Swedish vs. Deep Tissue Massage- The Top Five Differences


As a deep tissue instructor for brand new and seasoned bodyworkers, I find that the manifestation of “Deep Tissue Massage” in practice tends to vary greatly. Ultimately, it is often what I would describe as “Dwedish” (or a Deep Swedish Massage). Today, I'd like to share the top five differences between Swedish and Deep Tissue Massage from a Morales Method® perspective.


Ok, here goes:

  1. Deep tissue is slower: By its very nature, deep tissue massage is slow and methodical. This slower pace is necessary to gain access to the deeper layer of palpation and also of the tissue. When deep tissue is done quickly, it often results in the client tensing up and fighting against the work. In Swedish massage, the superficial layers of the tissue are usually addressed. With deep tissue, the focus is mainly on the deeper layers of the tissue.

  2. Deep Tissue is more specific: Deep tissue work is created by the person on the table, not the practitioner. A technique is not done because it is “part of the routine”, rather, it is done because it is necessary for that particular situation. In the Morales Method®, we believe that there should be a reason and an intention behind the work in a deep tissue massage that is a response to what is felt in the tissue. Morales Method® practitioners rely on the concept of Directional Resistance to guide our tissue work (learn more in our free online course). Swedish massage is taught as a set of techniques, almost like a recipe. The session does not change as drastically from client to client.

  3. Swedish can be therapeutic, but not always: A Swedish massage can be extremely therapeutic (especially for certain conditions like fibromyalgia). However, more often than not, a Swedish massage is on the relaxing end of the spectrum. Whereas, a proper deep tissue massage is on the therapeutic end of the spectrum (meaning, treatment for specific injuries, conditions, and pain). It can be relaxing, but that is not usually the intention.

  4. Deep Tissue is most often done without oil: Adding oil in a deep tissue massage creates an additional slippery layer between the practitioner and the client, which can make it more effortful to sink in and work deeper layers effectively. Because of the intention to work slowly and to access deep layers in the tissue, the less oil used, the better for the work.

  5. Swedish can be applied to the whole body within one session: Because you don’t have to slow down and wait to sink into the tissue, a full-body Swedish can easily be performed in 60-minutes. However, due to the nature of deep tissue, it is much more difficult to cover as much territory in the same amount of time. It is also important to consider the capacity of a client to receive the work. Because of the intensity of deep tissue work, it is possible to overload and fry your clients with too much input if you’re not careful.

So, I know I am boiling things down here with this list, but I did so to help make the distinction between the two. While we at the Morales Method® believe there is a vast difference between the two modalities, I don't mean to imply that they cannot be mixed together to create amazing work or that one modality is better than the other. They are different. The intention of this discussion is to create education in the field. It is important to know the essence of both of these modalities at their core before truly being able to “play jazz” with them. That was a long one, folks, but I've got one last thing! If you are interested in diving deeper into the Morales Method® approach to Deep Tissue, check out my recently released book, “Deep Tissue Bodywork - A New Approach to a Classic Modality”. In it you will learn the three main reasons for poor body mechanics and how to overcome them, specific techniques to work safely and effectively all over the body, and a deep dive into techniques to relieve both neck and low back pain! It's available on Amazon now!



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