Sometimes the questions come from curious people who have never received a massage. More often, the person asking has received massage before and might even have someone they consider their regular massage therapist.
Yet, for some reason, questions go unasked and consequently unanswered until the opportunity presents itself when hanging out at the bar with friends, or letting the pup play at the dog park, or making small talk with the person in the next seat on an airplane, and the person discovers, within reasonable proximity, a massage therapist.
The questions people ask are generally good questions. Very good questions. I've decided to respond to some of them in a series of posts. Here's #1.
#1 Is it Normal to Have Pain After a Massage?
The massage was amazing. I felt so relaxed and I nearly melted my way home, but the next day my back went out (or my shoulder started hurting, or I ended up with a headache, or. . .). Is that normal?
And most of the time, the answer is something like, “No, I don’t want to hurt their feelings”.
Ok, here's the thing.
Your awareness and experience of your body in the first few days after a massage is awesome and super helpful. During a massage session, there is a lot of information that I am able to take in and listen to and respond to. There are the details you share verbally as well as the stories that my hands are reading and responding to in your body.
You sharing more information about what you are feeling in the days after a massage is exactly that. More information. And the chance for me to reach a greater understanding of your experience of your body interacting with the world every day (not just the hour you are on my massage table).
While one element of massage involves giving up control of your muscles and giving in to someone else taking care of you, there's another level of it that can be very participatory. A degree of active awareness and attention to the specifics of your experience before and after a massage can be a crucial part of unlocking pain.
No, you don't need to be hyper aware of every detail. Yes, you can still get all the benefits of an hour of letting go. Relaxing into the moment is still a good thing. But, chances are, you are noticing shifts and changes. Please do share them, be curious, ask questions. It is an essential part of all successful, therapeutic interactions.
Ok, you might be saying, but seriously, answer the question. "Is it normal to have pain after a massage?"
I wouldn't say it's normal. But I wouldn't say it's abnormal either. Bodies are complicated.
Often massage therapists are working with and responding to imbalances in your physical structure. An area is tight because it's compensating for another area that is weak. When that tightness is released, your awareness might be drawn to the area that it was compensating for and it suddenly feels like a new problem. But, it may have been the underlying "problem" all along and with that information, we get a little closer to figuring out a piece of your puzzle.
When we have tension patterns from repetitive motion, posture, or even exercise, our bodies become accustomed to a certain amount of "holding", a remembered way of being. When a massage therapist works to release those, it can result in a sense of disorientation in the body. A sudden, "I no longer feel the way I am accustomed to feeling" and that can be a bit uncomfortable. New and unfamiliar feelings are sometimes discarded as bad or negative, but that isn't usually the whole picture.
Maybe too much pressure was applied in a particular area, maybe more time was spent on one area and not enough on another, maybe a lot of toxins were released through the massage and you felt the ickiness of that for a day. Maybe it's a useful piece of the puzzle that you and your massage therapist are working to sort out.
So, yes, while increased or new pain isn't the desired effect of a massage, it does happen. And it's totally ok, even encouraged, to talk about it. I especially recommend talking about it with the person who gave you the massage. A skilled therapist will be happy to hear those details and will use the information to guide them as they adjust and work with the specifics of your body during the next session.
Have a question about massage you've always wanted to ask?
I'll be posting a new question and response on an approximately weekly basis.
Send your question in via email: email@example.com
The photo is by Colin Kinner and used in accordance with Creative Commons Licensing Laws.