Are massages supposed to hurt - massage therapist massaging client's hand|Do Massages Hurt

Are massages supposed to hurt?

Ambrosia Greer
September 23, 2022
October 9, 2022

This blog post was written by Ambrosia Greer, a Nivati Massage Therapist and Meditation Guru. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.

Are massages supposed to hurt?

The body reacts with two types of responses regarding massage: the relaxation response and the mechanical response. Most people seek or look forward to relaxation when booking a massage. This response to the application of soft-touch is healing, breathing regulation, decreases in blood pressure, and reduction in stress hormones.

Your relaxation response is your “off switch” to your body’s tendency toward fight-or-flight. The body can unknowingly switch the “off switch, " which triggers the autonomic nervous system. To keep this anatomy lesson short, this complex network of cells supports and activates our internal processes. We can learn to control the feeling of being safe and secure in times of stress by activating muscle relaxation through massage, meditation, and mindfulness of the body, as well as sleep and nutrition to reduce internal and external stressors and generate relaxation responses. Physical manipulation of muscles and tissues creates a mechanical response. This response increases blood and lymph circulation, causing the relaxation of the tissues to begin. Both are beneficial when it comes to the regulation of the body’s balance.

There are many benefits of massage. You can receive these benefits in both table and corporate chair massages. To learn more on how you can receive these benefits for either yourself or your company, click here.

Why does it hurt when I get a massage?

Muscles involuntarily react to pain. When your muscles sense that your body is about to be injured, the reflex to deflect the pain is stimulated. So why would it hurt when you get a massage? When too much pressure is applied, your muscles will tighten to counteract the force. This defeats the purpose of the massage. Each individual has a different tolerance for pain. A painful massage for one person may not be considered a painful massage for another.  

Pain vs. Discomfort

Are massages supposed to hurt - massage therapist massaging client's hand

A massage is meant to relieve the tension and overuse of your muscles. I would not go into a massage, assuming there will not be some sort of pain or discomfort at all, though. Your muscles need attention if you seek a massage for relief, but do know that pain and discomfort are two different things. Some people have used the term “good hurt.” to describe discomfort. Pain can be explained by going a step further from discomfort and may cause a physical reaction like bruising or injury.

Muscles in the body will take on different pressure than others. For example, the back will take deeper pressure better than, let’s say, the thighs when the same amount of pressure is applied. A good massage therapist understands that pressure needs to be adjusted over certain areas and muscle groups. Massage can be tender over tight regions of the muscle and trigger points (or knots) that can send referred pain down nerve routes. You should never experience sharp, burning, or hot pain and should mention these to your massage therapist if you are experiencing such pain. If you are not receiving muscular relief from your massage, please do not accept discomfort and pain and notify your therapist to change up their pressure.

When it comes to pleasure-pain balance, your massage therapist can use a pain score out of ten for the pain to be managed throughout the massage. Don’t be afraid to speak up or feel like you are telling us how to do our job! Trust me; your professional therapist wants to know what you need and what you like. You are never offending us. A good therapist will continue to check in on pressure throughout the massage and adjust accordingly. Here are a few tips for communicating with your massage therapist during your massage experience.

Communicating with your massage therapist

The best way to ensure you don't feel pain during a massage is to communicate with your massage therapist. A good therapist will listen and respect your request. The goal of the massage is to feel better. Your therapist should take the time to figure out the right techniques to infiltrate the tense muscle and listen to your body for the opportunity for that muscle to relax.

A skilled massage therapist can “listen” by feeling the response to given pressure from the tissues and only apply as deep pressure as you, the client, allows. With every pass over a given area, your muscles will become accustomed to the pressure, allowing your therapist to go deeper the more relaxed your muscles become. This can cause your tolerance to change throughout the massage, and pressure must be adjusted.

Other factors could contribute to the pain and discomfort during your massage. Those suffering from chronic pain or a previous or current injury struggle to gain relief if the wrong massage is applied. This can include arthritis, inflammation, and illness. It is imperative to communicate this to your massage therapist. Seriously, we want you to tell us!

A brief intake, whether it be verbal or written, should take place before every massage to give you the opportunity for communication and ensure that you receive the best possible self-catered massage possible.  

The Bottom Line: Are Massages Painful?

To answer the question, are massages supposed to hurt?  The short answer is no; they should not be painful to the point of discomfort. Open communication between you and your massage therapist is key to a pain-free massage. Massages are meant to be customizable to you and enable you to be more relaxed than before receiving the massage. The massage should never go past the “hurt so good” feeling. If you and the therapist vocalize to each other, the benefits of massage on the road to recovery and relaxation are miraculous.

For more information on massage and its benefits, check out these articles:


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Ambrosia Greer
Ambrosia Greer
Ambrosia has been a Licensed Massage Therapist for over 14 years. She specializes in Thai Yoga and Pediatrics with an emphasis on special needs. Inclusion is her love language and knows everyone can benefit from health and wellness. She is also a certified results coach and personally mentored by immersive experience leader, Heather Hayward, founder of the Guided Meditation Framework. Ambrosia is currently working towards her degree in Occupational Therapy where she will be able to provide and maximize health, well-being, and quality of life for all people, populations, and communities through effective solutions that facilitate participation in everyday living.