Many people turn to massage when feeling muscle pain, tension and soreness to seek relief, correct the issue or for pain management. However, you may be wondering why it sometimes hurts after massage – when you thought this was supposed to make you feel better? Fear not, in this article we’re going to explain when it’s okay to feel sore after your massage and when it’s not okay. It’s also helpful to know what to do to make the soreness better and whether you should tell your massage therapist about it.
What is post massage soreness?
Post massage muscle soreness is common to experience after receiving a deep tissue massage. Some clients begin to feel achy straight away, while most people tend to experience soreness the following day. The muscle ache can last hours or days depending on the treatment, your body reaction and how well the ache is managed. Post massage muscle ache is mostly associated with remedial and sports massage where the intention of the treatment was to challenge muscular restrictions. These treatments are designed to reset the default muscle state to restore movement, ease and relaxation.
What causes me to feel sore after a deep tissue massage?
If you’re experiencing muscle soreness after a massage it is because the soft tissues have been manipulated to break down adhesions, knots and holding patterns to restore muscle condition to a functional state. Muscle groups and tissue can get caught in a twist often requiring firm pressure to be applied during a massage treatment to coax them back into a relaxed, untwisted state. Usually the more chronic or stubborn the condition is the more depth needed to challenge it to get it moving. Just like with a heavy exercise workout, the soft tissues can feel the effects of “good hurt” by feeling sore and needing time to repair the resulting mini traumas afterwards.
Why do some massages hurt?
Everyone has a unique body type and responds differently to a massage treatment. It is highly unlikely that you will be sore after a light, relaxing treatment such as Swedish massage. Many regular recipients of Deep Tissue, Sports and Remedial massage experience very little or no negative effects afterwards, whilst an irregular receiver using massage to remedy muscle pain, injury or chronic issue may experience a lot of discomfort. “Pain is resistance to change” and it is the job of your remedial massage therapist to challenge your soft tissues. This is known as the therapeutic edge of “good hurt”, where release can happen by coaxing rather than forcing change. Some massage therapists are better readers of the therapeutic edge and can use optimum speed, depth and direction of pressure. Environmental and chemical factors such as a woman’s period, dietary and stress conditions can sometime change how a client responds compared to their normal post massage feeling.
“No pain no gain” is not a healthy massage belief.
The common belief that you have to experience pain to receive a positive massage outcome is untrue. In fact, usually “less is more” would be a more accurate statement to describe how much challenge should be experienced during a massage treatment. There is a fine line between too little pressure, which creates no improvement in the body’s structures, and too much pressure, which can make a client tense up and hold their breath to get through it. Breathing is the key. If you’re enduring so much pain during a treatment that you’re unable to breathe through the challenge, then you must inform the therapist to back off. This type of “no pain is no gain” will not serve you and may cause other painful symptoms to appear in the muscles you tensed up when having to escape from the high of treatment pain.
Am I worse after my massage than before it?
A common fear that a client may have when experiencing post massage muscle pain is “I wasn’t sore before, did my therapist do harm?” In cases where extreme treatment pain resulted in the need to tense up to endure it, it may be true. However, remedial or “fixing” massage is not a one treatment fix. If you only want to have one treatment to achieve pain relief, you must inform your massage therapist so that they can use lighter pressure to ease the symptom rather than to challenge change in the muscles. Remedial massage works as a course of treatments. You will usually know after the second or third treatment as to whether your treatment goal can or has been achieved – you also should know how many sessions more are needed. By the nature of fixing, pain can sometimes get worse before getting better. We’re coaxing new ranges of motion, breaking down scar tissue and reversing muscle imbalances. Symptoms often jump around during this process and dysfunctional muscles do feel pain as they’re being asked to work again, just as they do with exercise.
How to manage post massage soreness.
Muscle guarding is the term used to explain how our brain responds when we experience pain, ache or soreness after a massage. It is the subconscious tensing of painful muscles to protect the achy area. Unfortunately this action reverses the benefits of the received massage and triggers a new, sometimes worse, pain cycle as the sore repairing muscles are now being loaded with the unenviable task of having to work 24/7. As you can imagine this is the scourge of all massage therapists and sometimes results in very competent therapists’ being perceived as incompetent if the client doesn’t reach out to seek understanding. Taking a hot bath with Epsom salts, avoiding exercise and flushing the body out with water for the remainder of the day are a few ways to help alleviate post massage soreness. If pain persists, it can be very useful to take a pain killer to break the pain cycle, to enable the brain to relax the “worked on muscles” – meaning that they feel better and start warming up as they benefit from normal everyday activity.