Dancing on the Edge- Should Massage Therapy Hurt?

Dancing on the Edge

By: Mara Concordia, CEO, LMT

As the owner of peaceful Spirit Massage and Wellness center I am asked many questions about what is “right, wrong, good or bad” about massage, acupuncture and "bodywork" in general. Should I feel this way or that? What is that modality good for? And so on….. 

One of the most important questions I answer on a regular basis is, “Does it or should it hurt?” For the purposes of this article I am going to focus on massage therapy and this question. 

A small percentage of clients feel that if the massage doesn’t hurt it's not doing anything for you. Others feel that massage should never hurt and that being sore after a massage is bad. My quick answer is that both of these myths are false. 


First, I would like to define “hurt”. We are trained to help alleviate soft tissue problems. Sometimes this process can be uncomfortable depending on many factors. For instance, does one have an actual injury to the tissue or is there a chronic repetitive movement pattern that is simply over working and fatiguing the muscles causing pain. Either way and always for the client receiving treatment the “hurt” that you feel from the process should be one that you can breathe and relax throug. For example, on a pain scale of 1-10 (ten being excruciating) the “hurt” or pain that you feel from the massage should never be more then a 7 or 8. You should be able to take a deep breath and relax with the pressure helping the muscle to also relax and release the spasm. If you find yourself tensing, or unable to take a breath then the pressure is too much and you should ask the therapist to lighten up if they have not already done so. 


Should I be sore after my massage? Quick answer is sometimes. The soreness should not be acute pain, but more like a good work out or a "hard day’s work" soreness. When one receives deep therapy we are separating muscle layers, milking metabolic waste out from between the tissue layers and sometimes breaking up adhesions or scar tissue. These types of sessions may leave you sore, but then after 1-2 days (on rare occasions 3 days) you should feel great and that problem area should be functioning much more effectively. You may see that you have an increase in your range of motion, reduction of pain or increased muscle stamina, depending of course on what the problem was in the first place. Massage therapy is like dancing on the edge of the good pain and the "bad" at times, it can be a very thin line. 

Now I will address effectiveness. What is more effective deep, moderate or light massage? The quick answer to this one is all: of the above. None of us are a stagnant, unchanging body where the same exact treatment is exactly what you need every time. In addition, over time and the more types of massage and bodywork you receive the more sensitive you become to the different benefits of each type and style. Over time you may find yourself needing a more nurturing and supportive type of session on some days and then perhaps after that hard work out or a day of pulling weeds in the garden you made need more deep tissue or sports style. And yet, on other days you may crave the gentle, subtle yet powerful energy work session to help with deep relaxation, introspection and balance. Humans have tremendous depth like the seemingly never ending layers of an onion. At some point you do get to the core layers where you have gained a very deep understanding of self, are very in touch with your body, mind & spirit and what specific needs you have; then you will know what is right for you in that moment. 

Until you get to that level of awareness, we are here to help you figure it out along the way. I invite and encourage you to talk with my therapists and ask questions, and don’t hesitate to communicate during your treatment if you need more or less pressure, or more time on the trouble area. Or, find out if a different style altogether would be better for you. This will not hurt our feelings it will help you get the BEST treatments possible. Remember it is your time, money and most of all your body, so get the treatment that you need. 

It is a huge part of our mission to help educate our clients so that they can learn how to care for themselves as much as possible so they come in for treatments because they “want” to, not because they “have” to.