Happy Friday, everyone!
For those who have visited my FAQ page, you may have noticed that it is currently lacking a bit in the questions and answers department (which is basically the whole point of the page to begin with, right?!). I fully intend to address and solve this by answering a Frequently Asked Question each week, which I will then add to the page. Let’s get started!
This week’s question is one that I am often asked, in nervous anticipation, by people who have either never had a massage before, or who have had negative experiences with it in the past:
Is massage therapy going to/supposed to hurt?
This is not necessarily a difficult question to answer, but requires a bit of explanation.
Simply put: no, massage therapy is not supposed to hurt. Just because a massage is not causing discomfort does not mean that it is ineffective.
Massage has so many wonderful benefits that do not go hand-in-hand with discomfort; on the contrary, a relaxation massage can be just as beneficial as a therapeutic treatment.
However, some therapeutic techniques during a massage, generally geared toward treating a musculoskeletal dysfunction, do have the potential to cause discomfort. One reason for this is due to the structure of dysfunctional soft tissue in the body.
Healthy tissue in muscle and fascia contains fibers which tend to run in organized, parallel directions. When tissue is damaged severely enough or is not allowed enough time to repair properly, the body begins to generate new fibers as quickly as possible to repair the damaged area, throwing all organization out the window. These fibers tend to be shorter and less flexible. Due to the structure and misaligned directions of these fibers, blood flow becomes restricted, the affected tissue loses mobility and compression of nerves begins to cause pain.
Some massage therapy techniques involve manually tearing these dysfunctional fibers apart, followed by other various techniques which help the tissue to heal properly afterward. Creating micro-tears in the muscle fibers is necessary to break down adhesion and bring blood flow back into the tissue. This is where the discomfort comes in.
While it is normal to feel discomfort to varying degrees during a treatment, it is important to remember that there is such thing as too much pain. Excess pressure can cause further damage, which the therapist aims to avoid as it defeats the purpose of the treatment. As massage therapists, the only thing more important to us than helping our clients is to cause no harm to our clients.
A balance must be maintained to provide enough pressure that the treatment has a proper effect, but not so much that it exacerbates the issue or causes more damage. At this point communication is key between the therapist and the client. It is the therapist’s responsibility to inform the client of the differences between therapeutic and abnormal pain, but it is also up to the client to assess the amount of discomfort and inform the therapist when it becomes too much to handle.
In some cases it may be necessary for the therapist to start the first treatment with mild pressure, only gradually increasing to the client’s level of comfort over time. Most conditions take multiple appointments to treat, so it only makes sense that the amount of pressure used reflects the client’s tolerance, as well as the progress and demand of the condition.
Another factor which is often overlooked is the client’s level of trust in the therapist; as the client and therapist form a professional relationship, the former gains confidence in the latter’s abilities and feels more at ease during the treatment, allowing for deeper pressure to be used.
It is very important to me to mention that some therapists might suggest that bruising after a deep massage treatment is normal. I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS. Bruising is the result of ruptured blood vessels under the surface of the skin. As I stated previously, massage treatments are not intended to cause further damage, therefore the presence of bruising indicates that too much pressure has been used during the treatment. With education and experience, a good therapist is able to provide an effective treatment using appropriate pressure without causing harm.
What I want you, as a client, to take away from this is that you know your body better than anyone else. Your RMT will offer their professional opinion and provide as much information as possible relevant to your condition, but it is up to you to judge whether that particular treatment is appropriate for you in that moment. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct.
I hope this clears up the mystery of massage discomfort, but if you would like clarification on anything, please leave a comment.
For more answers, visit the FAQ page.
Enjoy your Friday!