because of the painful deep pressure, that too is valid in the fact that eventually the muscle will tire and weaken and the result will be less tension due to the muscle exhaustion.
That being said there have been cases of injuries from Deep Tissue massage, there is a point where too much is too much. There is also a condition called Rhabdomyolysis or Rhabdo for short that can result from muscle crush injuries.
Muscles store myoglobin, when too much myoglobin is released into the body it can become toxic when it reaches the kidneys. This is one of the main reasons why you should drink plenty of water following a massage to help flush that away.
Release of Myoglobin from massage has been found in a study to reduce the pain and discomfort of myofascial pain syndromes with surprisingly positive results:
A positive correlation was found between the degree of muscle tension and pain, and the increase in plasma myoglobin concentration. After repeated massage treatment a gradual decline in the increase in plasma myoglobin concentration could be demonstrated parallel to a reduction in the muscle tension and pain.
So there is definitely benefit to getting Deep Tissue massage for people with muscle pain, the same can be said for Firm Swedish which is simply another form of Deep Tissue therapy.
We can honestly only go so deep
There are times when we get a client who wants the deepest, hardest, and most painful massage that we can possibly give them.
For whatever reason that client feels the need to have it hurt, whether it is because they believe it will be more effective or because they cannot quite feel how much pressure is actually being given I am not sure.
When a client is clearly seeking a sensation of pain we do our best to try and use pressure points to provide them the sensation they seek without causing damage to the muscles tissues and bony structure, however, there are times when we simply cannot go any harder or any deeper.
In closing, to sum things up…
Firm Swedish is simply a more gentle form of Deep Tissue Massage. Deep Tissue Massage does not have to be painful to be effective. Areas that are more tense may be a bit painful but it should be a “good hurt” and not a “bad hurt” or overly painful experience.
Whatever it is you are seeking from your massage experience it is best to communicate your needs, concerns, and areas that you want to address as well as areas that are more sensitive to you so that we can offer you the massage experience and effect that you are seeking.
Yours in Health and Wellness,
Kristeen Smart aka Kristeen Kish
CAMTC Certified Massage Therapist