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Should Massage Hurt?

Ask 10 therapists this question and you are likely to get 10 very different answers. Some therapists do not believe that massage should be painful, ever, and if you are in any sort of discomfort then you are being massaged too hard. Other are at the opposite end of the spectrum and if you are not squirming, squealing and wriggling as they beat the knots out of you then they are not going hard enough.

My answer….it depends.

If you are purely after relaxation massage at a day spa or for stress relief then you would be looking for a massage that is be blissful and pain free. If you have never had a massage before then this is probably the end of the pain spectrum that you can reasonably expect to receive.

You should not feel sore or uncomfortable that day (or the next morning) and any pain is an indication that the therapist wasn’t listening to you or your body.

However, I’m sure I gave one of those massage in 2004.

Deep Tissue massage of a woman's thighPeople who book in to see me are generally after remedial, deep tissue or sports massage and for this group of massage recipients then some degree of discomfort both during and after the massage should be anticipated. Sometimes you have to take one step back to move two forwards.

If you are suffering from a sore back or a stiff neck then myofascial restrictions and adhesive scar tissues need to be worked. Polishing the skin just isn’t going to cut the mustard even if it does calm the nervous system and relax the sympathetic nervous system. You need to get into the muscles (and other soft tissues such as ligaments and fascia) and disrupt their current condition in order to obtain the response that you are looking for.

Now although a deep tissue massage sounds as though it should be excessively painful, this is not necessarily the case. Deep tissue merely means working the deeper levels of tissue, working through superficial layers of fascia and muscle to achieve a change in the structure of the deeper tissues.

But while it needn’t be excessively painful, in reality it is almost always the case that it can be uncomfortable. Personally I do take issue with therapists who say that deep tissue massage should never hurt and feel that either they have never experienced genuine deep tissue massage or they are doing it wrong.

By the same token, though there are therapists who work at such a pressure and intensity that a client is literally bruised and in more discomfort than when they started the massage. “No pain – no gain” may the mantra of the therapist. This doesn’t sit comfortably with me but if it works for them and their clients then so be it. So long as they are genuine with their intentions, explain how they will work and warn their clients how they will feel after the massage then that’s ok with me.

It’s just not the way I work.

  
I like to work within the clients pain threshold so that whilst it may be uncomfortable and bordering on painful (when I consider it to be appropriate), it should never be so heavy that they are wincing and flinching on the table. By the way, the level of pain threshold does tend to increase the more massage you receive and arguments have been made that this isn’t necessarily a good thing (eg needing more and more pressure to achieve the same response is almost an addiction).

Ultimately it is up to you to find a massage style and therapist that suits you. If you have never had a massage before and you are in pain during the massage, then speak up. Similarly if you know what you want and the therapist is one of those who insists on not hurting you at all then maybe you need to find someone else who can give you the type of bodywork you are after.

By Richard Lane


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