Why Does Massage Hurt?
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Years ago, I came across a fantastic YouTube video by Tom Myers, creator of Anatomy Trains titled 'Why does Massage Hurt'. In the video, Myers describes "pain as sensation combined with the motor intention to withdraw". Myers continues by saying that without the motor intention to withdraw there is no pain, only sensation.
Too true. Let me break this down for you. It is not that the pressure of massage is painful, it is that there is the unconscious intention to run away from the pressure. When we are able to sit with the pressure, there is no pain, only the wide variety of sensations felt while patterns of tension are being unwound. And why would we run away from tension being unwound when this is the primary purpose of receiving massage in the first place? Let's deepen our understanding of the concept.
Myers describes 3 types of pain:
pain going into the body (ie. an injury occurs)
pain stored in the body (ie. patterns of tension form to protect the injury)
pain coming out of the body (the patterns of tension are unwound)
That said, it is when we perceive the massage (either consciously or unconsciously) as pain going into the body rather than pain coming out of the body that we might respond with the intention to run away. In other words, with our patterns of tension, we have done such a good job protecting the injury that we are trying to keep these patterns. And so, if during your massage you would really like to let go of the tension, it is important for you to perceive the sensations as 'pain coming out of the body'.
Now, what is equally important is to honor the pain/patterns of protection. They exist to help you function, after all. With that, we must never force the patterns to release beyond their capacity and this is where a skilled practitioner comes into play.
With my years of experience I've become quite sensitive to the spectrum of preparedness our bodies and minds have in letting go. From tissue that is so tense/pain that is so stored that we've had to become unconscious to it and therefore 'fight' even the 'deepest' pressure, to pain that we are so acutely aware of that even the slightest pressure feels intense. The one thing the entire spectrum requires is the capacity of both the practitioner and the client to sit with/be present with the experience.
Hence my saying, we cannot let go of what we don't know we're holding onto. And so my whole purpose is to bring attention to your tension and by shifting from the motor intention to withdraw into the noticing and observing of the sensations of my hands at your tension, we can consciously release it. Yes, just with awareness! But also, with breath.
Now that you have the awareness that our intention is to release your stored pain, instead of withdrawing, we breathe. I have another saying: 'to hold onto your breath is what it is to hold onto your tension'. Think of what happens when pain goes into your body... there is often a short sharp breath/holding of the breath and you 'tense up'. And so, a huge part of our work is for me to guide you into breath, teaching the nervous system that is is literally safe to let go. Giving the body permission to release all the patterns of protection.
Let's deepen this further. I'd like you to go back and read my words again but instead of thinking in the context of physical injury, contemplate the concept of emotional injury.
It's true, our bodies and minds respond to physical pain the same way they do emotional pain. This is exactly how emotion gets 'stored in the body' and why I'm so excited to support my clients' body mind connection.
When the body experiences trauma, be it physical or emotional, there will be the SAME protection response that shows up to help you manage your experience knowing it is often too much for the body and mind to process at once. As a Lifestyle and Bodywork Coach, I am here to help you process the trauma bit by bit until, again, the nervous system feels safe letting it go. Trippy AF but super cool and I love it.
There you have it! A break down as to why massage hurts! Below you'll find Tom Myers video on same topic, and if you're curious to learn more, please don't hesitate to reach out by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org