Somatoemotional release. Mental and emotional context is a major factor in how we experience pain. Painful sensations are unusually good at stimulating catharsis — the expression of strong or repressed emotion. — because physical pain often strongly “resonates” with emotional pain.12 For instance, the pain of an injury may blur together with the emotional frustrations of functional limits and rehab. That’s a basic example, and much more complex interactions between emotional and physical pain are obviously possible. Whether it is the clear goal of therapy, or simply a natural side benefit, experiencing very strong sensations can certainly be a meaningful part of a personal growth process “just” by changing your sense of yourself, how it feels to be in your skin, and perhaps bumping you out of some other sensory rut.13
This is not only an inaccurate and potentially harmful picture of this type of therapy, but such misguided practices can bruise muscles, elicit a defensive reaction in a client’s body, and worsen pain cycles. Properly executed deep tissue work should not cause the client to grit their teeth in agony as the therapist coerces the body into submission! If you find yourself clenching, shortening or holding your breath, or gritting your teeth, then it’s TOO DEEP. Even when it gets intense, it should not go above about a 7 on the pain scale: enough to “hurt so good,” but not enough that you want to leap off the table (and never come back).

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It’s just a theory: no one knows if this is actually effective.11 However, it may explain why so many massage patients report a “gets a bit worse before it gets much better” response to quite painful treatments: motor end plates are (painfully) destroyed by strong pressures, and then that tissue is quite sensitive and a bit weak as it heals over a day or two … and then you finally feel much better after that!

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