It is a common misconception that a Massage (particularly a Sports Massage or Deep tissue Massage) should be painful in order to achieve results. If we think about it, a lot of time people seek a massage treatment because they are in some sort of pain... so why go and have something where you get more pain?
Luckily things have progressed on over recent years and the “no pain no gain” mindset is slowly being changed when it comes to Massage.
Massage is a type of therapy which is intended to improve the function of muscles. Whether to relive pain improve movement or recover after a particular activity, massage is often seen as an ideal treatment.
However a lot of the time there is still the mindset that “if it is not hurting, it’s not working”. This can be quite far away from the truth.
Granted some areas may be a little uncomfortable during massage, especially a muscle that would appear in a “fibrotic” condition. However going in full charge into painful areas of body will more likely give temporary relief at best and increased pain at worse.
Now there was a time (before I had started my qualifications) when I believed a strong, brutal massage would resolve all my “knots” and muscle stiffness. I would go for Sports Massage, only to come out feeling like I had done ten rounds with Mike Tyson. Granted a day or two later I would feel better and more mobile. However within a few days I would be back to square one with the same aches and pains (sometimes worse than before), which I would continue to have until the next Massage, and we would go full circle again.
After time what I found to be important was not what aches & pains I was getting, but I am getting them.
So my first tip on whether Massage is painful would be to first found out why a muscle is painful. A good example of this, recently I had some come to visit my Therapy studio with stiff head, neck & shoulders. On further investigation we found her lat & lower Trapezius muscles were not activating. This could be causing the muscles around the head, neck and shoulder to overworked giving the feeling over tightness, stiffness or tension. So as well as giving applying some massage technique to the head, neck & shoulders (which was uncomfortable but not painful) and as well as adding in some activation exercises for her lats & lower Trapezius muscles. These two combined skills give much more beneficial results rather than solely focusing just on the “tense” parts and she also mentioned give her long lasting relief compared to when she has her regular head, neck & shoulder massage.
A rule I use in my studio is, if I can chance a muscle through a Muscle Energy Technique (a gentle release exercise) then it is more likely to be in spasm rather than “fibrotic”. If it is only in spasm then this can usually be helped with some anti-spasm exercises. Going in with a firm massage might not get the result we want in this case, and may even make things worse. If however a Muscle energy technique does not work, then I would consider this muscle to be “fibrotic”. In this case I would then go in with some Massage and trigger points (both which may be a little uncomfortable) to break up the fibrous tissue to bring life back into the muscle.
Often we attend sports/deep tissue massages are attended after carrying out sporting events (marathons, races, matches etc). In this case I would usually apply massage (but not painful) to aid in the recovery of the athlete. Again it may be uncomfortable due to the recent activity; however it would not be painful as this could further inhibit recovery.
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About the author
I am a Manual Therapist covering a range of different disciplines including massage & Biomechanics. I also run small specialist Pilates classes around Corfe Mullen, Broadstone, Wareham, Wimborne & Poole. Instead of just purely rubbing the pain, I always look to see if I can find a potential cause (or causes of the pain) and then work on treating this.
Pilates Instructor & Therapist, helping you understand why we do what we do!