It has always been my belief that a massage should not be painful. And before we go too much further, there is a difference between a Fluff and Buff Massage, (which is also great) and a Bodywork Massage, The Body Engineer, Why My Massage is Different. Bodywork is a massage modality that focuses on solving a painful dysfunction within the body.
The main reason that I believe massages should not be painful, is that when pain is triggered it keeps the autonomic nervous system (ANS) activated and does not allow the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to take control. What is the difference? The ANS is responsible for releasing hormones for our fight or flight response. It is responsible for many other functions as well. However, if our bodies are releasing these hormones during a massage, muscles tense and the brain tells the body it is in danger! The PNS releases hormones that trigger relaxation, lowers stress, allows the digestive system to process the food we have eaten, and can make us sleepy. That is why when receiving a wonderful massage can put us to sleep or make our stomachs rumble.
When our ANS has been stimulated during a massage, our muscles contract which is the very opposite of the results needed for chronic pain release. However, triggering the PNS, allows for deeper, less painful results. Think of all the layers between the hands of the bodyworker and the muscle lesion. There is skin, lymph, subcutaneous fat, nerves and other muscles. So, if we go in slowly, there is less damage to all these other layers, we don’t trigger the ANS, and we get much better results.
Communication is key! So many clients think that they are bothering the therapist if they speak up. That isn’t the case at all! A great therapist always wants to know what is going on within their clients. Most therapists look for tells within body language, but there are times, especially with new clients, that we can’t read the body language yet. Something else to consider is that everyone’s pressure tolerance is different, our bodies are different, our response to pressure/pain is different. For new clients (and I do tend to repeat myself with repeat clients), I explain the word ‘Edge’.
You guessed it! Edge is the massage safe word. How does it work? On a scale from 1 to 10, when your body hits about a 6 or 7, you say ‘Edge’. Now, there are high pressure tolerance folks out there, and I have to trust my hands. Another queue is if as a client you want to hold your breath. If you are holding your breath, there is too much pressure. Staying under or just at ‘Edge’ allows a therapist to go through the multiple layers and actually get closer to the actual root problem. Can we always get to the root problem in one session? Absolutely not! For more info, read my article – Why One Massage Won’t Fix You – Issue in the Tissue. There are many culprits to muscle pain, and releasing one lesion while beneficial may not be the root of the issue.
Remember As always, it is YOUR body, if there is too much pressure tell your therapist! It is your body, your money, your session.
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Julie Fisher NC/SC LMBT
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