Why the “No Pain, No Gain” Mindset Does Not Serve You in Bodywork

By | 2018-01-08T20:36:30+00:00 March 20th, 2016|Categories: Uncategorized|

Confessions of a Massage Therapist

Every now and then, I come across a certain kind of client, who wants a really deep massage. They want it as deep as I can give it. They tell me, I can’t go to hard enough.  

This is rare and is certainly not most people. I work with a wide range of extremes on the tenderness scales. Some clients can hardly stand any pressure; and in that case I do cranio-sacral based work. But then there is the other extreme too.

When I was new to the field, I was still learning firsthand the effects of massage. So I would willingly give them what they requested without question. I’d dig in with an elbow, with all of my might. I’d squeeze, pull, and pummel.

It didn’t take me long before I noticed that their muscles weren’t letting go. Here I am, breaking a sweat, using all my strength, and their muscles aren’t letting go.

My inclination was to lighten up my pressure, just a hair, and then l’d watch and listen to see how the tissues responded to the slight variation. AND there it was! Melted like butter. 

But this didn’t satisfy them. It wasn’t aggressive enough for their liking. Never mind that their muscles actually did change texture.

Months later, I’d come across another person who made the same request for crazy deep work. SAME darn thing!

I began exploring this phenomenon. Consulting with the muscles themselves. I was hearing one thing (the clients request), but seeing another  (a lack of results on my end). 
I went back to the basics in my training – the foundation of deep tissue work. Which I found required high degrees of attention on my part. I began to dialogue with the muscles, listening intently, and tracking their response to my touch.

I became curious why these folks believed they needed so much pressure. Is it because it feels good? Based on my observations, it is more likely that it is less about the pleasure, than it is their belief that pain during a massage = results. No pain, no gain.The underlying belief that more is better (more bang for your buck).

But our intention is to release tension, not initiate or exacerbate it. The truth is extreme and forceful massage does not create better results. In fact, it is doing damage instead of repairing it. 

When I am massaging, I am able to perceive tightness and restriction. I am looking it. But what I can’t perceive is tenderness. I can sometimes guess that an area is tender. But I rely on client’s feedback. And so I make it my mission to continuously check in and watch for signs that they are resisting the pressure

I have been guilty of this myself, but I have noticed my clients sometimes gritting and bearing through discomfort. Wishing they would speak up instead of suffering, I would then attempt to develop open communication. Because apparently for many of us, for whatever reason, it is difficult to express ourselves in this way. On some level, we have lost our voices. Being aware of this has made it my priority to explain this from the get go, when I start working with someone new. Either way, there is no need to allow for such torture. That’s not therapeutic.

What I’ve Learned from Muscles…

In the 14 years I’ve spent learning to speak fluent ‘Muscle’ I’ve learned to listen to my client’s tissues just as intently as I listen to my client’s verbal and non-verbal feedback. I listen to their stories, get to know their personalities (yes, they have personalities), and witness them opening up and dropping their armor.

How I work is, I warm up the tissues first, while I assess the situation. Then, I go to the place that speaks the loudest to me. Once I hone in on an area, I go in until I meet a barrier. And then I wait until the tissues open up and invite me in further. I continue following it in, layer by layer, until it is time to move on to the next area. 

I go really deep, but I get there gradually. And therein, lies the secret to lasting results. The other thing is, instead of concerning myself with achieving the full body massages, I focus more on getting the areas that are the most locked up.

By you (the receiver) telling me (the practitioner) when the pressure is too much…I can re-calibrate my pressure, or technique so that we are not causing you to tense up, inflicting unnecessary injury and creating discomfort. Our intention is to RELAX your nervous system, to sing it a lullaby. We are attempting to turn the inflammation down – not exacerbate it.

So now when I come across someone who asks for REALLY deep work, I know that it is my job to help them understand why pain does not = results. I do this by inviting them to tune in with me to the spot and then I explain how I work. I know that the place to start with them, is in bringing back awareness and reconnecting their minds with their bodies.

Lasting results comes with true release, which happens just below your pain threshold. It is more about the speed in which we enter the muscles (which requires patience and perception on the therapist’s part) rather than depth. In other words, ripping through your muscles over and over as deep as I can, won’t create better results, than slowing sinking in and melting them in a befriending fashion. There is a fine line between therapy and injury, the same as with exercise and other beneficial activities.

But don’t take my word for it. Try having dialogues with your muscles too. Explore your body. They are magnificent!

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