Sports and Remedial Massage targets all layers of tissues, including the deeper layers. There is a false myth that deep tissue massage should be painful – the myth of ‘no pain, no gain’. Massage can hurt, and the level of discomfort will have a story to tell about current tissue condition. However, whether it hurts to receive deep tissue massage, or not is not an indicator of the effectiveness of treatment. The following paragraphs explain scenarios why massage does not need to feel painful.
Muscle symptoms can improve with low massage pressure
Painful symptoms are our body’s indicator that something is wrong. They cause us to take action to remedy the cause. That is why our industry calls this the reactive or relief phase of care. Relief means that treatment is focused initially on soothing the symptom before the heavier lifting of corrective deeper touches can be applied to resolve potential causes. The balance of how corrective a treatment can be hinges on how much pressure the tissues can tolerate before feeling threatened or protectively contracting. That can sometimes mean that the relief phase may need to be spread out over a few sessions so that the pain level reduces adequately to allow deeper touch. For some muscle types, we have clients who have tissues that respond to light touch by instantly releasing tension without the need to challenge the tissue into melting the tension.
Chronically tense muscles sometimes don’t feel sensations such as pain
Our clinic regularly treats clients who present with chronic tension in the form of crunchy knots and who amazingly feel zero discomfort with an elbow deep into their musculature. It’s usually not a good sign. This phenomenon can be explained. It results when the muscles have been so long contracted in tension that they disconnect from discomfort signals as a protective measure to save the persons sanity. The irony is that over a course of remedial treatments the client can begin to experience increasing levels of pain during massage as the neural pathways begin signalling again. The good news is that as muscle function improves because of treatment, the pain reduces until it disappears – healthy tissues are not sore to touch, even with deep pressure!
To summarise, deep tissue massage treatments do not need to be painful to have worked. However, you are the master of your body. If you feel that the pressure wasn’t right and didn’t cause tissue tension to melt from the pressure used it is imperative for future success to feedback this to your therapist on your next visit. Remedial massage requires therapists to probe and challenge tissues at the edge of responsiveness. Too much pressure and the tissue protectively contracts. Too little pressure and nothing changes. If a therapist has got it wrong on the first attempt, let them know – massage therapists are fixers and are more than capable of getting into deeper layers of tissue.