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Taboos, The massage, Touch

Should a massage hurt?

PainImage by +whup+ via Flickr

Due to confusion let me add: 
In the massage world we often operate between two definitions of pain. Good pain and bad pain. 

When I write hurt in this article, I am referring to bad pain. Bad pain is when the muscles tense up, you feel like screaming and just want to get out of the situation. 

Good pain – which I here call soreness and discomfort – is a pain which you can easily breathe through and where your muscles remain relaxed. You can feel that it’s tender and sore, but it is in a good way that doesn’t kick-start your fight-or-flight response.

Often there’s a perception that a massage must hurt in order to do any real good, and if we’re sore or in pain the day after it’s just because the massage was really deep and did a lot of good things. Nothing is further from the truth than this idea that pain is necessary to achieve good results. In fact, pain is a sign that harm has been done to the body and should be avoided.  Pain puts the body into defence mode so it can protect itself from further harm.

Slight discomfort during the massage is all right, but not pain that makes you grimace, flinch and tense your muscles. Then it’s too deep, too hard and becomes counter productive to what a massage should achieve. The body is sending you a signal that says “Stop instantly, this is harming me”.

A light soreness the day after is acceptable, just like a workout can give a pleasant light soreness. Pain that impairs your ability to move, reduces your flexibility or even bruises are plainly wrong. Your body is in a crisis mode as it has been abused (this is true too if you experience real pain after exercising). A bruise is a bleeding in the tissue, which isn’t exactly healing to the muscles.

You can’t force a muscle to relax and release all its tensions. It needs to be cohered and encouraged to do so. Too much pressure and discomfort and the muscle will tense up to protect the area and avoid damage to it. A massage should encourage relaxation of the muscle and increase the flow of fresh blood to the area to support healing.

So if you encounter a massage therapist that makes you flinch from pain during a massage, do tell her it’s too deep and is hurting you. Any good and well educated therapist will instantly ease off and employ different techniques to relax the tissue they’re working on.

If you’re bruised the day after or in pain that makes it hard to move and do things, then change therapist and find another. If you meet a therapist says that the pain is necessary to healing and a good thing, then run away and don’t look back.

Have you experienced bruising or pain during a massage? Did the therapist claim it was for your own best? What are your experiences with pain and massage? Please share your comments below.

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About Pia Poulsen

Pia Poulsen is educated as a wellness massage therapist at Institut FIGARI in Paris, from where she passed her certification exam in January 2008. Since then she has expanded her skills to become the first Advanced LaStone® practitioner in France as well as a certified LaStone® instructor.


7 Responses to “Should a massage hurt?”

  1. Nice article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Massages should help you beat the stress, not the other way around. It should make you feel more relaxed and content. The important thing to remember is that, as the client, you're in control of the pressure. So if the massage therapist asks the amount of pressure you like, just say so. You can even take the initiative in telling the therapist at the start of the session. You can indicate then that you want a relatively light touch. If the massage is painful, ask for less pressure.

    Posted by eastside massage | Monday 11 October, 2010, 05:36
  2. Dear eastside massage,

    Thank you for your comments. Indeed, it is very important that we empower the clients and often we do need to remind them that they are in control of the session and what feels good, and not the therapist.


    Posted by Pia | Monday 11 October, 2010, 18:14
  3. Agree with eastside massage a massage should help alleviate stress not cause more! However, whatever floats your boat. Exercise, good posture, healthy eating (and drinking lots of water) also help in all areas of health.

    Posted by James Holloway (Massage Chair) | Friday 22 October, 2010, 14:43
  4. Dear James,
    Thank you for your comment.

    There are indeed many ways to deal with stress, and I firmly believe that a combination of various methods is what will create the best balance and whole person.


    Posted by Pia | Sunday 24 October, 2010, 13:58
  5. I am an athlete and I have to get occasional sports massage therapies and they are very painful. But the result was amazing!

    Posted by Massage Therapy Schools | Friday 29 October, 2010, 21:13
  6. I will claim, and I know other body-workers agree, that it is entirely possible to achieve the same results, if not better, without a lot of pain.

    There is an approach to body-work and releasing tensions that is about convincing and working with the muscles to relax instead of forcing them into submission.

    In my view and thoughts, it's a bit like breaking a horse using force vs. training it with trust and gentleness. Both can be ridden and serve their purpose, but the one who was trained with trust is the one who'll be your lasting companion and the highest quality.


    Posted by Pia | Sunday 14 November, 2010, 09:47
  7. A good massage will hurt imo, only a bit though but afterwards you will feel great

    Posted by manchester hair Extensions | Monday 30 May, 2011, 17:40