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Painful Massage

From the "Massage Therapists and Bodyworkers" professional organization:

Their Question:

Massage should NOT hurt. Agree?

Our Answer:

In general, I definitely agree that massage should not hurt. Pain is the body's way of telling you that something is wrong and most people naturally tense up and resist when they experience it. It is also a warning sign that you may be inflicting damage on your client and so should be particularly respected and listened to by therapists who are inexperienced or have only moderate proprioceptive skills. There is a natural edge where massage can be extremely effective without being painful - that edge being the place where fascia melts like a wave before your touch. Going in too deep (or fast) relative to this edge can be painful and cause the muscles to resist, thereby "kicking you out" and decreasing the effectiveness of the work.

That said, as a specialist in deep tissue work, I have observed a mental component amongst a rare minority of clients who seem to release better when the pressure is beyond that point - almost as though they've subconsciously trained their muscles to relax when painfully deep touch is applied. These are the ones who always request "Deeper" & for them, I will go beyond that point.

The only other exception I make to my "no pain = more gain" guideline is when dealing with adhesions. The skillful severance of large adhesions through carefully directed knife-edge pressure often feels like a burning sensation as it is accomplished. The freedom of movement gained by the process is usually so much appreciated by the clients that they are willing to undergo a few seconds of burn, so long as I forewarn them what to expect and why.

...

This topic keeps coming up in my mind, so I'm going to add to my initial comment: In addition to being a Deep Tissue Massage specialist, I also run a massage business with over two dozen top-notch therapists. We have many phenomenal Deep Tissue massage therapists thanks to Emmett Hutchins' Guild for Structural Integration, which is here on Kaua'i, along with Lee Joseph's Pacific School for Awareness and Bodywork. Both of these schools turn out exceptional Rolfers and Structural Integrators every year & we send clients to many of their graduates and faculty. As the business owner, I've hand-picked all of them and experienced their work. Okay, enough credentialing; here's my point:

A lot of time during a massage job interview a candidate will say "I can do deep tissue massage" and then force an elbow, forearm or whatever into my body hard enough to cause tissue damage (& pain). I have come to regard that as evidence of a shortfall in their proprioceptive capabilities. Because a really, really great Deep Tissue massage therapist hardly ever causes pain. There is rather a sense of depth, pressure, relief, and often energization in the areas they are working on. Intensity might be the best word to describe it. Rare exceptions are usually forewarned, anticipated, brief, and to accomplish a particular well-understood point grounded in their advanced proprioceptive skill and awareness.

Debbie

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