No pain, no gain. Does massage have to hurt in order to get results?

Some of the students on the Holistic Massage course at the Bristol College of Massage Bodywork, where I work, asked me the following question: Does massage have to hurt in order to get results? They had experienced the benefits of relaxation in massage but weren’t sure how to approach remedial work as they had received treatments in the past that were sometimes so unpleasant they felt unwell the next day and needed to recover from it. They thought that they had to create similar experiences for their clients, appeared very reluctant to work in that way but assumed it was necessary. No pain, no gain, right? Sounds like old school thinking, and it probably is, although many people have been on holiday abroad and experienced something similar or been to a Spa where there was a heavy-handed routine.
I shared my views with the students, in my opinion it is not desirable to endure high levels of discomfort when receiving massage. This is not how I work and not the kind of massage I would choose for myself. My preferred course of action is to reduce a heightened nervous system response before moving on to more focused work where it is needed. When body tissues are in a temporal or chronic state of excitement or stress, it is because they are receiving an increased energetic input from the body. Initially this level of energy needs to be reduced and toned down before working on specific areas. Inviting your clients to let go via surrendering to pain is forcing relaxation in an extreme manner. It’s not a pleasant method for relaxation of the body and possibly shows a disregard to the needs of clients. There are a few people who enjoy a great deal of pressure and discomfort, which does produce results, but it isn’t really necessary. The nervous system responds more directly and with greater benefits with a subtle approach to massage. Why shout at the body when it responds to much quieter stimuli and with fewer side effects?
As a therapist I intentionally want to stimulate a new healing response in my clients and creating a level of inflammation in tissues that have become stuck is part of that. The level of inflammation, however, does not have to be very high to be effective and experiencing soreness is not required. I work by fine-tuning the level of discomfort with my clients when focusing on responsive areas.
I work with an approach that allows my clients to feel their tissues without pain or suffering, experiencing the point of release, slowly and gently without force and which is often accompanied by a feeling of lightness and ease as well as an increased range of movement in the body.
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Why is it that my clients report a sense of lightness and free-ness in their tissues after remedial work?

When meeting new people, after a few laughs and shared stories the conversation will often end up with the question of what I do for a living.
One line that I’ve used in the past is that I fix people. If that arouses interest, I build on that momentum.

For a start, I don’t actually fix anyone. Remedial massage facilitates a process by which my clients have a good chance of tuning in and experiencing a change in their bodies. Even if those changes are temporary at the beginning, they can become the motivation for more changes later down the line, particularly if the issues are of a more chronic nature.

My remedial work is based on the anatomical understanding that the body is one interconnected unit and that when one part moves the whole body is responding. One of the main structures of the body to allow for this interconnectedness is the fascia, a type of connective tissue. It’s this tissue that holds absolutely everything in place as it wraps around individual muscle fibres, muscles, organs and bones. Any movement restrictions, aches and pains can often be traced back to changes in the fascia, which over time can become immobile.
Where fascia is not able to slide and glide freely, increased tension can be felt in that region and the normal flow of energy is interrupted. This can lead to pain and dysfunction over time and my remedial work focuses on those areas.
The Fascia and the nervous system are responding to mechanical forces when we move and they work to integrate the loads placed on our body. This responsiveness can be used intentionally in massage therapy by locking into the identified areas of tissue and waiting for a gradual release, which is triggered by the brain when discomfort or pain is felt.
When the body is stimulated through remedial massage it begins a healing process in areas of soft tissue inflammation, creating another response when the body might be stuck in an inflammatory feedback loop.
The re-introduction of movement and the separation of tissue layers that have become stuck allows for more blood and nutrients to feed the tissues, increasing the flow in the body leading to more movement and less discomfort.
A sense of release and lightness can be felt immediately after a remedial session.
Further changes can be experienced up to 3 days after treatment.
These are the first steps in the process of recovery and healing and to sustain any gains, changes in movement and postural habits need to be considered too.