A painful massage is a good massage, right?

Painful massage = more effective treatment.

It’s an equation that almost everyone who’s ever had a massage seems to believe is accurate.

It’s a myth. But to understand why such an inaccurate statement has persisted, we need to explain the action of pain on the body.

Signals and signs

Wet floor! Caution hot! We see warning signs everywhere in our daily lives and understand that they tell us important information designed to keep us safe. Yet when it comes to paying attention to the signs and signals of our own bodies we have a tendency to brush them to the side as unimportant – ignoring them until it becomes overwhelming.

Pain and massage therapy

The harder we press the bigger the benefit? Nope. Treatments like deep tissue massage can be uncomfortable, but a massage should never be outright painful. This definition sums up exactly why this is the case:


“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

The International Association for the Study of Pain


I’m willing to bet that most people who go for regular massages and have done for a long time have suffered through a massage that was painful. I talk a little bit more about why I think that’s the case in this related blog, so I won’t go into it too much here, just know that it’s really not meant to hurt!

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What happens when massage is painful?

Our primary goal as therapists is to improve your overall wellbeing and help facilitate your own healing. If our clients are tensing and wincing on the couch because the pressure we’re applying is causing pain we are, frankly, not doing our jobs very well.

That pain signal from your brain will naturally cause you to protect yourself, resulting in tensing against any pressure or touch. It limits the benefits you’ll feel and gives you negative associations for any future treatments.

Finding the right level

Being able to withstand a deep massage is not a badge of honour. Everyone has a different threshold when it comes to massage therapy; a feather light touch to one may feel heavy handed to another. No one should ‘suffer’ through it, or ‘grin and bear it’.

Talk to your therapist, mention whether a particular area feels tender or sensitive, only then can you both get the best outcome from treatment.


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