Hurts So Good



I am old. Well, relatively speaking, I hope I am somewhere around middle-aged (I will turn 46 later this year). But there are absolutely days where I feel old, and fewer days where I feel sprightly. That bums me out a bit, but I am working on my sprightliness.


I’ve never been that great of an athlete, but that is not from lack of interest or participation. These days, I play ice hockey, golf, and run. Back in the early ’80s (or as I like to say, 40 pounds ago), I could run pretty fast. Those days are long gone, but I still like to think of myself as a runner.


My latest endeavor is a spring marathon (more on that another day), and thus I am ramping up my training efforts. As a result my massage frequency is increasing as well, to help manage my chronically tight gastroc and soleus (and hamstring and Achilles and glute and lower back and…well, you get the idea).


I received a massage last week that hurt. It was very good, and the therapist was very good, and very knowledgeable. My therapist explained that she did deep work and tried to reach an 8 on the 1-10 scale—“so it, you know, ‘hurts so good.’” The pressure was intense, but knowing what I know, and knowing what my body needed, I went along with it. But it wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as most massages I receive. Frankly, it felt like treatment I have received from a physical therapist.


I usually leave my massage session relaxed, happy, a little buzzed; this session I left feeling a bit like a picked over piece of chicken. I remember once receiving a massage from one of my instructors (boundary alert!) who delighted in finding every entrapment, knot, or imperfection, and telling her, “just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to get it.”


I know that deeper work isn’t “fluff and buff,” but I also know that one of the things I love about massage is that there is usually a nice holistic bow tied around the session that allows me to leave relaxed, happy, and a little buzzed. But I also know that if I am going to acquire some of that increasingly elusive sprightliness, it takes work.


Have you experienced necessarily uncomfortable massage? Do you deliver it?



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9 thoughts on “Hurts So Good

  1. I have received uncomfortable massage and do NOT believe it was neccessary. Here is a quote from my website:

    “My philosophy is that massage should NEVER hurt. Even deep tissue, at it’s most intense level, should feel like a good, deep, constructive stretch. Think about how your body instinctively responds to pain – you tense up – it’s a natural reaction as your muscles try to protect themselves. I believe that long, gentle strokes, with ever-increasing pressure, are much more effective for relieving tension and dealing with your aches and pains.”

  2. “just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to get it” – I love that! So true.

    I think the key to leaving a deep massage relaxed & happy instead of a picked over piece of chicken requires some blending of “fluff & buff” type work into the deep work as well.
    But on that note? I love it all :-)
    congrats on the Spring marathon – that’s awesome!

  3. I am “old”, too.. and understand quite well the feelings and mindset of someone aching to get out of bed.

    However, as a practitioner of one of the deepest massage styles out there, I have an opinion on this topic.

    The benefits of bodywork and massage are varied. Some styles of work will leave you quite sedated and very relaxed. Others less so. However, when it comes to delivering a massage that is designed to promote change, IE change in how your body feels tomorrow and the next day and the next, the old adage “no pain no gain” or perhaps more accurately “no pain no change” may apply.

    I would like to temper this statement by pointing out that pain itself is not the result one is aiming for but in some cases a necessary side effect. My experience shows that the more relaxed and unguarded you can get the superficial layers of tissue to become, the more one is able to access subsequent layers of tissue and effect change at a deeper level. In many cases, the deeper the level the longer lasting the effect.

    Practitioners of deeper work need to cultivate skills that will help the receiver relax on a subconscious level. When this is done the guarding mechanism of muscle tissue will ease and lasting effect may be obtained with minimal pain. Get too aggressive too quickly and you may only serve to injure superficial tissue and gain no lasting effect… other than potentially losing a client.

    Deep work is perfect for many issues including tired sore muscles on a 46 year-old body. But like any good relationship… you might want to start slow.

    Deep work should be by invitation only. And its client’s body, not his/her voice, that does the talking.

  4. “Deep work should be by invitation only. It’s the client’s body, not his/her voice that does the talking.”

    Kimo, that is a perfectly lovely way to put into words a problem that I have run into lately with my own practice.

