Somehow people have gotten the idea that a good massage is supposed to hurt and anything that does not hurt  is weak and a waste of time. This simply is not true.

One of the reasons this belief predominates is an overall confusion about the difference between Deep Tissue massage and Swedish massage.

So let’s clear things up shall we?

Deep Tissue

Deep Tissue means vertical pressure downward into the muscles. Leveraging her body weight, the massage therapist applies precise pressure and waits for her hand or arm to move, which signals that the muscle has released. Within Deep Tissue there are a number of techniques, the most common of which is probably cross fiber friction. Cross fiber work involves applying the stroke in the opposite direction of the  muscle fibers with slight movement back and forth to break up tension.


With Deep Tissue, if you cannot breathe into the pressure and relax around it, then the amount of pressure needs to be adjusted. The sensation should feel more like “hurts so good” than “holy crap when will this torture be over.”


Swedish on the other hand leverages pressure in the horizontal plane. The strokes are meant to bring a fresh supply of blood to the tissue. Swedish also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation center for the human body.

Within Swedish there is effleurage – the longer flowing strokes – and petrissage – which is about breaking up knots with kneading, tapotement, and a number of other techniques.


Even though Swedish is less intense than Deep Tissue, the touch should still be firm. This isn’t the petting zoo. Clients should feel some weight from the therapist, it just shouldn’t be focused downward. A good Swedish massage will give the client an overall sense of flow and movement, whereas a good Deep Tissue massage will feel very specific and focused.

Better Together

Deep Tissue and Swedish go well together in a massage session. For most clients an hour of nonstop Deep Tissue will be effective in releasing knots, but it may not give the client the feeling of deep relaxation that she also seeks. So combining Deep Tissue and Swedish is the most therapeutic option for me as a massage therapist. Using only Swedish is a great option as well if a client’s primary concern is to deeply relax.

Now, that everything is cleared up, when is your next  massage appointment?