I frequently get requests for deep tissue massage and I'm going to be honest in saying that I had no idea what that means so I looked it up online. Turns out the term covers a host of techniques with the intention of either addressing adhesions and scar tissue, the deepest layers of muscles and fascia, lengthening the large muscles groups in the body or any number or similar and sometimes opposite effects, depending on which source you're reading. Some of those effects could just as easily be reached by techniques of a different name and while some sources say that deep pressure is not necessary, others claim it is. Some techniques used are listed as myofascial release, stripping, cross fibre work, breath work, active and passive ranges of motion, the use of bolsters, gravity, but also knuckles and elbows. That covers a lot of ground. It seems to me that 'deep tissue massage' is a bit of an umbrella term for any massage with an intention to 'fix' rather than to relax.
I don't ever call it deep tissue, but every time I do a massage, my intention is to bring more balance to the body - loosen off areas that have become stuck down to other tissue, lengthen shortened muscle or fascia, break up some sticky scar tissue, get joints moving in all their ranges, and bring circulation to areas that have started to resemble rawhide.
There's still a problem though - I have a nagging feeling that what people are often looking for when they ask for a deep tissue massage is actually deep pressure. We tend to equate more sensation with greater effectiveness but this isn't actually the case with massage. Pain does not equal gain, (some therapists work on the principle that less is more,) but some discomfort is normal when working through areas that have become fibrosed, stiff, or overused. How do you tell the difference? You can breath through discomfort and the rest of your body doesn't become tense - you're not gritting your teeth or crying into your face rest.
Every therapist has a different approach, a different style, uses different pressure. And every client has a different tolerance to pressure and pain. What works for one person might leave the next person feeling unsatisfied. And fortunately in BC we have a great number of RMT's to meet diverse needs. So by all means, find what works for your body, but ask yourself whether you're seeking a solution to your body's complaints or whether you're seeking intensity. And I urge you to suspend the ideas about what you think you need and be open to other sensations and techniques and what your RMT has to offer you - you might be surprised.
Some interesting in-depth articles:
"The Pressure Question"
"Why Do Muscles Feel Tight?"
Some sources on deep tissue massage: