You’ve had a stressful week so you’ve decided to splurge and treat yourself to a nice, long massage. Your masseuse has the lights low, music playing softly and essential oils flowing, all of which relax you. You seem to float out of the spa, so imagine your surprise when you awake the next morning feeling stiff and aching You’ve never been sore after massages before, so what’s up?
What Is a Massage?
A massage is when a therapist kneads and rubs your muscles and joints with their hands to relieve your tension, stress and/or pain. It may seem counterintuitive that there would be pain after massage, but we'll get to that in a minute.
The history of massage goes back thousands of years in China, Egypt, Greece and India. It became popular in Europe during the Renaissance. Two American doctors introduced massage therapy to the United States in the 1850s after studying it in Sweden. It didn’t catch on permanently until the 1970s, when athletes began to use it commonly as part of their training regimen.
Types of Massage Therapy
The word “therapy” encompasses all types of massage and some of them will cause you to be sore after massage more than others.
This is the most common form of massage and what people think of when they want to relax. Using lotion or massage oil, the masseuse will use long, broad strokes to warm the muscles. They will then move on to specific areas of the body. Therapists will often couple Swedish massage with aromatherapy to increase the relaxation of their clients.
Deep Tissue Massage
Unlike Swedish massage, this type often leads to a person feeling sore after massage. The therapist will target muscle knots and work with pressure deep into the muscle and connective tissues. This massage is beneficial for people who experience chronic pain that limits their mobility.
As you can probably decipher for yourself, this is a more intense technique, but it doesn’t have to be painful while it’s being done. You should always alert your therapist if you’re experiencing pain.
Shiatsu is a form of Japanese bodywork. It involves localized pressure from the masseuse’s fingers, elbows or hands used rhythmically across the body. Each pressure point is held for up to 8 seconds. The goal in the masseuse's movements is to stimulate acupressure points and improve the flow of energy while restoring balance in the body.
No oil or 100 lotion is used in Shiatsu, so you keep loose clothing on. It’s believed to protect against stress-related illness and treating conditions like arthritis, insomnia and back problems. People also claim to feel more energy and improved digestive function.
This is the go-to for people who love having their feet worked on. The therapist uses his or her hands and fingers to knead and rub pinpointed “reflex” areas on the hands and feet to promote relaxation. Reflexology stimulates endorphins, which are your body’s chemical pleasure response. Reflexology is the perfect massage for someone who’s been standing all day and suffers from tired, aching feet.
This massage was developed by the need for athletes to prevent and recover from injuries. Massage therapists will manipulate soft tissues in certain muscle groups depending on the sport played by the client.
When the therapist does this, it can increase the athlete's blood flow, range of motion and flexibility — all of which can lead to a better performance on the field or court. Don't let the name fool you, though. A sports massage can benefit anyone, not just athletes. And, athlete or not, sports massages leave clients sometimes feeling sore after massage.
Benefits of Receiving a Massage
No extensive research has been done to confirm the benefits of massage therapy. Some physicians now offer massage to go complement their more traditional forms of treatment for an array of conditions and circumstances.
Here are issues that may be improved through massage:
- Anxiety and depression
- Digestive issues
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Sports and exercise injuries
Always check with your physician before trying to treat an injury or illness with massage, because sometimes rubbing an injury can make a condition worse. Also, don’t seek a massage if you have:
- Bleeding disorders or are taking blood thinners
- Burns or wounds
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Severe osteoporosis
Finding a Massage Therapist
Making sure you get the right massage therapist can partially prevent you from feeling sore after massage. It’s best to get a referral from a physician, friend or family member whose opinions you trust and whose values may be similar to your own. Other considerations:
- Price for 60-minute, 90-minute and 120-minute massages
- What kind of license or certificate your masseuse holds
- How long they have been in practice
- Positive and negative online reviews
Once your massage starts, don’t be afraid to speak up if something is uncomfortable, or the pressure isn’t right. The therapist wants the massage to go well for you so you’ll return and recommend them to others.
3 Reasons You Feel Sore After Massage
Feeling sore after massage is considered as delayed-onset muscle soreness. It happens because the massage caused a sudden physical disruption to your body. Your body then tries to repair the damage, and that causes localized inflammation. There are three main reasons you experience feeling sore after massage.
1. Communication with Your Therapist
A certain amount of pain can be avoided by communicating with your massage therapist before and during your massage. Explain to them your goals for the massage. Some goals may include:
- To achieve an increase of mobility and flexibility
- Loosening knots in muscles
- Recovery from workouts or sports
If you want no discomfort during the massage and only want to relax, be sure to communicate that to your therapist. Add in some soothing essential oils to relax you and your muscles even further.
We can't emphasize this enough: Be clear in your description of any discomfort you’re feeling. You may think you have muscle knots so you opt for a sport’s or deep-tissue massage. It could be you’re experiencing built-up tension and all you really need is a Swedish massage. Let the pro diagnose your muscles and issues, as well as the best course for moving forward.
During the Massage
Letting your therapist know if the pressure they’re applying is too soft or hard will also help you avoid getting sore after massage. You may be more or less sensitive than their other clients, so they won’t know what they’re doing isn’t comfortable unless you tell them. Most will ask you right after they get started if the pressure is ok, but if they don’t, then you need to speak up!
2. You’re Not Used to Massage
Think of a massage as anything else you to do your muscles. You have to train your body to get used to it. You would expect to be sore after lifting weights having taken a break from it for a year. The same is true of massage.
Most people will get a massage a few times a year on vacation or with a gift certificate. These infrequent visits don't allow your body enough visits to get used to the manipulation of your muscles. Your best bet is to go at least monthly, but we understand that can get pricey.
You can shop around for less expensive massages, but can run into trouble when you shop solely based on price. Just aim for as many massages in a year as you can afford and spread them out, so you keep some muscle memory for the experience.
3. Poor After-Massage Care
What you do after a massage is just as important as what happens during a massage. There are things you can do once the kneading is over to ensure you feel less sore after massage. Think of all the things you do after a hard workout and emulate them for post-massage care.
There’s a school of thought that says massage releases into your blood all the toxins that were stored in your muscles. The idea is to hydrate well after a massage so you flush those toxins out rather than letting them recirculate into your already kneaded muscles. Staying hydrated helps no matter what. The healing process is aided by keeping up on your fluids.
Some post-massage stretching is a great idea. Elongating the muscles that were worked in the massage keeps the blood flowing to them, which aids in the healing process. Stretching helps in loosening tightness in the targeted muscles. This creates the best chance for you to avoid feeling sore after massage.
If you have an acute muscle injury, then it’s advised that you use cold compresses on the injured site. A warm bath at the end of the day you've received a massage is also beneficial, because it helps your muscles continue to relax. Adding lavender oil to the water has anti-inflammatory properties that will aid in soothing your body.
If you’re not accustomed to massage, resting afterwards is a good idea. Taking it easy will avoid your muscles from tensing while they’re healing. Just lay down, breathe deeply and enjoy the relaxation of the day. Taking a break will reduce how much you feel sore after massage.
We think feeling sore after massage shouldn’t be a deterrent from getting a nice, long, relaxing massage. Our daily lives hit us with stress from every angle so it’s important to do anything we can to ease some of that tension. Making sure you take time out just for you during and after your session is key, so you don’t feel so sore after massage.
Communicate about your needs before and during your visit. Enjoy the rest of your day and be kind to your muscles by showing them some extra love. We promise they will love you back.