Have you ever gone to get a massage, felt great after the session, and then the next day hurt so bad you could hardly move? You know the massage therapist did a good job, but you don’t understand what happened and why you hurt so badly. Today, I saw a patient who shared this exact experience with me.
My patient had purchased an hour and a half massage on groupon from a local massage therapist. She is 8 months pregnant, has a history of lower back pain prior to the pregnancy, and the lower back pain continues to get worse the farther along she gets in her pregnancy. The massage therapist worked on her lower back for almost 40 minutes per side, spending the majority of the time working on her glutes and her IT bands (buttocks and hips). She felt great when the massage was over, but the next day she was so sore that it was difficult to move and by the 2nd day, she could barely walk. What happened??
When a massage therapist is massaging a person’s muscles, they are working the muscles through a series of contraction, stretching, and relaxation states. This is very similar to what happens when a person exercises. When you exercise, YOU are working your muscles – contracting them to build strength, stretching them to improve flexibility, and allowing them time to rest in between exercises. When you get a massage, the massage therapist is working your muscles for you. Just like exercising, massage needs to be done for an appropriate amount of time. If you have an injury, are out of shape, or have a medical condition, you need to start out slowly. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon without any training and you certainly cannot go in for a massage and expect that a good hour and a half of work on an area that hurts will make it all better. In fact, it could make the pain worse for a few days.
So what do you do if this happens? Well, it is important to give your body the rest it needs in between massages. It is also very important that you communicate what happened to your massage therapist. Your massage therapist should understand that he/she went beyond what your body can tolerate in one session. The good thing is that with regular massage, your body will develop a level of endurance similar to that of a regular exercise routine. Over time, you should be able to withstand more pressure and longer periods of time spent working on one specific area. As your body becomes conditioned to the massage, you will learn how often you need to be seen to keep the pain under control.
-by Rebecca Koffman, CMT