Why am I so sore after my massage?

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). 

This is the same official name of post-workout muscle soreness.  You feel fine after working out, but you wake up the next morning and BAM, it all hits you!

While some soreness is normal (similar to a moderate to intense workout), post-massage soreness shouldn't restrict your daily activities, nor persist past a few days.

1. Lack of hydration

You know how most massage therapists will present you with a glass of water after your massage?  We're all secretly hoping you drink more than that!

Sometimes I will even pause a massage and tell the client I am getting them a glass of water for them to drink because their body is getting red and inflamed even from a few minutes of massage.  Many who take me up on this offer notice that their redness fades and their muscles release significant tension within minutes, even in areas I haven't massaged yet.

How does this happen so fast?  While it takes a few hours for consumed water to travel all the way to the involved tissues, our bodies are intelligent and hoard water when there isn't enough to go around.  Upon drinking more water, our bodies seem to recognize that there isn't a drought and releases water to the auxilary tissues (such as tense muscles) in anticipation of receiving more water.

There are many, many opinions out there on how much water a body needs each day, but my preferred formula for most healthy people is a minimum of 2/3 ounces of water per pound of body weight per day, with no more than 32oz above that. In other words...

Your Body Weight (in lbs) x 2/3 = Minimum H2O/day (in oz)

Min H2O/day (in oz) + 32oz = Maximum H2O/day (in oz)

Remember to take thse guidelines with a grain of salt (literally!) and don't consume this much water if you're on a salt-restricted diet!  Talk to your doctor about how much water to drink each day, especially if you have known cardiovascular or kidney conditions.

 

2.  Insufficient mineral intake

Our muscles require minerals in the form of electrolytes in order to relax and contract appropriately.  When a tense muscle is unresponsive to touch, like a rock, I immediately ask my clients about their mineral intake.

In my practice, I find that the most commonly neglected minerals are calcium and magnesium.  While it's possible to consume enough of these minerals through diet alone, it can be difficult without consistent conscious effort, and most of my clients prefer to take a simple supplement.

Thankfully, these minerals often come in a combo supplement, often abbreviated as a "Cal/Mg" supplement.

 

Salt is a mineral!

 

regular table salt is often sufficient for those who consume enough minerals elsewhere in their diet.

Calcium 

Many clients are told to avoid salt due to 

Occasionally, I find that some clients seem to consume enough minerals, but their muscles still feel mineral-depleted.  That's outside the scope of a massage session, but it's a hint that there's likely a problem with digestion or metabolism of minerals (such as insufficient stomach acid) and requires a little more digging to determine the root cause.

 

3.  Lack of communication between you and your massage therapist

Maybe you didn't realize that you booked a deep pressure therapist, and they neglected to ask your preferred pressure.  Maybe you considered the massage therapist the expert and didn't want to get in their way.  Regardless of the cause, this is an alarmingly common cause of excessive muscle soreness!

As massage therapists, we're always on the lookout for nonverbal cues that our pressure is too heavy (flinching, muscle guarding, breath-holding, sharp inhales, etc), but many clients also repress these!

I also find many clients attempt to minimize their discomfort under the belief that massage is "no pain no gain" and they need to "suck it up" in order to gain maximal benefit.  This is not true! 

While some discomfort can be expected during a treatment-focused massage, you should still be able to breathe at a normal rate and rhythm without tensing your muscles on every massage stroke.

Some clients also repress their discomfort because they DO prefer a deeper massage and are concerned that their massage therapist will overcompensate if they speak up, giving the client a lighter massage than desired.  This is a common rookie mistake in the massage world, and new massage therapists often encounter this as they learn how to fine-tune their pressure. 

I still encourage clients to speak up on both counts: tell your therapist the pressure is too heavy, and then if they change their pressure to too light, tell them it's too light!  I understand that you don't want to seem too needy, but we massage therapists really do appreciate the communication.  We want to give you the best massage possible, and we can't do that without your help.

 

References

Choy, M. C., ND, LAc, & Millet, K. S., DC. (2015, May 22). TBM Brief: Calcium. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from https://www.livetbm.com/pdf/TBM_Brief_-_Calcium.pdf

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium; Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, et al., editors. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. 5, Dietary Reference Intakes for Adequacy: Calcium and Vitamin D. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56056/

Millet, K. S., DC, & Choy, M. C., ND, LAc. (2018). TBM Module 1 Manual(40th Anniversary ed.). Henderson, NV: Total Body Modification.