Deep Tissue vs. Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method
What’s the Difference?

by David Lauterstein

For years we have taught “Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method” at my school and at workshops throughout the U.S. and in England.
Given the name “Deep Massage,” people naturally ask how it is similar and how it differs from “deep tissue massage.”

First, some history

I originally learned deep bodywork from Rolfer Daniel Blake, in 1982. I then began teaching “Deep Tissue Massage” at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy. Soon thereafter, I took some trainings in cranio-sacral therapy and saw how sometimes less pressure can be even deeper in therapeutic effect!

So in 1984 I began to call what I was teaching “Deep Massage.” The idea is there are many ways to deeply affect a person—heavy pressure is just one way—not necessarily the best. The key is to find the best way to touch the person in order have a deep, positive, and long-lasting therapeutic benefit.

Then in 1986 I began studying with Fritz Smith, MD, founder of Zero Balancing. Since then, from my further experience as an teacher around the world, faculty member of The Lauterstein-Conway Massage School (founded 1989) and the Zero Balancing Health Association, Deep Massage has developed into a modality that is unique to our school with demand for trainings throughout the U.S. and the U.K.

Now a disclaimer

There is a wide spectrum of what is called “deep tissue.” It can range from being Swedish massage with just a little more pressure to some very sophisticated approaches. So it may be a good idea, if a client is considering deep tissue work, to find out what training the person has had and what they mean by deep tissue.

My experience with teaching therapists in the U.S. and in England is that deep tissue work generally is:
1. Deeper than Swedish, but still using lubricant.
2. Sometimes performed with a deeper knowledge of anatomy.
3. Sometimes uses forearms, elbows or knuckles to get deeper pressure.
4. Focused primarily on muscles and fascia.

How Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method is different:

1. We generally work without lubricant (unless there is a painful feeling of stretching the skin). Using lubricant may cause the therapist to slip over the tension and, to compensate, they have to use tremendous pressure not to slip. This often causes overuse syndromes for the therapist and sometimes excessive pain or bruising for the client.

2. We recognize the scientific fact that muscles don’t relax!
It is the nervous system that relaxes the muscles! So the Deep Massage therapist learns how to evoke the nervous system’s “relaxation response” through extremely high touch quality. Deep tissue works from outside in and therefore may be more temporary in its effect. Deep Massage works from inside out, stimulating the nervous system’s ability to relax. Therefore it usually results in more thorough, longer-lasting relaxation as well as deeper pain relief, and postural benefit.

3. Deep Massage treats the whole person. We recognize that some of our body’s tension is a reflection of stress in our everyday life. So in Deep Massage we look not only at the physical sources of tension but also at the “energetic” sources of tension and stress affecting our anatomy and physiology. Deep Massage teaches a way to contact and benefit energy and structure simultaneously.

4. Deep Massage also involves the therapist being educated to make optimal pressure and contact. Students of deep massage learn to recognize specific signs to indicate how deep to go, when it’s too much, how long to hold a certain trigger point, etc. These involve training in paying closer attention to what we call “working signs”—the client’s breath, eyes, facial expression, and other important indicators.

5. Clients receive the best massage from a healthy therapist! Deep Massage classes include training on how to be more balanced in one’s body and mind in the therapy setting—we pay close attention to body mechanics and “psycho-mechanics.” Because deep massage training helps the therapist avoid unnecessarily stressing their body and mind, the therapy not only works better for the client, it also enhances the longevity of the therapist!

6. Deep Massage involves training in customizing the session uniquely for each individual client, rather than being an approach applied similarly to all clients. Students are trained to individually assess the client’s posture, movement, stress sources, expressed health goals and to come up with a unique plan for each individual session.

7. It feels better! Because it is more individualized, by a therapist who has learned good body mechanics and self-care, who is trained to observe and refine the touch to be optimal, who addresses tension in nervous system as well as in the muscles, and who knows just how best to contact the actual places of tension—it just feels better!

David Lauterstein
The Lauterstein Conway Massage School
512.374.9222 ext. 20

Return to Forum Index | Return to Continuing Ed Page | DSM Home Page