Should Massage Hurt?

“If you can’t help others, at least don’t hurt them” said Dalai Lama. As massage therapists, we do both, and there is a fair measure of disagreement among us about inflicting pain on our clients.

What follows is my take on this subject, which might differ from the views of Breathe Spa or my co-workers. With this disclaimer out of the way and my lawyers appeased - on to the substance.

First don’t confuse deep massage with painful massage. Deep tissue massage affects deep muscular layers. Painful massage is just that – painful.

Deep massage is not always painful. For example you might remember how hard I had to lean into your body while working on your lower back. That’s because the target muscle QL is hiding behind three other muscles, and to reach it I had to lay my weight on you, yet you likely felt no pain.

Painful massage is not always deep. For example you would feel pain if a therapist applies even light pressure to a nerve running close to the surface like at the back of your knees, or if he inadvertently pinches your skin between his knuckles and a bony projection like the spine of your shoulder blade.

In most cases you come to me to get rid of your pain, not to get a new one. So I am very careful not to inflict pain on you. However there are a number of situations when painful massage is appropriate. And here are some examples:

1. When a client asks for it. Yes, you’ve read it right. There are clients, usually among the muscular athletic types, who don’t feel they got their money worth unless the massage treatment was painful.

2. When treating an injured muscle or a joint. Massage and lymphatic drainage around injuries go a long way to help the healing process. But the injured tissues are inflamed and tender, making some pain inevitable.

3. When applying deep friction to soften a fibrosis or a scar in a muscle or a connective tissue.

4. When reducing trigger points. These are painful areas of cramped fibers within a muscle. Massage helps to release them, but be prepared for some discomfort.

5. When doing a neuromuscular release of a hypertonic muscle. This potent method of relaxing a tight muscle involves a sustained pressure applied with a thumb or a knuckle. You will not enjoy the process, but will appreciate the result.

6. When using a strong pressure on a cellulite tissue. Where there is cellulite, there is inflammation. Deep massage combined with lymphatic drainage (and the proper diet and exercise) helps to reduce cellulite. It works, but not without some pain.

7. When working close to a recent surgery, burn, ulcer, or any other painful skin condition. Lymphatic drainage is very gentle, but some discomfort can be expected.

With these seven cases of painful massage covered - back to Dalai Lama’s quote I started with. We at Breathe Spa are not out to hurt our clients, but to help. And there is a lot we can do for you.

Go online to or call us at 403-457-3060 and make an appointment.

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