Massage Myths: If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not working

Alright, kids. I really haven’t been in this business a terribly long time, but even I have seen too many massage myths running rampant. Probably the biggest, and most detrimental, myth running around is the idea that:

“If it doesn’t hurt, it must not be working.”


"How does that pressure feel?"

“How does that pressure feel?”

This line of thinking could not be further from the truth! So why is it that massage clients seem to believe this philosophy? Are all massage clients secretly masochists?

My personal speculation is that it comes from the ideals brought about when Massage Therapy was included in medicine and physical therapy some time in the 1800s.  Many doctors used Massage Therapy to treat all sorts of ailments. Anything from edema to organ dysfunction were fair game! This was also a weird time for medicine, since it was before the modern use of painkillers, and many doctors were looking to create the “next big cure.” This introduced a lot of quackery in the medical industry.

Count Rugen Posterity

Another possibility for the No Pain, No Gain mentality probably comes from the fact that after even a GREAT massage, the body will often feel a little achy and fatigued. While there’s a lot of contradictory reasoning as to the “WHY”, most researchers believe this feeling is partially caused by the way massage therapy stretches muscles and forces more blood into them. According to Keith Grant, head of the Sports and Deep Tissue Massage Department at McKinnon Institute in Oakland, CA, says, “It’s very much like doing a workout. If the muscles aren’t used to it, they often respond with some soreness.” He also notes that a little pain is normal, but it shouldn’t last more than one or two days.

Debunking the Myth:

First and foremost, a massage therapist’s job is to make you feel BETTER, not worse. If–when you get a massage–you feel just horrible afterward, you should tell your massage therapist! Every body responds to massage techniques differently. There is no “One Size Fits All” in this industry, so communication is essential to make sure you are getting the right treatment for YOUR BODY. You and your therapist can try adjusting the session length/frequency and the techniques used to create the right massage for you. And if your therapist doesn’t listen to you and try things your way? It may be time to go shopping.

"This is nice, but do they come in green?"

“This is nice, but do they come in green?”

Second, most bodies have this really interesting response to pain. First, it triggers a sympathetic nervous response (ever heard of Fight or Flight?) This means your body releases adrenaline which increases respiration and heart rate, raises blood pressure, and can make you break out into a sweat. Not only that, but your muscles will actually tighten in what’s known as “splinting” or “guarding”, because they think the area is being injured! If your therapist is working so deep, that you can’t breathe through because of the pain, you need to SPEAK UP! I promise, I won’t call you a sissy for calling “uncle” on my table.

Massage Therapy has some great applications when it comes to healing, but it can also cause some serious damage if misused! The best way to prevent injury and to take charge of your healing is to openly communicate with your massage therapist. Don’t be afraid to ask for a change in pressure, oils, or technique. It won’t hurt our feelings.

After all, any good therapist wants what is best for YOU.

Posted in Blog, Massage and you, Massage Myths