Recently I was talking with a friend who’s also an occasional client. Many moons ago we did a series of three massages over the course of a month to treat shoulder pain which had been plaguing her for years.
“To tell you the truth,” she said quietly, with a sheepish look on her face, “I didn’t think the gentle work you did would be effective. As it turns out, it was exactly what I needed to experience a deep healing.”
We have this erroneous belief in our culture that a therapy needs to be aggressive to produce results. That somehow the more painful a treatment is, the better the outcome will be. I’ve heard reports of clients not returning to me, or others with similar technique, because “it didn’t hurt enough.”
True story! It didn’t hurt enough. Which begs the questions, how much should it hurt? Or what is the origin of this mistaken belief that causing pain is a realistic strategy for releasing pain?
Pain, or even the hint of possible future pain, stimulates the fight/flight/freeze response which activates a sequence of physiological reactions, including the tensing of muscles. Tense muscles tend to pull joints and the skeleton out of alignment and impede the circulation of blood, which delivers oxygen and removes toxins. This is a recipe for more pain!
Perhaps in some extreme cases, this might be beneficial, but in my experience as a giver and receiver of massage for nearly 20 years, gentle touch produces much more beneficial results. Creating a soothing, relaxing experience can alter the body’s chemistry, promoting healing as well as circulation, and allowing muscles to soften rather than contract. A type of somatic trust develops organically, with the body learning that it will be comforted and acknowledged rather than attacked and punished. Think “ahhhhhh….” vs “OW!“
While we might be able to force a muscle to temporarily release under duress, it’s indeed possible to cultivate long lasting healing with a more gentle approach. If you’ve shied away from bodywork due to upsetting experiences in the past, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you were hurt and even more sorry if it prevented you from seeking further treatment.
While many massage therapists will disagree with me, there are plenty of us who are willing to work with you in a pain-free setting. A simple inquiry will help you discern who is a good match for your needs. And if you’re wondering why your aggressive therapy isn’t producing lasting change, you might want to switch it up and try a different approach.
Massage. It really doesn’t have to hurt!