The difference between deep tissue massage and SRMT: a perspective from one of our therapists.
In 2001, soon after qualifying as a deep tissue massage practitioner, I began to work part-time in this profession, alongside my ‘fast-lane’ life as a chef. It did not take long for this new line of work to impress itself upon me quite deeply. The immense impact that this therapy was having on people’s lives truly took me by surprise – I was witnessing clients who had been debilitated by pain for years, experiencing great relief. Some were becoming more agile and able to move more freely after extended periods of stiffness. Others were simply living with a deeper sense of relaxation.
As I developed further as a practitioner, I started to feel frustrated as I wanted to more fully address the issues with which I was being presented by my clients. Searching for alternatives, I went on to train as a sports and remedial massage therapist.
Since then, a lot of people have asked me what the difference is between deep tissue and sports and remedial massage therapy (SRMT). I have come across much confusion over the matter. There are probably as many answers to that question as there are therapists, but this is how I like to compare them:
Deep tissue massage is a technique performed slowly, using a strong, deep pressure over muscle, working from the upper layers to the deepest, freeing up areas of restriction and tension, consequently increasing mobility, improving muscle function, reducing pain and initiating relaxation. SRMT, on the other hand, uses a wide variety of ways of working, deep tissue just being one, along with others such as neuromuscular, muscle energy and myofascial techniques and may also combine the work with some stretching and muscle activisation.
To the surprise of many, SRMT does not always use strong pressure. This mode of work includes postural assessment and muscle and movement tests which are used to help identify lines of stress, tension and any possible muscle dysfunction. This allows the work to become evidence based and also goal orientated – for example, being capable of realigning posture, improving body mechanics, and rehabilitating injuries. Sessions can be devised to be sport-specific, where the work carried out can help adjust body mechanics in order to enhance the performance for a given sport. Sessions can also address musculoskeletal pain caused by lifestyle, occupational habits and the way we use our bodies. Exercises and advice are often offered to help support the work carried out during sessions.
One of the many lessons I learned while studying SRMT is that the place where the symptoms persist is very often not where the cause of the problem lies. Often, musculoskeletal pain is caused by poor posture. An old injury, for example, can continue to nag if poor posture imposes excessive strain on the weakened tissue, if it has never been given the chance to fully recover during its critical stages of healing.
We were taught to ‘treat what you find’. In other words, attempt to identify and correct any apparent postural and mechanical imbalances and this will very often resolve the symptoms presenting – which frequently are in a different but associated place.
Testing the Theory
Soon after qualifying, I began working for Leyton Sports Massage at their low cost clinic – the perfect opportunity to test the theories I’d learnt. Would working on clients from a SRMT perspective prove more effective than from a deep tissue one? I didn’t have long to wait.
One day a client came to see me, complaining of pain in two previously sustained injuries, one at his hip and the other his ankle. Both had continued to nag relentlessly for almost 10 years, preventing him from being pain-free and impeding full range of movement at each respective joint. Not knowing how I could help such an old injury, I had no choice but to fall back on ‘treat what you find,’ addressing any tension that I could identify.
In the assessment, he had pain in the front of his hip, although the tension that was most apparent was in his hamstrings – so that was where I decided to work. When we re-tested at the end of the session, although I hadn’t touched where his pain presented, it had in fact significantly reduced.
The following week we took a similar approach with his ankle. We developed a set of simple stretches and after a course of sessions and incorporating the new stretches, the client reported he was pain-free.
As I continued to work with clients at the low cost clinic, I found similar situations replaying themselves with complaints as varied as knee and lower back pain and neck and shoulder tensions.
Of course, sometimes there are cases where the issue at hand requires to be checked out by another specialist such as an osteopath, physiotherapist or GP – in which case we refer appropriately. Where the cause has been muscular, the approach I was taught has most certainly proven to be very effective.
Now, as I’m moving up to the full-priced clinic, I feel confident that incorporating the SRMT approach means my work is more effective, although deep tissue massage is still an important technique and I use it in all my sessions, especially in maintenance ones.
While I’ve not seen a ‘definitive’ description of the difference between these two therapies, this is my understanding and experience after training and practicing in both, although there are many therapists out there who might have a different take on the matter.
Danielle currently works at the clinic Mondays and Thursdays 15:30-20:30 and Fridays and Saturdays 8:30-14:30. If you’d like to book in with her you can click here to visit our online booking system, call 020 8185 7364 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.