Should a massage ever hurt?

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Everyone knows that going to a masseuse for a body massage or having a massage at home feels great and does you good, but should it hurt to be really effective?

While it depends on the type of massage, in most cases, it’s because the body reacts with two responses – the relaxation response and the mechanical response. The former sees the application of touch helping your breathing to slow, blood pressure go down and stress hormones decrease. Meanwhile, the physical manipulation of the muscles creates the mechanical response. You’ll see an increase in blood and lymph circulation and the relaxation of soft tissue, which in turn releases nerves and deeper connective tissues. Talk about relaxing.

But when it comes to pain during massage, according to Laura, a sports massage and soft tissue therapist, each client will perceive pain in different ways. ‘It’s paramount that the therapist gets to know a client’s pain tolerance and how deep a pressure they are comfortable with,’ says Laura.

Different muscles in the body will take a harder pressure than others for example, the back will take a fairly firm pressure but the same pressure applied to the thighs may be more painful. ‘Massage can be tender over tight areas of muscle as the muscle fibres have become taut and trigger points (knots) in the muscles can cause referred pain down the nerve route, but a massage therapist will know their anatomy so pressure isn’t applied over delicate structures and muscle and fascia only.’ says Laura. ‘Some people report that the pain is a good pain because the tension release can feel relieving if it’s been building up for some time.’

When it comes to pleasure-pain balance, there is definitely a ‘bad’ pain. ‘You should not accept discomfort or pain if you’re not getting a muscular relief from it,’ says Laura. ‘There should be no sharp, burning or hot pain. The therapist can use a pain score out of 10 with the client so pain can be monitored and progress easily reported.’ Don’t feel bad – your professional WANTS to know what you want, and like. ‘You’re never offending us,’ Laura adds.

The ultimate goal of a massage therapist is to ‘listen’ to the tissues and only apply as deep a pressure as the client allows. With each regular session, the therapist may go deeper as you get used to the sensations and the muscles start to relax. So if you’re wincing at the merest touch, in a few sessions your muscles will be relaxed, you’ll be distressed, and any pain you’ve experienced during a massage will have floated away.

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