Deep Tissue Massage, How Much Pressure is Too Much?

A common misconception about deep tissue massage is that it has to be painful to be effective.

Regarding massage, everyone is different. Some are more sensitive to pressure than others or have injuries that will respond to one technique over another. This is especially true for deep tissue massage.

There seems to be some confusion regarding deep tissue massage. During treatments with clients, I’ve 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 pain tolerance.” These comments concern me because many people are led to believe it’s normal, even necessary, for their massage to be painful. What’s worse – they are basing these beliefs on information 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. Also, if you are currently taking medication that may impact your ability to assess pain or pressure or cause you to bruise easily be sure to let your massage therapist know.

I’ve met therapists who talk about deep tissue massage like it’s 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 force that is applied to the tissue. It doesn’t mean the massage should be painful.  Applying too much pressure to the tissue or working it too aggressively can exacerbate an injury or create new problems.

In my own experience, I’ve left sessions with bruises, scratches (yikes!) and soreness that took a week or more to diminish so I could even begin to assess if the treatment was effective. After one appointment I had to see another therapist and a Chiropractor to undo what had done. There’s no benefit to that.

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 may be uncomfortable because there are adhesions in fascia, inflammation, spasms or other issues; 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 too heavily or that you’re uncomfortable. Communication is a very important part of your massage session. Always feel comfortable communicating with the therapist if you have concerns with the techniques or the amount of pressure being used. Your therapist should respect your opinion if the pressure is uncomfortable for you.

If you have significant muscle tension the first few sessions of massage may leave you a little sore but you shouldn’t feel significant pain. If your therapist continues to use too much pressure after you’ve requested less or they tell you it’s supposed to feel like that and you should “just deal with it,” consider looking for another therapist who respects your feedback. Your massage treatment should be beneficial, therapeutic and relaxing.

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