A common misconception about deep tissue massage is that it has to be painful to be effective.
There seems to be some confusion regarding deep tissue massage. During treatments with clients, I have heard many opinions on deep tissue massage, including “There is no such thing as too much pressure”, “You can’t hurt me” and “I have a high tolerance for pain.” These comments concern me because many of these people are made to believe that it is normal, even necessary, for their massage to be painful. What’s worse is that they are basing these beliefs on information they are receiving from their massage therapists.
The truth is there IS such a thing as too much pressure and, YES, your therapist can hurt you. People have come to see me who are afraid of massage after an injury they received during an overly aggressive treatment. Most importantly, if there isn’t enough pressure to hurt you then you might have some type of neurological issue that needs to be addressed.
I’ve met therapists who talk about deep tissue massage like it’s supposed to be a measure of strength or a competitive sport. Deep tissue massage is about accessing the deeper layers of tissue and is not based on the amount of pressure that is applied to the tissue. It doesn’t mean the massage should be painful. Applying too much pressure to the tissue or pulling it too far can exacerbate an injury or cause problems that were not there already.
In my own experience, I had a therapist working on me that dug her elbow so hard into me that it left bruises. There was no benefit to that. She was proud of the fact that she could “lay the hurt” on and that I was definitely going to need ibuprofen, Biofreeze and Epsom salt soaks later. I had to see another therapist and a Chiropractor to undo what she’d done. So often I hear therapists talk about the amount of pressure they apply like they have some kind of point to prove.
A therapist should be able to feel your tissue reacting positively or negatively to the treatment. It is possible to release tissue in layers, from superficial to deep, without it being agonizing. Based on muscle response they can determine if the appropriate pressure is being used. Yes, there will be times when the techniques a therapist is using are uncomfortable to you. This is because there are adhesions in the muscle tissue or there is inflammation, spasms or some other issue in the muscle; however, the pain shouldn’t be lifting you off of the massage table, making you feel nauseous, or other similar complaints I’ve heard from clients about experiences they’ve had. Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist they are working a little too heavily or that they are hurting you. Communication is a very important part of your massage session. Always feel comfortable communicating with the therapist if you have concerns with the techniques he or she is applying and the amount of pressure being used. Your therapist should respect your opinion if the pressure is uncomfortable for you.
It is important to know that if you have serious injuries the first few sessions of massage may leave you a little sore but you shouldn’t feel significant pain. If your therapist continues to hurt you after you communicate your concerns and he or she tells you that it’s supposed to feel like that and you should “just deal with it,” you should probably look for another therapist. You are paying for your massage treatment so it should be helpful, therapeutic and relaxing, not a torture session.