Pushing your body to its limit leaves your muscles all tired and sore. Many of us have been there. And it’s times like these that you might find yourself needing a good massage. For such occasions, most people narrow it down to deep tissue vs Swedish massage. But is there really a superior option all-around? 

Here’s an overview on the differences between Swedish vs Deep Tissue Massage:

 

Swedish Massage Deep Tissue Massage
Pressure
  • Light to moderate pressure on the superficial layers of tissue
  • Deeper engagement of the innermost layers of muscle tissue
Technique
  • Generally gentle, flowing strokes
  • Has more of a “hook” that directly causes friction on the muscles
Purpose
  • General relaxation and chronic pain-relief
  • Long-term recovery from injuries and treating persistent pains
Focus areas
  • Whole body; no particular focus
  • May narrow down to where the damage is

 

So how do these massages really work? Read on to learn more about choosing the right one for your specific pains.

Understanding Muscle Soreness

It’s normal to feel sore in the process of developing stronger muscles. That’s why some people wear this as a badge of honor from a crushing workout. But it’s also important to know what your pains are telling you, so you’d know how to treat it properly.

What are the types of muscle soreness?

Back view of topless man at a gym

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

Many of these pains could feel all too similar. But you can tell them apart depending on when you feel it, and for how long.

  • Acute muscle soreness – you feel this right after, or even during, intense physical activity. When this happens you have the following options: take it down a notch, pause for a few stretches, or call it a day altogether.
  • Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) – caused by microscopic muscle tears, this doesn’t kick in until 12 to 24 hours after over-exertion. It can feel debilitating for up to 5 days, making it notorious among gym buffs.
  • Injury – If your pain feels unbearable or if it lasts for more than 5 days, it could be something more serious. Don’t hesitate to consult a medical professional should anything feel too concerning.

Does the situation always call for a massage?

It’s important to make sure you’re getting a treatment that suits your specific condition. Because getting the wrong one at the wrong time can inflict further damage. Always seek your doctor’s advice regarding your treatment options.

For most cases, however, massage proves to be reliable at getting rid of the dreaded muscle pains. It has various approaches that address unique problems and yield different benefits. Here’s what two of the most popular massage types can offer for your muscle woes:

Swedish Massage

It’s a traditional full-body massage style that focuses on inducing relaxation by reducing muscle tension. It’s widely popular among many different lifestyles – and for a good reason.

What’s it like?

Video by cottonbro from Pexels

This is a whole body massage that often begins with gentle strokes, increasing intensity later on. To achieve this, the massage therapist follows four basic techniques:

  1. Effleurage – smooth, gliding strokes
  2. Petrissage – squeezing, rolling, and kneading
  3. Friction – deeper, circular movements 
  4. Tapotement – percussive movements using cupped palms or the sides of the hands

 

Video by cottonbro from Pexels

Even as the pressure increases, the focus remains on the superficial layers of your tissue. This coaxes your muscles into relaxation mode while awakening your blood and lymph vessels.

 

Benefits of Swedish Massage

A Swedish massage prioritizes improving your mood, reducing stress and tiredness, and relieving chronic pain. By working on the superficial muscle tissues, it yields the following therapeutic benefits:

  • Muscle tension release
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Immune system boost and detoxification via lymph drainage
  • Stress relief
  • General relaxation

 

Side effects you may experience

Swedish massage rarely has any alarming side effects. These are just mostly natural responses that resolve on their own:

  • Nausea as a natural response to toxins flushing out of your body
  • Muscle soreness and bruises from any excessive pressure applied

 

Deep Tissue Massage

It’s more than just a harder version of Swedish massage. While it’s based on the aforementioned technique, its own nuances also introduce other therapeutic possibilities.

What is it like?

Video by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Since this is a specialized treatment, communication before and during the massage is key. Your massage therapist would first ask you to point out specific pain points beforehand. It’s also important for them to know if you have any existing injuries or conditions. 

This information would help determine which areas to focus on, and which ones to avoid. Due to this massage’s intensity, any damage that’s too delicate is left alone for the meantime.

Video by Yan Krukov from Pexels

Deep tissue massage applies more pressure with a distinct approach. Eric Stephenson LMT, NCBTMB* describes this technique as having a certain “hook” that drags onto your muscles. This allows for the deepest possible engagement of your muscle tissue.

*Licensed Massage Therapist, Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

This approach may require the use of knuckles, thumbs, forearms, and elbows. It’s also common for therapists to use tools like a massage gun to help this along. They might even teach you how to use this for a proven quick fix.

 

Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

The benefits of a Deep tissue massage generally overlap with those of Swedish massage. But with how it interacts with your body, it can also help with deeper-rooted problems such as:

  • Muscle knots and fasciitis (swollen intramuscular connective tissue)
  • Mobility problems at the muscles and joints
  • Arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other injuries
  • Labor pains

For the above reasons, this massage is commonly favored by athletes, gym buffs, and injured common folk. It’s also equally excellent for the rigors of desk jobs and active work alike.

