I am often met with the response, “No pain, no gain, right?” when I ask about pressure during a therapeutic massage treatment. The answer unequivocally is “no”! There is a misconception that more pressure and sometimes more pain somehow equals a better or more effective massage therapy treatment. Although sometimes tolerable pain is necessary for certain treatment styles (those who’ve experienced graston technique, or active release therapy can agree with me here), it is not necessary to receive the benefits of a therapeutic massage treatment. Massage therapy has as much to do with increasing circulation and improving joint mobility as it does releasing tense musculature, and releasing tense muscles can be done many ways, with tolerable pressure!
It’s important to note that everyone’s impression of what “deep tissue” is varies, just as everyone’s tolerance level varies and this is where the importance of communication comes in. Many clients assume they want and can tolerate (or should just have and expect for the sake of relief…) deep massage work, but one RMT’s deep pressure is another’s moderate pressure and v/v. When your therapist asks you to please communicate with them throughout the treatment, it is crucial that you do so and not try to martyr yourself assuming the “no pain, no gain” philosophy will work out! We ask for constant feedback and can more often than not tell by the client’s own body response whether our pressure is on the mark or not. But pain and tolerance level is truly subjective and the client is ultimately responsible for communicating honest feedback about pressure to the therapist so that the client doesn’t require days to recover from their “therapeutic treatment”.
Deep tissue massage therapy should be tolerable and based on the client’s own subjective pain scale. Anti-inflammatory and pain medications will also play a roll in where the therapist will expect the clients tolerance to be. It is completely normal to feel a “post massage ache” that mimics a good workout 24-48 hours post treatment, but it shouldn’t be any more than a good “workout” feeling and certainly no longer in recovery time. Hydrotherapy can play an important and helpful role in recovery. Increasing water intake and using Epsom salt baths help to speed the recovery process. Ice/heat as directed can also be extremely helpful.
Ultimately, pressure is subjective to the client. Feedback is necessary for the therapist to provide the best possible treatment and the “no pain, no gain” rule is bogus. Treatment within the scope of tolerance on an agreed upon pain scale is the key and yes, the therapy may be deep pressure, but it will be what the client deems deep pressure, not what the therapist assumes you can/cannot tolerate.