Addiction to Deep Tissue Massage
It has come to my attention that some people love deep tissue for the pain of it and not necessarily the therapeutic benefits. Sometimes this causes dilemmas for me in treatment. On the one hand, deep tissue feels great at certain times because there is a genuine need for deep “kneading.” The problem comes when people want pain and there is really no therapeutic reason to inflict it. Can people become addicted to the endorphins released from painful massage techniques in a manner similar to other addictions? Or is there a “no pain, no gain” mentality at work that really runs counter to holistic practices?
The idea that it has to hurt to be effective is not really very productive, in my opinion. To inflict pain on healthy tissue seems…well, a bit weird. If there isn’t a knot, a trigger point, some anomaly or something to work with, should massage hurt? And should you ever be bruised? I’m sure there are many differing opinions but I have a gut reaction and an inner conflict when I feel someone would like pain when there is no condition requiring me to cause pain.
Deep tissue, by definition does not equal pain. It means deep and anatomically accurate work. Period.
If there is pain, then there are areas that need attention and most likely over time–not a big ripping or poking in one session. To work deeply without warming tissue and loosening fascia is an excellent way to get repeat clients because the tissue will most likely “snap back” if all the more detailed work in the surrounding areas is ignored. And yet, this is what many clients come expecting.
I will say that the marketing of “deep tissue” has something to do with it. Many spas charge more for deep tissue and people therefore feel as if it is a more valuable service that they should request (without really having any idea what their bodies need or what they are talking about). Why are they charging more? If a massage therapist has good body mechanics, it should take no more effort (and maybe less) than to do any other kind of massage. In fact, for many massage therapists the detailed movements and requisite concentration of myofascial release and neuro-muscular techniques (for example) are far more difficult to perform than a generic deep tissue massage.
But prices and marketing aside, my real concern as a holistic therapist is in feeding the beast–the beast that has to hurt and experience something extraordinary in order to feel that something worthwhile is happening. Maybe I spent too many years working with teenagers but it feels a bit “emo.” How about some controversy:
Do some adults use deep tissue massage like adolescents use cutting?
Sometimes I feel this is true. Other times it seems that at play is what used to be referred to as a “Type A” personality. There are people who want something done to them that will be noticeable immediately and that something is best signified by pain. They don’t want to relax (which really helps if your aim is to give them pain), they don’t want to change anything about what might be causing the problem–they just want to be “fixed”, with no effort on their part. In fact, I believe the pain is the sole attempt at effort. If it hurts, they have participated in their wellness and “paid their price.”
So are we really offering an endorphin rush in the form of superfluous deep tissue massages that are really just code for, “Make it hurt!”
Hurt can release endorphins which can reduce hurt in other areas: I’m guessing psychological, emotional, spiritual…
I think the gist of my discomfort with some of the requests I get for deep tissue work is that the massage desired seems to be actually in service of unhealthy defenses rather than in support of wellness. I don’t really have an answer to my dilemma. Usually it sorts itself out. I try to meet people where they are at but I will not hurt where hurt is not indicated.
Pain may be necessary when there is a physical reason to interact with bodily tension but when pain is requested as an uninformed requisite of a “good massage” or as a distraction from inner pain (or numbness), I recoil.
Healing from certain situations and conditions is not easy. Don’t let anyone say it is. But massage should be affirming, encouraging, and nourishing to body, mind and spirit. Pain for no reason has no place.
…More about the effects of massage (coming soon)