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Soreness After Massage: When Is It Normal?

First things first, let’s put aside the idea of using terms like always and never. We hear all the time experts on the internet saying always do this, never do that. Let’s take each situation as it presents itself and make the best decision we can with the information given. I bring this up because many times we will hear something like, “massage should never make you sore,” or “you should never have a bruise from a massage.” Each situation is different. Each person is different. That being said, let’s talk about soreness after massage and what to expect based on your treatment.

Soreness from massage will first depend on what kind of massage you receive. If you get a relaxing Swedish massage, you likely won’t have any soreness or discomfort after. The therapist simply isn’t working at a pressure which would cause discomfort during or after the session. There are exceptions of course. For example, if you suffer from fibromyalgia and even very light touch is painful, the gentle motions of even Swedish massage can be painful and unbearable. This isn’t the case with all cases of fibromyalgia but it is something you should discuss with your doctor if it applies to you.

Next is the classic deep tissue massage. The therapist works more deeply using slow strokes and may do some press and hold techniques or use cross fiber friction more often. Some areas feel great with these methods and others will hurt more. Most of the time, therapists spend their efforts working the uncomfortable areas until they are comfortable to the client. Mild next day soreness is common with this type of massage. Particularly in the areas where the most initial discomfort was felt. The soreness may last a day or two and is usually mild.

Now let’s talk about therapeutic massage. At its core, you can make the argument that all massage is therapeutic. However, given the way massage therapy has been marketed in the United States and other parts of the world, using therapeutic as a catch all term for massage has led to confusion about what to expect in terms of receiving bodywork. We like to define therapeutic massage as focused bodywork to achieve a desired outcome. For example, if you can’t turn your head to the right when you come in for a session, you should be able to do so (or close to it!) when you leave.

Using our new definition of therapeutic massage, should we expect soreness after our session? Yes. Soreness is part of the recovery process after deep and specific bodywork to address a specific issue. In the example about limited range of motion in the head and neck, a therapist may spend the entire session just resolving that issue. When you work deeply and specifically the major muscles responsible for head and neck rotation, you get the range of motion back. But it will result in soreness. The amount of soreness you feel depends on a few factors. How long has it been since you could perform the movement? Days, months, years? If it’s been a year without the ability to move a certain way, you could be sore for several days. Severity of symptoms also plays a role. If you walk in doubled over but walk out standing up straight, the change created will likely cause significant next day soreness. The key thing being you’re still able to walk upright and with much less, if any, pain. The soreness will fade, and the results will stay. How often you receive bodywork or therapeutic massage also affects how sore you feel. The more you work on opening a specific area, the less soreness you experience.

As you can see, it’s not a question of whether you should or shouldn’t be sore. Soreness after massage depends on what kind of massage you get. It’s a natural response the body has based on what you do to it. For the people who want to feel soreness, let’s frame it a different way. Instead of making soreness the goal, consider making the result a goal. Am I moving better today? Can I perform more easily or for longer in my sport? How do I feel in the days after massage versus before I went in?

If you have any questions about how you feel after a massage or if what you’re experiencing is normal, please call us at 317-488-8933 or schedule an appointment at our Clearwater office.

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