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Should Sports Massage Hurt?

…it’s all relative. Thanks for reading!

Sports Massage is a popular and much used therapy, recommended by N.I.C.E as a treatment for Low Back Pain. “Sports” Massage is a little misleading, and as a treatment it is fast becoming known as “Remedial” Massage, or Soft Tissue Therapy. Often thought of as being not for the light-hearted, “No pain, no gain” and “If it doesn’t hurt, its not helping!”  are both commonly heard in clinics all over the country.

But how much pain is acceptable? How deep, is deep enough??

Not everything that helps is painful, and not everything that is helpful is painless. But ultimately, Sports Massage does not have to hurt to be effective. Whilst working on a problematic area may certainly cause some discomfort, it shouldn’t leave bruising or cause you to leap off the table! (and anyway – very generally speaking -where the pain is, the problem isn’t…) If you do find yourself consistently bruised after Sports Massage sessions, your therapist may be going too hard and you have every right to ask them to ease off.

Often, people will talk about the “good” pain whilst having a Sports Massage, that sweet point between pain and relief. Is there a skill, as a therapist, to this? I think there is, but I don’t think its so much the skill of the chosen technique, but the skill of communication. I have heard of someone having a sports massage, and when answering “no” to the question Does this Hurt?, the therapist went harder, and deeper. “No pain, no gain”, right? Crazy.

And of course, there is also the “bad pain”, where the person on the couch will involuntarily tense up, or try to move away from their pain. Bad pain is pain beyond a persons individual pain threshold, and is NEVER acceptable as it offers no therapeutic benefit. As mentioned, the person is inclined to involuntarily tense up – the polar opposite, generally speaking, of the appointment. Some people will say they feel better when it has stopped, but that will be….because it has stopped.

Different parts of the body also react differently to sports massage, and pain threshold can change depending on where the therapist is working. Again, communication is the key tool of the therapist. There are certainly some parts of the body that simply should not be worked on.



“Does it hurt?”

Massage is a therapy as old as time, and an inbuilt reflex to pain – what’s the first thing you do after banging your knee (ok, second, after swearing)? You rub it better. And often, it feels better straight away, without beating it half to death.

So as I say, “No pain, no gain”, and “If it doesn’t hurt, its not helping!” may both be commonly heard in clinics all over the country, just not from me.

N.B. There are no ‘one size fits all’ style quick fixes in most injury scenarios, so these article shouldn’t be seen as such. They are merely guides to a better understanding of how our bodies work.

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