    I love therapeutic massage, and love reaching into my toolkit to pull out myofascial techniques, ART techniques, and gentle, methodical work that gets me into the area that I need to be in to get the maximum benefit that I can give to a client, but without leaving them sore, or feeling abused.

    I have been in practice for about eight years, and it seems that I have to fight more and more people every year who come in expecting and demanding that their experience be painful, or they may leave dissatisfied with their visit. I have tried explaining the physiological reasons why a painful massage is not an indicator of a good massage. If I can get the client to listen to my professional opinion and reasoning regarding their misinterpretation of exactly what our job description IS, then they are usually converts, and make up a huge portion of my repeat clientele; but I’m not sure where the breakdown in communication in our society has come from.

    It’s exhausting, to me, to work on a client who has no intention of getting any benefit from my techniques, because they have made up their mind that because I won’t hurt them “like that other girl did” that I am not doing my job correctly.

    To be blunt, I have tendonitis in both of my wrists, cubital tunnel syndrome in my left arm, and I’m flat out done with hurting myself six hours a day, five days a week, just to give the illusion of discomfort.

    What do you guys do to ease this demographic of clientele into accepting that gentler deep tissue work is not inferior deep tissue work, and help them realize that they are allowed to relax and enjoy the subtler gifts that massage gives to the recipient?

    What do you do for the people who refuse to listen?

  5. I believe you have to take care of yourself and use tools to help with the deep work or limit it. You cannot please everyone with your style, some will go elsewhere but most will come back when they realize it is themselves that do the real healing thru our hands.

  6. Fifteen years ago, I picked up a phrase from a wise woman in CA who taught Sports Massage and I love to use it for those people who want very deep work: “No Pain is Your Gain!” With enough skill, there are many modalities that work and are not painful. Of course, that being said, I have found the Neurosoma technique to be a powerful technique which canl illicit a pain response in a body riddled with muscle spasm. This is a technique when employed skillfully and delicately, however, will not cause the muscle spindle fiber to contract further into spasm, which is a danger of pressing too hard. With Neurosoma, the tissue feels more open and expansive rather then a feeling of being mashed. With continued sessions and with improved health of the tissue, Neurosoma feels awesome!

  7. I tell every one of my clients “I do not believe in the phrase no pain – no gain. Body work should never go outside the boundaries of “that hurts so good”. I believe there are many levels of pain and there is a threshold where the body responds positively. Once that threshold is breached, the muscles begin contracting to guard against the pain which is counterproductive to the process of body work. My focus is to coax muscles into relaxation, not beat them up into submission. The later only results in the client feeling bruised.

    - Relaxed muscles are muscles ready to heal -

    Deep tissue does not mean deep pressure. The are to deep tissue is knowing how to prepare the layers of muscle for deep work and knowing when the muscle is ready for deep work. If a therapist is producing pain in the muscle to the point that it is automatically contracting to guard against the pain, trauma is being done and in my mind is in no way healing.

    There are many techniques available that can release chronic tension and/or spasms without pain.

  8. There are clients who have such a rigid myofascial layer that deep work is the only way they can get any benefit. I often suggest these clients get a hot stone massage or soak in a tub before coming in.

    For myself I work alongside someone who is against deep work and yet almost entirely his clientele is female. I love deep work and I need it, my muscles require it to relax and let go. When I got a massage from the guy who is against deep tissue it was ok but did nothing to address my problem areas. There is a need for deep work, and there is definitely an intuitive way to deliver it.

    It may not work to bring a client back every week if you solve their problems, but I feel unethical if I don’t try to use what I know has helped hundreds of others.

    If you are afraid of hurting yourself use heat first to get through the first few layers. Then use your elbows AMD forearms exclusively

  9. My favorite kind of massage is Neuromuscular Therapy. It’s deep, but also has long strokes that relax and move the blood through the areas of released muscle spasms. I apologise if the intensity level ever approaches an 8. 6 is about tops, in order to keep the person & their muscles relaxed. Then there is real change and healing in the muscles, and even if a little soreness exists afterwards, the over-all feeling is of being relaxed and with a greater range of motion.

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