Is it Okay for a Massage to be Painful?

For those new to massage, it should not be painful. You are still getting to know your body and what you like. But sometimes, therapists go deeper to get a muscle to release. This can cause a bit of discomfort in the short term, but then you feel much better.

The answer to the question “Are massages supposed to hurt?” is not straightforward. There are several types of massage, such as Swedish massage, which is very light and uses little pressure, so there is very little discomfort. A deep tissue massage is usually the type that can cause some discomfort, since the tissues and muscles are actually working. A well-trained massage therapist will always work within the client's comfort level.

A deep tissue massage is very beneficial for any type of injury and will help with the healing process. If massages are always harmful to you, it could mean that the tissue being massaged is not 100% healthy and receiving a massage would be therapeutic for that tissue, since it would help improve circulation so you have fewer aches and pains. It could also mean that you need to communicate more with your massage therapist just to let them know if there's too much or too little pressure. What they think might be an appropriate amount of pressure could be too much for you in certain areas, so don't be shy to talk and tell the therapist how you feel.

We could all benefit from a massage from time to time to get rid of the stress and tension that has built up in our bodies. Before you go to your next massage, be sure to communicate your comfort levels with your massage therapist and you won't be disappointed. In massage, there is a phenomenon known as “good pain”. It arises from a sensory contradiction between sensitivity to pressure and the “instinctive” feeling that pressure is also a source of relief.

So pressure can be an intense feeling that feels good in some way. Good aches are often dull and painful, and are often described as a “sweet pain”. The best good pain can be a relief such that “pain” isn't even the right word. Feeling safe is essential to experiencing good pain.

Small differences in trust and comfort can make the difference between severe pain being good or bad. Much of the “goodness” of good pain comes from the mental context, from knowing that a pain is not dangerous or useless, that it will not increase suddenly or anything more disgusting or shocking. In massage therapy, so much can be achieved while inflicting only good pain on patients that severe pain must be justified with vivid, rapid and somewhat lasting benefits, which is a very high bar to overcome. All health care practices must be justified by benefits.

As risk, pain and expenses increase, so should benefits. It simply doesn't make sense to tolerate and pay for painful treatment without an obvious return on investment. The contradiction between the good and bad parts of pain can be strong. Severe pain can involve an undeniably unpleasant or disgusting or sick component, a truly unpleasant quality, and yet be accompanied by a clear sense of relief, such as an itch when scratching.

Nobody really knows how a painful massage can also feel so good at the same time. This is a sensory phenomenon that is mostly beyond the reach of science; all we can do is speculate. A main question is whether good pain is good because we expect relief to follow pain or because positive and negative qualities occur simultaneously. My bet is on the latter.

It's very likely that at some points during a deeper tissue massage session, most people will feel some pain or discomfort when the therapist digs deep into tense muscles to relax built-up tension and release the by-products of metabolic activity; however, any pain must always be bearable. If you find yourself grimacing or your body squirming, report it to your therapist right away so that the force is reduced appropriately. Over time, as your muscles get used to massages and become more relaxed, you'll discover that you'll be able to enjoy an even deeper massage.

Florence Baird
Florence Baird

Award-winning tv practitioner. Typical tv expert. Incurable organizer. Incurable zombie scholar. Infuriatingly humble twitter specialist.