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.