One of the biggest misconceptions I come across as an LMT is that most people believe that pain and a lot of pressure is what it means to get a deep tissue massage. There are a lot of people out there who tend to enjoy this kind of pain when being given a massage, but many just tolerate it because “pain means it is working”. Some misinformed massage therapists believe this as well, and pass it along to their clients. Any skilled massage therapist will tell you that this is simply not true. Although some amount of discomfort will come when receiving a deep tissue massage, but it is not the goal of the therapist to cause you pain, and it should always be consistent with the tolerance level of the client.
When receiving a deep tissue massage, it is most often because the client is experiencing some amount of pain, limited range of motion, or discomfort in an area of their body. Usually, the underlying causes of most of these conditions are associated with the deeper layers of tissue within the body. When working with these tissues, just pushing hard and fast to reach these deeper layers is not very effective in treating the area. All that will happen is the muscle tissue will push back, causing the therapist to continue to increase the pressure, making the client experience even more pain. The amount if “release” experienced within the muscle tissue is usually significantly less than if a slower approach is taken. As with most anything, if you try and “force” change, it is going to backfire. The best deep tissue massage therapists understand this and know that a more gentle, slow approach is much more effective. When these areas are accessed with a softer, gentler, slower approach, especially right at the onset of the massage, the tissues tend to relax and feel as if they are “dissolving” under the therapists fingertips. This also allows the therapist to reach even deeper layers of tissue.
Basically, if a massage therapist tells you that the almost unbearable level of pain he/she is causing you is normal, and the only way for the treatment to be effective, or tells you that the bruise they left on you is okay, it’s time to find a new therapist. You need one that knows how to listen to your body. Knowledge and education go a long way, but the best therapists have what you just can’t teach… an intuitive touch. Knowing what they are feeling and how to work with, and will adapt to how the body is reacting.