Ouch! What to Do When Your Massage Hurts

woman getting a massage
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Have you ever kept quiet when a massage is causing you pain? According to the Coyle Hospitality Report on Spa Consumers, 40 percent of people said their very worst experience at a spa was being in pain. That's a high percentage for a place that's supposed to make you feel better.

Why is that? First, there are a lot of inexperienced people getting massages. They're at the spa for the first time, perhaps with a spa gift certificate and they don't know what to expect or what a massage is supposed to feel like. They're unsure of themselves before they ever get on the massage table.

When the massage therapist goes a little too deep for them, inexperienced customers may think the therapist is the "expert" and knows what they're doing. They don't want to say anything because it feels critical—"Hey! I don't like what you're doing!" Even when the therapist asks, "How is the pressure?" they answer, "It's okay." What they really mean is, "I can endure this for an hour." However, massages shouldn't hurt. While some techniques can cause discomfort, if you're ever in pain there has been miscommunication between you and your therapist. So what should you do if your massage is hurting?

Speak Up

A good massage therapist can read your body language, but they can't read your mind. A massage is a therapeutic partnership, so if something hurts or is not enjoyable, you have to speak up. If the overall pressure is too deep, just say, "Could you use a little less pressure?" If overall it's fine, but they get to a spot that is more tender than usual, say something like, "that's a little more than my body can take right there." Everyone is different, and you have to respect what feels right for you.

There's also a difference between "good" and "bad" pain. For beginners, massage shouldn't be painful. You're still getting to know your body and what you like. But sometimes therapists will go in deeper to get a muscle to release. It can be a little uncomfortable in the short-run—not quite pain, but intense pressure—but you feel much better afterward.

Finally, some people expect too much from one massage. A hard-as-rock guest wants a one-hour miracle and keeps telling the therapist to use more pressure. In goes the therapist with an elbow! "Is that deep enough for you?"

Consider the Type of Massage

When selecting your massage from a menu you may be tempted to go for a massage without thinking about the amount of pressure required. Swedish massages are very popular on spa menus and are not generally painful as they encourage relaxation, though the overall pressure used changes therapist to therapist.

Deep tissue massages focus on deeper muscle structures and loosening the fascia. The motions are similar to those of a Swedish massage but are more focused on any knots and a higher amount of pressure is used. Deep tissue massages shouldn't hurt, but it won't necessarily be comfortable. There can also be some soreness after the session is over. Certain types of Eastern massage techniques also use more pressure than the standard Swedish massage which can be painful for more sensitive people.

If you are sensitive to high pressures, or are worried about a painful massage, consider a Swedish massage over a deep tissue massage or more intense techniques.

How Often You Should Get a Massage

Massage is most successful when you get it regularly, so the muscle tissue learns how to relax and respond to touch. But according to this same study, just 60 percent of the respondents get just one to four massages a year. A couple of massages a year simply isn't enough to undo all the chronic tension most of us hold.

If you get two massages a month, you'll be in an elite group—just 4 percent of the respondents—who get more than 20 massages a year. Then, if you feel a little discomfort on the table, you'll know you're in charge. And you can tell them to back off anytime you want to.

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