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Scrap that; sports massage and hands on treatment SHOULDN’T hurt. The term no pain no gain does not apply to treatment and deeper is not always better or more effective when it comes to massage.

Quite often we will hear phrases in the treatment room like “I like when it hurts I know it’s working.”

Unfortunately this is a common misconception that is shared by many of what manual and sports massage therapy should be – but what you may not know is that what is going on inside your body has a lot less to do with the pressure or depth of the treatment, ‘beating’ the muscle into submission and a lot more to do with desensitising your nervous system and providing an optimum environment for your body to heal itself.

Muscle ‘Tightness’ Isn’t Directly Affected By The Level Of Force Placed Upon It

An early bit of advice that has long stuck with me since my first year of university and I can still hear my lecturer’s militant words to this day is:

“When it comes to treatment you are either a caveman or a thinking man

A second phrase that has stuck with me came more recently from a long time friend and mentor of mine, and coming from an ex-police officer really highlights the point further.

“It’s a fine line between treatment and common assault

These two phrases come to mind every time I hear a patient talk about how they had treatment that really hurt or I see someone squirming on a foam roller in the gym or more often than not Instagram videos seemingly glorifying deep bruising and painful treatment.

So What Is Actually Going On? (The sciencey stuff!)

There is much more going on under the surface than you may realise when you are receiving a sports massage or manual therapy.

Our bodies are full of thousands of tiny sensory receptor organs called ‘mechano-receptors’ that lie within our muscles and tendons.  These receptors sense the mechanical stress that is applied to them and each type of receptor responds to different types of stress in a different way dependant on the desired treatment effect a therapist is looking to achieve.

Stimulation of these receptors requires a combination of different types of pressure such as slow stretching, soft pressure, deep rhythmical strokes, rapid pressure changes and vibration or sheer.

Dependant on the type of stimulation, these receptors have the ability to desensitise the nervous system, decreasing tone and tightness in the muscle, reduce pain perception, provide positional feedback and increase blood flow in the area being treated.

Deep unspecific “no pain, no gain” treatment however will have the adverse effect and is most likely to over stimulate the nervous system, leaving you more sensitive and ‘tight’ and can cause damage to capillaries leading to dark bruising.

So What Should You Feel?

Yes, some areas of the body and treatments are going to be more uncomfortable than others but at no point should treatment cause pain! And yes working deeper into some tissues is going to be effective; however this needs to be done with precision and with a specific therapeutic goal in mind and not just mindless ‘pummelling’ of the muscle.

So next time you are receiving a sports massage or hands on treatment it’s important to remember when it comes to your body and injury “Pain is Pain” and deeper isn’t always better.


If you would like to know more or would like to receive hands on treatment or sports massage from trained medical professionals who understand your body and how to get to the root cause of your pain, tension and injuries then get in touch with the clinic here.