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  • Do You Have Unrealistic Massage Expectations?

    Reality Check Ahead sign on desert road

    How Realistic Are Your Massage Expectations?

    I can’t tell you how many times in the past 15 years I’ve heard from people who’ve had a bad experience with massage. It usually comes down to not having had their expectations met. The reasons are varied: The office was dirty, they didn’t get the type of massage they asked for (i.e. fluffy instead of deep tissue or vice versa), the therapist talked (or didn’t), or *gasp* the therapist texted or took phone calls during the massage (like, what the…). These situations fail to meet the client’s very realistic expectations and they have every right to be upset. I’ve also blogged about them before, so I’m not going to address them today.

    But sometimes, people are upset because they still have pain at the end of their massage session. This is a bit more complex and we need a lot more information to determine how realistic their expectations were. *Hint* Sometimes they had very realistic expectations and the therapist fell short for whatever reason, but sometimes, as you’ll see in a minute, expectations can be a bit pie in the sky.

    Realistic vs. Unrealistic Expectations

    It’s realistic to expect a flowing massage tailored to your comfort level if you book a Swedish massage. It’s also realistic to expect that a trigger point or neuromuscular therapy session will be quite uncomfortable at times and that it won’t feel all flowy but it will make you feel better.

    It’s not realistic to expect the pain you’ve had for 9 months from a pinched nerve, that 3 rounds of physical therapy hasn’t helped, to be relieved in one 60 minute session. It’s also not realistic to expect your injury pain to be totally relieved if you haven’t given the injury the appropriate time or opportunity to heal.

    Things That Matter

    While I can’t address every possible thing that might be a factor in your expectations, I can address the ones I see most commonly.

    Before setting an expectation for your next massage, consider the following:

    • How long you’ve had the pain – The longer you’ve had the pain the more likely it is to have become either chronic or intractable, both of which makes it a very difficult and lengthy process to relieve all or part of it.
    • How severe the pain is – Pain that has you in tears is going to be much harder to relieve than pain that’s only at the annoying level.
    • What else is going on with the body that massage can’t address – For instance, do you have a gall stone or tumor and not know it? (I had a gall stone for 8 years before they were able to diagnose it, despite numerous visits to the ER and my doctor’s office, because I had atypical symptoms.) Pain that comes from non-muscular sources like gall stones, kidney stones, liver disease, tumors, infections, etc. can sometimes be felt in the muscles, but there’s also a deeper quality to it. Massage cannot relieve these types of pain.
    • Your stress level – Are you stressed to the max? Stress causes a lot of changes in the body, including protective muscle tension and a resistance of that muscle tension to release (because it thinks it’s protecting you from a sabertooth tiger… it doesn’t realize that the tiger is your boss and won’t actually eat you). Remember also that some types of massage can easily stress an already stressed out body, which makes it less likely to be effective.
    • Your personality – If you’re a worrier, are hard on yourself, are a people pleaser, etc, it’s going to be harder to relax and, therefore, harder to relieve your muscle tension. These are a form of self-induced stress (and I should know… I resemble at least half of these remarks) which means your muscle tension is also going to come back in a quicker than average time span.
    • The experience and/or expertise of the therapist you choose to go to – A therapist that’s right out of school or one who specializes in relaxation or spa techniques may not be the best choice if you have a complex pain syndrome. Ideally you’d choose one who specializes in the type or location of pain you have.

    So, let’s see how much of this you’ve taken in. Here’s a quick 2 question quiz (it’s an open book, or rather blog, quiz, so no pressure):

    1. If you’ve had a tension headache for the last 5 days, will it be easily relieved in one 60 minute session?
    2. If most of your pain is caused by stress-related muscle tension and you start taking concrete steps to either reduce or better manage your stress, will massage be more effective?


    1. No (but it depends)
    2. Yes

    Congratulations! You passed. Now all you have to do is pass this on using one of the handy share buttons below to see if you’re friends pass, too. 🙂