No doubt you’ve heard the old adage, “no pain, no gain.” The problem with old adages is that they’re sometimes wrong. This one is definitely wrong; especially when referring to massage. Pain is never good for the body, it’s actually the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Yet, time and again, I have clients telling me they know the massage will have to hurt in order to be effective. Sigh.
Don’t get me wrong, massage can still be mighty uncomfortable, but that’s entirely different than being painful. For our purposes, I’m going to define pain as a sensation that causes you to do one or more of the following things during a massage:
Here’s the most important thing you need to know about pain as it pertains to massage: The only thing a muscle in pain can do is contract. In massage, we’re trying to get tight, contracted muscles to relax. Pain will create the exact opposite effect of the one you’re trying to achieve, and the only way to get the muscle to lengthen when it’s contracting is to force it. It should come as no surprise that forcing the muscle can tear it and give you horrible pain for the next 3-5 days.
I’ve heard of massage therapists who will work on one muscle for 30-45 minutes. One muscle. If it won’t let go within 5-10, it’s time to move on and work another muscle and possibly the entire area. If it takes your MT 45 minutes to release one muscle there are a few possibilities, none of which is good:
When I was in massage school they taught us that “pain equals no gain,” and I’ve seen that proven right over and over again in my 13 year career. The first rule of massage is “do no harm.” Pain is harm. Stubbornly working one muscle for all or most of a massage can also be harm, especially if it’s the wrong muscle.
So please, don’t assume that pain is just part and parcel of massage because it’s not. Ditto for working the muscle that hurts until it lets go. There’s an axiom in the profession: Look for the pain, look elsewhere for the cause. All this means is that sometimes the pain and its cause reside in different places, and working the spot that hurts ultimately won’t solve the problem.
Talk to your massage therapist if they’re causing you pain. They may not be aware; sometimes the muscles say one thing to them, but the nerves tell you a different story. They can’t hear the nerves, so you need to let them know. A good therapist will want you to tell them. I promise.
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