 

Side effects you may experience

It also shares side effects with the Swedish massage. But the following may also occur after a deep tissue massage:

  • Friction burns from the deep, dragging strokes
  • Drowsiness as a natural response to the release of muscle tension
  • Aggravated injuries from excessive and misplaced pressure
  • Headaches that may come from too much pressure on the muscles around the neck

To minimize these side effects, it’s important to be open about your comfort with the massage’s intensity. What’s “just right” to others might be damaging for you, and vice versa.

 

What to do after a massage

Every massage day deserves some post-treatment care. Help your body get the most out of the massage with a few easy steps.

  1. Rehydrate – drinking water helps your lymphatic system flush out the waste and toxins from your body. This also replaces the fluids lost in the process.
  2. Do some stretches – this helps realign your muscle fibers as they recover. When done correctly, this can also train the greatest limiter of your flexibility: your nervous system.
  3. Take a warm bath – the soothing warmth of your bath ought to ease away any remaining soreness. This would also relax your muscles and nerves even further.
  4. Rest – the sooner you can rest after your massage, the better. Sleeping puts your body in the best condition to repair. Dedicating a few of your waking hours to relaxation and idleness also helps you recalibrate mentally.
  5. Pay attention to your physical responses – did the massage relieve any of your pains? Did it cause new ones? Do your muscles feel rejuvenated? Reflecting on such questions will help you assess whether you’ve had the right massage or not.
  6. Pay attention to your emotional responses – carrying over from your ponderings of your physical state, how does it make you feel? You’d know a massage is good if it leaves you with a clearer, more relaxed mind. 

 

Difference between Swedish and Deep Tissue Massage

What most people overlook is how different their strengths and intentions are. So it’s important for you to identify your needs in order to know which one suits you best. In the Quora thread shown below, professional massage therapists weigh in on the crucial differences.

 

A Quora response differentiating deep tissue and Swedish massage techniques

A Quora response differentiating deep tissue and Swedish massage purposes

 

Photos from Quora

Another response bares that clients often confuse deep tissue massage with a heavy-handed Swedish massage. But the two would always have a difference in feel and purpose, regardless of the intensity.

It also appears that for most clients, a deep Swedish massage would already suffice. And if it doesn’t, only then would they decide to shift to a deep tissue massage.

A Quora response explaining deep tissue and Swedish massage techniques

Photo from Quora

Knowing what your body needs and communicating it with your massage therapist will guide you into the best treatment option.

 

They both have their strong points, depending on the nature of your muscle soreness

Strenuous activity can give you many different sorts of pain. This Reddit thread gives invaluable insight on approaching your post-workout woes with massage.

A Reddit post asking about the suitability of deep tissue massage and Swedish massage for post-workout recovery

A Reddit response recommending Swedish massage for freshly sore muscles

Photos from Reddit

Deep tissue massage tends to veer away from areas with too much fresh damage. If you’re experiencing pain during or right after your workout, that could be Acute Muscle Soreness. For such aches, a Swedish massage works best in giving initial relief and relaxation.

But if you’re worried about DOMS, the next day or two would be perfect for a deep tissue massage. This is due to its ability to break up scar tissue and realign your muscles as they heal. This can also free your muscles and fascia of any persisting muscle knots.

A Reddit response discussing the ideal time for a deep tissue massage

Photo from Reddit

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to be mindful of how your body responds. Factors like the severity of damage, your pain tolerance, and any underlying conditions would determine which massage suits you best.

There’s a way for you to better personalize your perfect recovery massage. Learn more about the game-changing percussion massager and start taking control of your own muscle pains.

 

References:

  1. Understanding Post Workout Muscle Soreness: When Is It Too Much?
  2. How to Get Rid of Muscle Soreness
  3. Massage Therapy Styles and Health Benefits
  4. What Is Lymph Drainage Massage?
  5. Swedish Massage vs Deep Tissue Massage: (Video and Infographic)
  6. The Differences Between Deep Tissue Massage and Swedish Massage
  7. Post-Massage Care: Getting The Most Out Of Your Massage
  8. What is the difference between a Swedish and deep tissue massage?
  9. Post-workout: Swedish massage or deep tissue massage?
  10. Myofascial trigger points

 

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. Jane Guff September 28, 2021 at 2:16 am - Reply

    I like how you pointed out that deep tissue massages can help with arthritis and other injuries. My husband has a history of arthritis in his family, so he is taking all the precautions he can to avoid it. However, it is good to know that if it is something he encounters, he could get deep tissue massages to help relieve his pain in a natural way.

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