Do You Want to Pursue a Career in Deep Tissue Massage?

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Thinking about a career in massage? Consider exploring deep tissue techniques.

therapists elbow presses into laying patients shoulder
chelsea lin

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a deep tissue massage, you know that this style of massage therapy is anything but relaxing. That’s because where Swedish, or foundational, massage can be superficial—with gently gliding strokes over the muscle—deep tissue work requires slow strokes with acute pressure to treat both the muscle and the connective tissues.

This type of massage is often used to reduce tension and break up scar tissue that’s built up around an injury. Think of deep tissue massage as more akin to physical therapy, used to treat issues like chronic muscle pain, strains, and tendonitis.

Studies have shown deep tissue massage can also improve heart and lung function and relieve stress.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take if you want to pursue a career in this intense form of massage therapy.

Therapy Overview

Deep tissue massage is very common. Someone experiencing stress-related shoulder pain can generally find this on any spa menu, while an athlete with a muscle injury may go in for recurring deep tissue treatments with their physical therapist.

According to Cindy Williams, a licensed massage therapist and instructor with more than 20 years’ experience, anyone pursuing a career as a massage therapist can expect deep tissue massage to be a part of their foundational training.

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In fact, Williams says massage education in general is evolving to include ways it can be used in a more traditional healthcare setting, which involves taking a clinical look at how massage therapy can affect the tissue of the body.

If you like the idea of digging deeper—so to speak—when it comes to massage, deep tissue may be the right fit for you.

Deep Tissue and Swedish Massage: What’s the Difference?

Swedish massage—what most people in the U.S. would identify as a “classic” massage—is designed to promote as much mental relaxation as physical. Deep tissue massage, on the other hand, prioritizes the physiological benefits.

According to Williams, deep tissue massage generally uses firmer and more sustained pressure, particularly in “problem” areas that are causing the client discomfort. Because of the more intense nature of this type of treatment, Williams says it can be more physically demanding on the part of the massage therapist.

Required Training and Education


Because it is such a common type of massage, you can expect any postsecondary or occupational massage school to offer deep tissue training.

Finding the right school is as much about the education as the environment you’ll be learning in, and the teachers you’ll be learning from. If you’re able to, take a visit to the campus to confirm if it feels like a place you’ll enjoy spending time. You’ll want to ask how long the school has been around, whether it’s accredited with the state you plan to practice in, and what kind of career placement opportunities they may be able to offer once your studies are complete.

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What will you be studying? Well, typical massage coursework covers classes in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology—to give you an understanding of how the human body moves and functions—as well as business management, since many therapists end up working for themselves.

Hands-on training is obviously an integral part of any massage educational program. In fact, deep tissue training involves learning how to use not only your hands, but your elbows and forearms as well, in order to get into the layers of a muscle. Sports massage programs may include deep tissue training as well.

Expect to spend between $5,000 and $20,000 on your education and licensure and remember that you’ll need additional funds to cover books, supplies, and perhaps even a massage table. Financial aid may be available, so include that in your list of questions to ask early on.

Going Back to School as an Adult: Can I Do This?

Massage programs are regularly filled with students of all ages, with varying degrees of real-world career experience, says Williams. She says it’s extremely common to see students pursue massage who have had other careers, or who have become parents and are looking for more flexibility in their professional lives. She’s even had empty nesters who find massage after raising kids.

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What would she tell older students worried about learning this new skill? “I would just say, ‘Right on. You’re in the right place.’”

How Long Does It Take?

Because each state has different educational and licensing requirements for massage therapists, training could take you only a few weeks or up to two years. The amount of time you’re able to dedicate to your studies can also affect your school-to-practice timeline.

Massage therapy training can take as…

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