Should A Sports Massage Actually Hurt? | Men's Health Magazine Australia

Should A Sports Massage Actually Hurt?

Exercise massages: they can hurt like hell. And for some reason we’ve all been trained to believe that the more you push through the pain of an exercise massage, the more you’ll get out of it.

But is this really true? How much should it actually hurt – and when should you be concerned?

We asked the Australian Institute of Fitness’ Massage MasterCoach, Chris Apps for the rundown on what you should and shouldn’t get out of an exercise massage.

How much should an exercise massage actually hurt?

A certain level of discomfort can be expected and would be considered normal during a massage. However, experiencing high levels of pain is not normal nor acceptable. The normal reason for the massage is to reduce tension and tightness. Great results can be achieved by simply calming the nervous system which will, in turn, reduce tension around the body. A long-term massage strategy needs to be used for more chronic tissue restrictions, rather than a quick brutal treatment.

Any red flags for when the massage might be too hard or beyond your range of motion?

We all have different tolerances to pain; some people can take more than others. Generally, if you find that you can’t breathe normally or calmly, and you find yourself gripping the table and tensing your body, then it’s too painful. Some people think they need to push through this in order for results; you might get some results in the short-term, but less so in the long-term.

How can you address concerns that the massage may be doing damage with your massage therapist?

If you feel that something is wrong, then your instincts are probably correct – even if you’ve heard the old expression ‘no pain no gain’. If you are concerned about the level of pressure or pain, you can simply ask the therapist to reduce the pressure to a point that is comfortable for you. If they fail to do so, you are well within your rights to ask the therapist to stop and cease the treatment.

Are there any particular areas in the body you should be particularly careful of when it comes to a massage? High-risk areas like the back, for example? 

Areas that are not as well protected by muscle are danger sites. These include the front of the neck, in your elbow crease, behind your knee, in your armpit, around your abdomen and groin – and you should avoid percussive type treatments around the kidneys. Very light and broad pressure around these areas is okay if appropriate and necessary – however, they contain blood vessels and nerves that aren’t as protected as other areas. Applying pressure to these areas won’t feel pleasant anyway.

How can you tell if a massage accidentally exacerbates an injury? 

Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal themselves, and massages should only help speed this up if done correctly – assuming you are following the directions of the Allied Health or Medical Practitioners managing the injury. If your massages are painful in the areas of the injury or your injuries aren’t improving, or are getting worse, it would be wise to seek advice from the Allied Health or Medical Practitioner managing your injury, or to take a break from massages to see if your injury improves.

How long should post-massage soreness generally last?

Everyone reacts differently to a massage; some people may even bruise from moderate and painless pressure. It can be normal to experience soreness for a few days, similar to the soreness you experience after a workout – however, this shouldn’t be the goal of the massage. It would be best to reduce the pressure of the next massage to a level that prevents post-massage soreness.

How much can an exercise massage aid recovery? Can it speed up recovery a lot?

Massage, along with other protocols such as stretching, foam-rolling and hot/cold therapy, have been shown to speed up the recovery process. There are a lot of variables which determine how fast someone recovers, such as sleep, stress and nutrition.  Like with soreness and pain, the time to recover can also depend on the individual and their body.

Can your body actually feel worse after a massage? What would the reason be? Release of toxins, for example?

You shouldn’t feel worse (unless you associate worse with ‘less energetic’) after a massage, but it is possible you may feel a bit lethargic – more likely from a and more likely an emotional release rather than a ‘toxin’ release. If it is toxin-related, then the therapist may have applied too much pressure in an area, causing muscle and tissue damage, which creates toxins.  

Is there anything you can do pre-massage to aid the massage and post-massage process? 

Not really in terms of warming up like you would before exercise, although having good personal hygiene would be appropriate. It would be important to be very clear with what you want to get out of the massage. Speak to your therapist if you have any concerns before or during the massage. Provide as much detail as possible about your current health, health history, and any medications or supplements you are taking, before the massage.  

How long should I wait to exercise after a massage? 

This depends on the type of exercise you are performing and the type of massage you are receiving. Pre-event sports massages are okay leading up to or just before an event, or workout, as they aim to excite the neuromuscular system with vigorous light-moderate techniques. These massages shouldn’t incorporate deep tissue or neuromuscular techniques as they can reduce the performance of the individual and increase the risk of injury, so are best avoided 24 to 48 hours before a workout. Relaxation-type massages are fine before exercise, however, you may not feel like exercising after one as you’ll be quite sleepy!

More From