Back in January, I wrote this post about the differences between deep tissue vs. deep pressure massage. Todays post takes that topic and expands it beyond massage therapy. The topic in question is that of pain.
Pain is not normal. It should not be a normal part of your day and you shouldn't feel pain during activity or rest. Pain is our body's way of letting us know that something is wrong. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to believe that pain means we are getting something done. We are bombarded by phrases like "No pain, no gain", or "Pain is good, extreme pain is extremely good", and fitness videos and infomercials encourage us to work until we "feel the burn", and then sometimes work even harder. I'm not sure when we took such a wrong turn in our thinking, but I am constantly working to change the perception that pain is a normal part of life.
Our Society's View on Pain
We live in a very sensation based society and we are taught to chase those sensations even though they are not always healthy. If you can't feel/see/hear/touch/taste/smell something, it must not be real. There are plenty of things that exist without our noticing. In fact, we tend to notice when something is wrong before we notice that something is right, but that doesn't mean it isn't right all the same. For example, you notice if you knee is hurting, but if it isn't hurting you likely won't notice because you aren't thinking about it.
What Pain Means
As I said above, pain is our body's way of telling us that something is wrong. Headaches aren't normal, in fact if you get more than 2-3 headaches a year, it is considered abnormal. Back pain is not something we should just learn to live with. It is a reminder that something isn't right. Even menstrual pain is a sign that something is off, and there are some interesting theories about pain not even being a normal part of childbirth (that will likely be a future post).
When we feel pain, our reaction should be to stop and figure out what is wrong, not to power through. This mentality is especially prevalent in the fitness world. People are encouraged to push past their limits as though that somehow means that the work they are doing is better. In reality, you should not feel pain when you are working out. The key to a healthy workout is to work up to things. If you are lifting weights and feeling a burning or ripping sensation, decrease the weight. Work in that area just before it started to hurt, and get your body used to lifting that weight before you increase, otherwise you can cause injury. Remember, if you feel hurt, it means you are being hurt. If you are out for a run and have trouble breathing, feel a burning sensation anywhere in your body, feel a cramp... stop or slow down. Walking at a good pace is actually far better for most bodies than running anyway. If you feel sore, achy, have trouble moving, etc. after a work out, you did more than you should have, and need to do less next time. It isn't a sign of a healthy workout, it is a sign of your muscles trying to repair all of the little tears you made in them, and your joints trying to heal from any damage that was caused.
You should also never feel pain on a massage table. Pain is not a normal part of a massage, it is a sign that whatever work is being done is not being done in a way that is right for your body. We are taught that the more we feel something, the better it is working, when really, it is the opposite. If you feel pain, damage is being caused or exacerbated. What we can do is modify our work to find how your body will accept it. I like to describe it as the difference between opening a door and walking in versus kicking it down. If I want to sink into your tissue, I ask it to let me in and then I work my way in, respectful of what your body is telling me. The alternative is to dig and push and chances are, that therapist won't even get very deep into the tissue and damage is caused along the way because as you feel pain, your body begins to guard, and as you begin to guard, the therapist is literally tearing through those walls your body is putting up. A good rule of thumb is that you should never leave a massage feeling worse than when you came in.
Always listen to your body and respect what it is telling you. If you feel negative sensations, stop and reevaluate what you are doing. If you are "making do" with chronic pain, see a massage therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, or doctor to figure out what is causing the pain rather than just ignoring it.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.