Reader answer: Would you mind if I asked what has surprised you about massage or the human body, or say what are some interesting things you have learned/wish people knew?

The thing I wish people knew is that massage does not have to hurt in order to be deep tissue/therapeutic massage. Seriously. “Deep tissue” refers to the fact that there are tons of muscles layers in pretty much every part of the body, overlaid on top of one another like rings in an onion; sometimes the issue that’s causing pain is in the top layer but more often it’s a few layers down or even at the bottom. In order to reach that layer, a massage therapist has to find ways to work through the upper layer(s). Now, a lot of therapists are trying to rush b/c their clients want a full body massage in an hour plus focus work in the area that’s bugging them most. So they press really, really hard. That’s one way of getting to the bottom layers, but it causes some bruising and pain to the upper layers.

A far gentler and more effective method is to relax the top layers of muscle then work your way down. Think of is in terms of an archaeologist’s slow, meticulous, careful excavation versus the jackhammer of a construction crew. The former is far less painful, more beneficial, but takes longer. You can’t do the archaeologist method if you’ve got one hour to massage a client’s whole body.

Add to that, people who have had deep tissue massage before think that it has to hurt in order to be effective, because they’re so accustomed to the jackhammer method. Thus, I’ve encountered clients who won’t tell me that I’m causing them pain because they think that’s what I have to do in order to be effective and actually treat their issues, and a lot of the time I don’t. I’ve had clients outright lie and say that the pressure level/technique that I’m using doesn’t hurt, and then when I go to turn them over I realize that they’ve soaked through the sheets with sweat.

So please: don’t let your massage therapist cause you pain. If you’ve got a major physical issue that you need work on, tell them you want “focus work” in that specific area, and tell them which body parts they can skip (i.e. you don’t care about having your hands worked on, or your legs feel pretty good today, etc.). A lot of the time things are connected, and an issue in the back may actually be caused by something in the abdomen or hips; but it’s virtually impossible to do a deep tissue massage on the whole body without causing a lot of pain and bruising. Focus work lets us strategically and carefully hit the areas that are causing the issue instead of whipping out a jackhammer.

Also, don’t go to Massage Envy, they have a history of hiring sexual predators. There’s a reason they’re so cheap: I know plenty of good people who work there, folks I went to school with, but overall the company does not have quality control for who they hire and they apparently don’t even communicate in between franchises. This one time in Texas, a male therapist sexually assaulted a female client at one Massage Envy, got fired, and six months later was re-hired at a different Massage Envy a few miles away where he sexually assaulted another female client. So. There’s that.