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Should my massage be painful?

NO PAIN NO GAIN.  Go hard or go home.

Let’s get one thing straight.  Massage does not need to hurt to be effective.  Well put it this way – in a remedial massage the whole massage need not be painful, there will however be aspects of of massage that can be uncomfortable.

I hear it regularly from clients who say “I had a professional massage once, but it was so painful, so I didn’t go back.”  Or, I told my therapist to ease up who replied ” do you want to get over this or not?”  At the other end of the spectrum I hear people say to me – “I want a firm massage because I want to know that your working back there” or “If I don’t hurt for 2 days straight, you haven’t done your job.

There is nothing wrong with wanting a firm massage.  Just as there is nothing to be embarrassed about wanting your therapist to be gentle with you.  Both examples are respectful of your wishes.

What you consider to be pain and I consider to be pain are two very different things.  Why?  Because we are two different people.  Our ideas of intense pain are determined by who we are mentally, physically, spiritually and what we have experience in life.

It’s surprising how many people perceive massage as a painful therapy. And some massage therapists and clients believe it needs to be painful to be effective.  It is ironic that in some circles massage has a reputation for being painful when a primary reason people receive massage is for relief from pain and discomfort.

I’ve had massage that was so hard that I was sweating through the discomfort. I said to my wife … it was so bad … and then it got better.  She said, what happened: … It ended.

I think that there is a confusion between skillful deep-tissue work and just poor technique.  Deep tissue massage doesn’t just mean pressing so hard that you want to bite the table!

There are techniques that are uncomfortable and you might say that it “hurst so good” so to speak – this is a pain that feels like it is doing some good, relieving tension and you can actually feel change.  Compare this to the sharp, searing sensations of tearing tissue – which very firm types of massage can lead to.  Torn tissue is not helpful.

On the other hand I’ve seen clients who have been physically bruised – not like with cupping – black and blue like they’ve been beaten up.  This is not the work of a therapist that you want to see.  If the work is too deep or inappropriate, it can damage tissue and trigger a guarding response, both of which will lead to more discomfort and stress.

If you are living with pain from a chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia, then you probably have difficulty with a massage therapist trying to alleviate your symptoms with deep techniques. As a result, you are probably reluctant to get massage because you fear leaving with more stress than they had when you came in.  Massage does not have to be painful to be effective.  And a good therapist should have a tool kit of techniques – if you are uncomfortable then you should be able to get relief through other styles of treatment.

The challenging part of working with pain from muscle tension is to use the right technique, at the right time at the right pressure, and rhythm for each situation. Deep pressure into the belly of a tender muscle needs to be slow enough to give clients time to tune into the area so they can relax under the pressure.  It’s like walking into a quiet room and shouting at someone deep in thought – you ‘ll shock and scare them.  Introduce yourself quietly and you’ll find them to be much more accommodating.  It’s the same with working with a tight muscle.  Give it time and I can work deeply and comfortably.

I tell my clients to let me know if anything is uncomfortable or causes more pain for them, and I will adjust my technique accordingly.

There are aspects of massage that are uncomfortable.  Trigger point work can be quite uncomfortable.  Working with scar tissue can also be quite uncomfortable and painful too.  And there are some muscles that no matter how gently you approach them – they are just going to hurt … what you need to know … what I need to tell you is that that pain will pass – usually rapidly.

Massage does not need to hurt to be effective.  Give your body the respect that it deserves.

David Clayton is the Principal Remedial Therapist at Myomasters Massage located in Hope Valley in the north east of Adelaide.  He has a passion for supporting humans to live the lives they were to born to live using massage and soft tissue therapies.  He has a particular interest in assisting people to recover from stress, anxiety and trauma using compassionate and nurturing touch.

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