You know massage shouldn’t hurt…. Right? Does that sound like a pipe dream to you? A session that is relaxing and therapeutic? Is that possible?
Of course it is! Certain massage traditions such as Lomilomi are built around the principle that bodywork can be both relaxing and therapeutic. When we look closer at how the body works and what causes muscle pain, it is clear, there is no good reason why any massage should be totally and utterly, straight- up painful.
Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Wikipedia puts it nicely: “Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli.” That “damaging stimuli” is what I want to address here. If you are in a massage session and you are not feeing “oooooo…..ahhhhhhh……” but are feeing “ouch….ouch! “, the therapist could possibly be damaging your muscle tissue. Both your therapist and you should listen to and honor what your muscles and nerves are saying! There is NO benefit in sucking it up, holding your breath and gritting your way through the stroke. My teacher has often said “you cannot make something soft with something hard”. When you are doing a grit and hold, you are tensing your body MORE, which is the opposite effect a massage should be having on you, right?
It IS possible to release tension or knots in the body’s tissues without having to dig and press really really hard. Often such digging is not the technique that is going to get rid of the issue anyway! There are many ways a therapist can loosen stuck or tight tissues- vibration, rocking, kneading, breaking it up, joint distraction, anchor and stretch- all of these techniques can be just as effective if not more effective than trying to simply beat the knot out of you!
Touch is a form of communication. When you are trying to explain something and your listener doesn’t understand, do you then yell it as loud as you can to make them understand? Probably not. You would more likely choose different words or present the idea differently to help comprehension- yes? So often where you perceive pain is not actually the problem that is creating the pain. If you don’t feel any tenderness in an area, pressing harder on that spot may NOT produce any tender sensation at all and by continuing to progressively apply pressure the therapist will get so deep into the tissue that it will elicit a pain message instead of release. More often than not when a sore muscle isn’t tender, there isn’t anything to release there so pressing harder (yelling at it) isn’t going to help. Rather, if the therapist investigates the surrounding area, he/she often finds the culprit- an area that feels much more tender under much less pressure such that lesser pressure FEELS harder and produces a more positive effect. This is the magic of a good massage.
This might all sound very confusing, but think of it this way- Your hip goes out on the right side, your left side starts to hurt. This is because the left side is working WAY harder at keeping you upright and walking because the right side muscle can’t do its job. When the therapist works on the left side, it might be a bit tender, but pressing harder to get it to feel MORE tender isn’t going to do it any good. What will help it the most is releasing the right side so that it can go back to working as it should. And guess what- that right side is going to be super tender and even a bit of pressure will feel like an elephant just stepped on you.
The beauty of massage is that you CAN get relief where you need it most, healing what is injured or overworked without pain. Don’t get me wrong, there might be some level of slight discomfort, but there is nothing relaxing about being tortured by your therapist. You really can have your cake and eat it too on this one.
- Olivia Hageman