Are Massages Supposed to Hurt?

Lying down on a bed in a dimly lit room, the scent of essential oil filling the atmosphere, and the gentle sound of water and birds chirping faintly…

You are ready for the ultimate massage. All worries will disappear and the only thing that will exist is pure relaxation and relief of sore muscles.

But then you feel pain instead!

This is the last thing that you want to experience, especially when you are anticipating a relaxing and soothing relief massage.

So how come you feel pain, is it just you or is this a common scenario for many people?

Should Massage Be Painful?

Feeling some pain during a massage is normal. However, the pain should be a “feel good” pain. It should be that kind of pain that offers relief feeling afterward.

Experiencing a little discomfort happens especially if you are getting a deep tissue massage.

In one Coyle Hospitality Report (referred to here), 40% of people going to a spa say that their massage is actually painful. The figure is very high for a place that is supposed to relieve your pain.

Generally, the pain should be minimal and it gives your body an alternating moment of “ache” and relief. This is the type of pain that is just right.

Why Do Massage Hurt?

There can be several reasons why your massage hurts. But keep in mind that pain thresholds are subjective and can vary a lot from person to person.

Whether you are using an electronic massage device or visiting a masseuse, it is important to identify the pressure you are comfortable with. So change the settings on the device or let your masseuse know by communicating clearly.

#1 Tight Muscles

Tight muscles can cause a lot of tension, and when that part is being massaged the tension can come out.

By using powerful strokes around tight muscle tissue,  adhesions can be broken down and so-called “muscle knots” can be released. The process of breaking them can be uncomfortable in the short run but you should feel much better afterward.

Several years ago I injured my calves which also caused issues for my thigh. I went to a physiotherapist, where I got about 5-6 sessions of extremely painful massage. It helped A LOT for my recovery.

#2 Poor technique

Different muscles will handle pressure differently. For example, the back can take firmer presses but if the same amount of pressure is applied to the thighs and arms it will likely be too much.

Using the wrong technique or too much pressure delicate muscle tissue with cause pain and in the worst case even damage some of your muscle tissue.

foot massage

Are you also particular about feet and toe massage?

#3 Underlying medical condition

In some cases, a past injury, illness, inflammation, or emotional distress could be causing the pain. If this is the case, you should tell your masseuse about it.

An experienced massage therapist might be able to detect that you are feeling pain without you saying anything, but no need to suffer in pain.

If you are in pain every time you get a massage, there could be something wrong and you should consult a medical professional about it.

#4 First-timers

If it is your first time visiting a spa or massage clinic, you might not be aware of what to expect of the experience, and also how it will make you feel the day after.

While I have mentioned several times that some pain can be a normal part of a massage, don’t expect it to necessary for a good massage. It is not like the massage needs to be painful in order to be good.

What Should You Do If The Massage Hurts?

While pain is normal in massage, you should always communicate your feeling and your expectations with your massage therapist.

A good therapist can read body language but they cannot know what is going on in your mind. Thus, you need to speak up.

Some might ask whether you want a “soft” or “hard” massage. If you are unsure, you can go for the soft type to get a feel of the touch and kneading.

You may request for a harder touch if you are not satisfied with the soft pressure. The ultimate goal is to listen to your body and apply only the pressure that it can tolerate.

If you find yourself holding your breath and tensioning your muscles, that is a good indication that the pressure is too much for you. It is also counter-productive.

What To Expect During a Massage Session?

Your expectations will depend on the type of massage therapy you requested. But generally, it will start with a light pressure to warm up and prepare the muscles.

The therapist can use oil or powder to lubricate the skin. Using the elbow, forearm, hand knuckles, and thumb, he/she will reach into the individual muscle fibers to release the tension.

During the procedure, you should breathe deeply to allow better circulation of blood in these areas.

This is often a sore spot 🙂

What Happens During A Massage?

Experts often refer to two different responses during a massage, they call these two:

  1. the relaxation response
  2. the mechanical response.

The relaxation phase allows your body to react to the touch application by promoting slow deep breathing. This stage lowers the blood pressure and reduces the level of stress hormones in the body.

The mechanical response comes after the physical manipulation of the muscles and deeper tissues. Blood circulation improves and tension is released. The combination of the two reactions creates a relaxing feeling as the tension is melting away from your body.

How Often Should You Get A Massage?

In order to get the most benefit, massage is recommended on a frequent basis.

It can be most helpful if you have low back pain, postural problems, stiffed neck, and limited mobility. Massage therapy can also be helpful for patients recovering from injuries and suffering from osteoarthritis.

Just make sure that you inform your therapists about these conditions so that they can give you the most appropriate massage that your body needs.

Going to a massage therapist on a frequent basis can quickly become costly, and you might want to consider investing in a percussion massager for your home instead. You can check out these two popular models, that I have reviewed here.

Bottomline

Massage is supposed to be a relaxing time but there may be instances when you will feel a certain level of pain.

The pain comes from the tension released, incorrect technique, or it may depend on the pain threshold of the person. However, you should be able to discern whether this is a feel-good type of pain or something that is uncomfortable.

Feel free to talk to your massage therapist about how you feel. Your body will benefit most if you have an open communication line with the professional. When you both listen to what your body tells you, you get the most from your session and you will feel more relaxed and relieved.

My name is Marcus, I am a lawyer (LL.M.) and the founder of this website. Besides sometimes doing lawyer stuff, I like to write about fitness and health and share what I have found “works” for people like YOU. If you want to know more about me and my vision for this website then you can click here.

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