The Difference Between Deep Tissue and Swedish Massage

In my experience as a Licensed Massage Therapist, I have been frustrated with other therapists that give a deep tissue massage when their client schedules a Swedish massage.

A few years ago, I observed this while doing a couple’s massage and after I asked my fellow therapist what they do differently in a deep tissue session, their response was “I just give more pressure.” Another time, a therapist told me they don’t like doing Swedish massages, so she just gives every client a deep tissue massage.

My first thought is why do you work harder and get paid the same? My second thought was – that’s not really fair to the other therapist that works with you. For an example, if their client books with me, then they are expecting the deep tissue work for the price of the Swedish massage.  In the end, I will not meet their expectation and that’s not okay with me.

With a Swedish massage, the therapist’s goals are to provide relaxation, increase blood flow, decrease stress and work surface level on the knots and tightness. Deep tissue massage can also have these same goals but the main goal is to work into the layers of tissue to resolve postural imbalances, knots, tightness and the source of your pain.

In order to do this, the therapist should be incorporating deep tissue techniques such as stripping, cross-fiber friction, circular friction and skin rolling. I like to call deep tissue massage “my search and destroy technique.” I’m looking for postural alignment – looking to see if the hips and shoulders are aligned. When warming up the tissue with effleurage, I’m feeling for trigger points, knots and tightness. I’m letting the body show me what is not in balance through touch. Swelling, cold to touch skin, and skin absorption of massage lubrication are all signs of other internal imbalances like lack of circulation or dehydration. Once I have completed my search, it is now time for me to destroy the pain causing imperfections. It sounds painful, but it is just bad news for knots and tightness.

Many of my clients would book a Swedish massage, but during my intake interview I learned they really wanted and/or needed a deep tissue massage.  The intake interviews are the perfect time to educate the client so I can meet their expectations.

As an instructor, I feel it is my duty to teach my students and clients what is the difference between these two massages. So students, this is why I ask you all the time to explain the difference to me and the importance of intake interviews.  Partakers of massage therapy, I hope this is helpful and don’t let your therapist massage you without finding out exactly what you need and want.


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