NEW YORK – February 22, 2017 – Should a massage hurt? If you’ve ever been to a Massage Therapist, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question. Probably, this question arose in your mind because you were experiencing a massage session that was painful. Perhaps, extremely painful. Perhaps you spoke out about the painfulness, and the Massage Therapist replied without really listening, mindlessly repeating something to the effect of, “no pain, no gain”.
Or, maybe you didn’t speak up at all. Maybe you just kept it all inside, because you wanted to get the most from the session, or maybe you thought that because of her training and experience, the therapist knew best. Your Massage Therapist doesn’t always know best.
Firstly, always speak up if you are in pain. It’s your right, and it’s the way a therapist gets feedback. Maybe your therapist inquired about the pressure and technique. A good therapist will. However, we don’t always have the luxury of having a session with a Massage Therapist possessing amazing communication skills. As a vital part of her skill set, communicating with massage recipients is essential. If a therapist ignores you, speak up again! If she doesn’t seem to comprehend that she is torturing you, respectfully requestthat she end the session. You must enforce your boundaries, and using too much pressure, inflicting undue pain, is a form of boundary violation. So, we must assume, then, that Massage Therapy should not hurt, correct? Depending upon whom you ask, the answer will vary significantly. How can this be so? Depending upon a Massage Therapist’s schooling, and modality of focus, the answer might be “no”, “yes”, or even “sometimes.”
Some specializations, such as Rolfing, are more painful. Deep tissue massage maybe as well. Swedish Massage may be done deeply or with less pressure; what’s commonly referred to as “deep tissue” massage is actually Swedish technique with exaggerated pressure. And, there are dozens and dozens of techniques. Some are inherently more painful. Others, like craniosacral therapy, should never even approach painfulness. We canthen agree that sometimes a massage session might hurt. But how much pain is acceptable? When should I tell my therapist to lighten up? Should I let her pull my arm like taffy? Isn’t the extreme pain an indication that she’s taken it too far?
You should ask that your massage therapist alter her technique, if it’s hurting beyond what you find acceptable. If you really don’t like an elbow in the lowerback, you don’t have to bear the pain of an elbow in your lower back. It’s that simple. You are in control; it’s your session. If the face cradle is choking you, please speak up! This mean that your Massage Therapist didn’t adjust the face-rest properly. You must say something! If you’re working on an injury or localized issue, and you’re a professional athlete, you may have different goals for your session than a schoolteacher seeking an hour of pure relaxation just to soothe her nerves after mid-terms.
Your goals, the modality in use, and your personal tolerance for pain should all factor in. But this isn’t, by any means, some calculation you have to make; if something the therapist is doing is agonizing, verbalize this right away! There’s nothing to figure out. Let your therapist explain why it is hurting so much, as well as why she’s chosen such a painful technique to mitigate the issue. Trust yourself and your body’s perceptions. And, even if the therapist insists pain is the only option, you should again respectfully assert that you’d prefer less pressure and less pain.
In truth, more pressure isn’t always better, even for areas where you have experienced past issues. Massage Therapy does not work better with a more forceful technique. This is akin to suggesting that a painter will create more masterful works by applying more pressure to the canvas with his brush. Clearly, this is a vast oversimplification, if not an outright untruth. More care and attention, more feeling and intuition, and more creative vision make both better painters and Massage Therapists.
What you must remember is that a Massage Therapy session should absolutely never feel like your body is being damaged, and should never be more painful than your pain tolerance permits. Your tolerance is a personal variable different for everyone, as are your goals for session outcome, and the type of massage modality being used. Trust yourself. You know when something is causing your back to tighten up more, a reflexive response to too much pressure. If your body is tightening, it’s a sure sign the therapist is overwhelming you with pressure, regardless of whether she knows it or will even acknowledge it. It’s your dutyas a massage consumer to be assertive about this issue, if necessary, in order to bring it to the consciousness of your therapist.
No Massage Therapist can be good if she cannot adjust her technique to an individual’s needs and specific requests. Keeping a client in a constant state of pain can also raise blood pressure; with high blood pressure and many other conditions, any technique that raises blood pressure is contraindicated. If you have high blood pressure, by all means, speak out and put an end to a potentially dangerous situation!
Kindly ask that the therapist lighten up. A lot. It’s your fundamental right, after all. It doesn’t make you “tough” or a “real man” or “self-realized woman” to lie there in agony, quietly enduring with gritted teeth and clenched fists, as your back and various random muscles spasm under the strain of too much pressure, directed carelessly upon your poor muscles, connective tissue and fascia, and body, in general.
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