At an early point in my career as a massage therapist, I came across a colleague who suggested as therapists we never say sorry if a client verbally expresses feeling discomfort from our massage. I believe the theory behind the sentiment of not apologizing was not to show a lack of sympathy or concern or to reduce the implication of wrongdoing or regret, but to simply address whether the client needs an adjustment in pressure. To find out exactly what the client is feeling, the type of sensation such as sharp, shocking, dull or achy, in order to assess how to move on without causing harm and allowing the treatment to carry on in a productive manner. This approach can be executed quite effectively without the need of saying sorry.
Although stress relief, relaxation and rest are reasons clients visit me for massages, my particular client base is mainly people seeking pain relief, increased range of motion and mobility. My clients generally are in a lot of pain and have been suffering for quite some time. They would like to receive relief from the pains they live with and hope that I can accomplish that goal for them. As I stated in my first blog, Don’t You Wish You Could Just Understand Your Body? in most cases, I am my client’s last hope for any relief from the issues that ail them.
Unfortunately, in dealing with the removal of pain and the increase in range of motion and mobility, there are levels of discomfort that clients have to endure in order to achieve those goals. And, unfortunately, massage still very much has a reputation of being a fluff and buff type of body work. Some clients come with preconceived ideas that massage should feel good and shouldn’t hurt. They aren’t completely wrong. However, they aren’t completely right.
In life, the hard truth about pain in any sense of the word, whether it be a traumatic memory, the loss of a loved one, an appendix that is about to burst, you would be hard pressed to find an example of removing the pain without feeling some pain as well. When using anesthesia during a medical procedure or taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen, we deal with ways to help mask the physical pains we experience in order to resolve issues that can cause harm, debilitating injury and even death. Prescription medicine also exists to help us deal with mental pains that plague our thoughts that can also present themselves in physical ways.
I don’t think it to be a stretch to suggest most people, if given a choice, would go through life not having to feel any type of pain. Given we don’t have a choice, most choose to limit the amount of pain suffered by any means necessary. Because massage has had the reputation of being relaxing and stress reducing, most assume it should feel good. Swedish massage and certain types of body treatments can accomplish such a request. When I approach a client that requests a relaxing or stress reducing massage, I know that I will be utilizing techniques such as Effleurage, (flowing strokes), Petrissage (kneading/rolling), Tapotement (percussive/rhythmic tapping), Friction, and Vibration. These strokes can be applied with more or less pressure to the client’s liking. It is generally safe to say that most clients should experience a nice pain-free massage.
However, treatments such as deep tissue, sports, trigger point, myofascial and medical massage don’t always “feel good”. At times they can be downright uncomfortable as with muscular pain, there is often a build up of scar tissue and adhesions that a Swedish massage and light pressure can’t help resolve. There is much to be said when explaining to clients that the work involved with these types of massages can feel good but can also include moments of necessary discomfort. However, that discussion is best left for another blog. Whatever the reason a client is in pain, it is my job as your massage therapist to make certain I listen to your requests and address them as effectively as possible. When dealing with areas of increased sensitivity, I always urge clients to take a deep breath in and on the exhale to completely let their bodies release and let go. This tends to allow the body to accept the work more freely with less discomfort. When performing certain techniques, it is counterproductive for the client’s muscles to tense up as the goal is to get muscles to relax and release to reduce the pressure and pain they cause by being in a state of spasm or increased tension.
Quite often when working, my clients will verbally express their discomfort. My gut response is to apologize. To say Sorry. It makes absolute sense to me knowing myself as I do that sorry would be my initial response. After all, I am in this business because I want to help people. I truly love my work and have great pride in being able to help relieve the pains in life that create limitations. I am very proud of my work and having the ability to stand out as a therapist who so many look to as someone who provides the highest level of quality and effective work. However, when I say sorry, I can’t help to hear that voice in my head telling me that I’m not supposed to say that. That I am making a mistake that in some way might come back to hurt me and my practice.
Suffice it to say, that has never happened. Many of my clients prior to working with me have received massages that were ineffective or were so painful due to the therapist’s lack of mindfulness and concern, that they were scared away from massage for many years. They all have in common the knowledge that my work is intended to help and heal and not to hurt. And should it be uncomfortable, it is a necessary component of the treatment to which the benefits will and have far outweighed the momentary discomfort leading to a more healthy, mobile, happy life with lessened or no pain. Going back to the breathing part, they are also aware that if the breathing technique doesn’t work after two good tries, my pressure will be reduced and we will move forward as effectively as possible.
Regarding pain and massage:
My goal is to find it, address it and help pull it out so you can continue on with your life with little to no pain. Sometimes this means you will feel varying degrees of discomfort. And although I am sorry you have to experience it, my apology is not for my work and what it brings about when helping to reduce and remove it, but for the pain you suffer from that has brought you to my office to begin with. And so, as I have adopted over the years, instead of simply stating sorry, I kind heartedly and light heartedly state Sorry, Not Sorry.