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I had a student ask me today if it is normal to be in a good amount of pain 2 or 3 days after receiving deep tissue work.  In addition to the work that she and I do, she has also been seeing a physical therapist for several weeks to help manage her scoliosis .  I was originally pleased to learn that the therapist was mostly using manual therapy techniques including massage, but I learned today that my student has been grimacing through severe pain while pressure has been applied to extremely tender areas along her spine.  She has been in tears during the deep tissue work and tolerating the excruciating pain for three days following because the Doctor of Physical Therapy convinced her it was beneficial.

I have no doubt that this practitioner has the intention of helping her by “fixing what is wrong” with her body.  Unfortunately, our bodies cannot be “fixed” like machinery, and they especially cannot be “fixed” by excruciatingly painful manipulations.

When we have deep misalignments in our bodies many things are affected.  If a vertebra in the spine is rotated slightly, the muscle tissue surrounding the vertebra is affected.  The myofascial tissue which encases the musculature is also affected, as well as the nerves, fatty tissue and the dermal layers of the skin.  These systems become weak and quite tender.  Over time, the body may become comfortable with the misalignment and the various tissues become accustomed to being contracted and pulled.  So as to not further shock these systems, the process of releasing them must be approached with fine detail and supreme delicacy.  If the tissue is deeply prodded, resulting in pain, it is most probable that the assault will cause it to rebel through spasms and bruising.  There will be no gain.

Having said all this, I need to clarify that certain deep tissue massage can be most beneficial. You might have some discomfort, fatigue and spaciness as things shift during the massage and perhaps for a day or so afterwards; but during the massage, you should be able to breath calmly and your muscles should stay relaxed.  They should not fight back and contract against the hands of your practitioner.  Your practitioner should “listen” to the needs of your body through her hands and communicate with you about what the pressure feels like to you.  You should feel genuinely safe in her hands and completely and utterly relaxed.  You should NOT be fighting during your massage!

If you have a massage therapist who makes you cry out in pain, find new hands!  Pain will make you nervous, fearful and exacerbate your body’s problems.

If after your massage, you’re achy and sore for days and unable to perform your daily tasks without distress, your body is trying to tell you something.  So, work it gently and delicately and cause it no pain.