Pain ≠ Gain: How To Know When to say “Uncle”

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In this post I want to discuss a topic from the perspective of the client – another area in which I have a lot of experience. I like to shop around from time to time, and through doing this, I have been faced with an all-too-common problem: The over-zealous masseuse.

What does this mean? Well, I’m referring to the occassional massage in which I have been leveraged upon as if I’m made of clay – an object to be forced into shape at another’s will.

These are sessions that I consider to be counter-productive, and I have walked away from such sessions to feel tired, achey, sore, stiff and fatigued. It sometimes even takes me a day or two to recover, and by then I’m merely back to normal. No improved range of motion and no relief.

So, how do we know if a session is going to leave us feeling this way. How do we know when a session might actually be counter-productive? And what can we, as clients, do about it?

Like all healthcare, with therapeutic massage, we must be staunch advocates for our own well-being. This means:

  • Make a list of your questions and concerns for your prospective practitioner. That way when you call him/her for an inquiry, you’ll be ready to get to the point. Think about modalities and techniques that have worked for you in the past, and ask “Do you use A-B-C technique?”. If you get a vague response, it’s possible she/he is circumventing the question in order to gain you as a client. Red Flag!
  • Once you are in the office, make a point to be specific about what areas you’d like addressed. Also be prepared to provide information about your health history, even if it’s limited to soft tissue injuries.
  • Once you are on the table, speak up. This doesn’t necessarily apply to light or deep pressure alone. Most of us, admittedly, are worried we’re going to get a wimpy massage, so we tell our masseuse to go deep. Pay attention to the quality of touch. If your practitioner has a stiff, unyielding hand, and fails to pick up on your neuro-muscular behaviors – that is, involuntary tightening, constricting, or jumping as a response to touch – chances are he/she is not skilled in soft tissue manipulation, and is putting your muscles in a state of stress. In this case, you would benefit from being vocal, and asking for a lighter touch.
  • If you feel terrible as a result of your massage, do not return. You do not owe your practitioner an explanation, but it can be helpful to both parties to provide one. But, trust me, there have been more than one occasion in which I did not feel my feedback would be received well, and in those cases, I simply tell myself to move on.

In the case of therapeutic massage, uncomfortable pain does not equal gain.  We are sentient, bio-mechanical organisms with muskulo-skeletal systems that are heavily interlaced with a complex matrix of sensory and motor nerves.  In short, we feel. How we feel deeply impacts how we move, how we behave, and even how we think. This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the mind/body connection.

A skilled massage practitioner should understand this as the fundamental cornerstone to our service.