Sometimes I like to imagine what it’s like to be a lay -person trying to find the right bodyworker. I’m in pain and I need help, but I don’t know what exactly what I need and people are using all these different terms I don’t understand to describe their work.
This article is for you.
Deep tissue/myofascial release.
I’m going to admit here that I don’t know exactly how or why these terms were created, but I do know plenty to give you enough insight. I’ve personally studied with the founder of deep tissue massage. I’ve also read through the books titled “advanced myofascial release.” You know what the founder of “deep tissue massage” and “advanced myofascial release” have in common? They are both Rolfers.
What is Rolfing? Rolfing is a technique developed to treat soft tissue conditions that came out of Colorado. It looks at things like posture, joints, and fascial adhesions in considering treatment. My impression is that deep tissue massage and myofascial release were terms coined so Rolfers could teach much of what they learned in Rolfing school without being sued. Another way of looking at it is renaming what they were teaching allowed Rolfers to teach massage therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors their soft tissue techniques. Basically, what I’m trying to communicate is that it’s all the same s#$t, and you don’t need to concern yourself with which one is better because it all comes from a similar source.
Trigger point therapy
Many therapists call what they do “trigger point therapy” to communicate to the public “I’ll work those knots out!” There are many therapists who call what they do trigger point therapy who have never read through the giant red textbooks I have sitting on my bookshelf or understand what’s so interesting about trigger points. Trigger point therapy was created by medical doctors who realized that pressure applied to neurologically underactive bands of tissue produced predicable referral pain patterns. For example, a muscle in the armpit could produce pain on the top of the wrist. The suggestion here is that if someone has wrist pain, it’s a good idea to check the armpit, as an active trigger point could be creating the symptom. Another great example is the psoas muscle that attaches onto the spine and how it can create lower back pain that runs up and down the spine felt on the posterior back.
Trigger point therapy is NOT massage therapy. Yes, these doctors did use their hands to release trigger points, but they also injected people with a solution to resolve them as well. The trigger point therapy books provide therapists with some seriously valuable information, and I recommend avoiding the therapists who call their work trigger point therapy as a way of saying “I get the knots out.”
Active Release Technique (ART)
Active release technique was created by a chiropractor named Dr Leahy to treat soft issue injuries and nerve entrapments. The guiding concept is that in order to get maximal release on a tissue, one needs to pin down the tissue and lengthen it to a maximal length. Few massage therapists are certified in ART because the certification is extremely expensive, costing roughly $6500. I avoided taking ART for a long time because of the price tag, but I now cannot imagine practicing without it. ART is the bulk of my practice because the release techniques are simply the most effective I have found and I believe exist. Dr Leahy was an absolute genius and I’m so happy he created this course. I have been able to effectively treat so many more people because I know ART.
There are excellent practitioners who practice all different forms of bodywork, and certifications alone do not mean someone is highly skilled. Plenty of people certify in ART and fail to really understand and master the techniques. Similarly, someone who studied “deep tissue massage” with Art Riggs might be an exceptional bodyworker. As a general rule of thumb, if you haven’t heard that someone is good, I’d recommend choosing a practitioner who is a certified Rolfer or Active Release (ART) therapist. They will charge more, but you’ll get more bang for your buck.