Not many feelings can beat those you feel just after a massage. A good quality massage leaves you feeling loose and relaxed, while at the same time rejuvenated, open and full of life. You may even experience one of the best nights of sleep you’ve ever had, following a massage.
On the following morning, especially if you haven’t received a massage in the last few weeks, you may feel a little different. There may be some mild soreness as you get ready for your day.
Not to worry though, this is quite common and there’s nothing wrong. It’s more likely that the massage has done exactly what your massage therapist intended.
More Than Just a Back Rub
Before you have your first massage, you may have an idealized picture of what the experience will be like. The reality of your experience may be a bit different though, depending on the type of massage therapy you receive. The main purposes of a typical Swedish massage done by a professional include:
- Improving circulation and driving blood flow into tight, cranky muscles
- Promoting healing
- Improving a sense of wellness through the release of endorphins
- Reducing blood pressure
- Reducing pain and inflammation as muscles “get back to normal”
It’s even been suggested that massage can aid in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and has also been shown to be effective therapy for multi-dimensional illnesses such as fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Why Am I Sore After a Massage? Dehydration Might Be the Culprit.
Deep tissue, Neuromuscular massage, Myofascial massage, Trigger Point Therapy and other more intense massage techniques are designed to treat chronic muscle tightness, structural imbalances and related issues or rehabilitation.
Because these techniques typically use more pressure and can also be used to work on the nervous system, people may experience higher levels of discomfort during the massage. Your massage therapist is trained to listen to you and to only work as deeply as you are comfortable. Working “against” a muscle that’s bracing or too tight is counter-productive and you’ll find that an experienced massage therapist will expertly walk the line between keeping you comfortable and your muscles pliable while still making significant progress on the issues at hand.
Do come to any massage well hydrated though. Muscles that are dehydrated will be less supple and more difficult to work on. Recovery from a massage where you’re low on hydration can also take longer and result in more soreness as your muscles and connective tissue get used to their new state.
Note that dehydration and electrolyte imbalances go hand in hand. Potassium deficiency, for example, may cause muscle aches, cramps, and twitching. If, say, you get a massage after exercise, you may experience soreness due to dehydration and low potassium levels in the bloodstream.
One way to prevent these issues is to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Athletes and gym-goers may also reach for electrolyte drinks — just make sure you choose a low sugar drink.
Neurological Sensitivity May Play a Role
Another possible cause of post-massage soreness is sensitization or neurological sensitivity.
Sometimes, the central nervous system (CNS) received more information than it can handle at that point. Stress, heavy workloads, and other factors can increase the amount of sensory input received throughout the day, causing increased sensitivity to pain. An intense massage feels just like a workout, which can further overload the CNS.
If that’s your case, let your massage therapist know what you’re going through. He can then tailor the massage according to your needs by using a different technique or adjusting the intensity level.
Muscle Contractures Can Trigger Post-Massage Soreness
Prolonged sitting, muscle weakness, spasticity, and other factors may lead to muscle contractures (artificially shortened muscles). Simply put, the muscle shortens and becomes stiff from lack of use or from being in a shortened state for too long. For example, if you’re spending hours in front of the computer every day, you may develop contractures in your neck, back and hips.
Massage helps stretch and lengthen these muscles so that they can return to their normal shape and function. But since they’re extremely tense, you may experience pain and soreness. These symptoms should subside after a few massage sessions.
More Than One Way to Exercise Muscles
Even without secondary health issues, massage can put the muscles through a much more vigorous workout than most people realize. A massage therapist works to find all the kinks in the muscles that build up through daily stress (under-use or over-use). The act of massaging the muscles stretches them, encourages blood to flow more efficiently, and stimulates them to work at an optimum level over the long term. However, this is something new for the muscles to adjust to, and they’ll need a few sessions to adjust to this new type of “workout”.
What Do the Experts Think?
The head of the Sports and Deep Tissue Massage Department at McKinnon Institute Keith Grant agrees with the analogy between massage and exercise. He states that a massage is very much like a workout. If the muscles aren’t used to it, they often respond with some soreness. Grant notes that the soreness should only last for a maximum of two days. If the soreness lasts any longer, then it is possible that the massage was too intense. The key to getting the intensity level right is good communication between therapist and client. Once the effects are explained, the therapist will adjust the intensity level in the next session. As the body adjusts to the manipulation, the intensity can be increased to allow the same benefits to be felt.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Relaxed?
Your body is an incredibly complex system. There’s an interplay between body and mind that is only really beginning to be understood. This connection could, however, explain the soreness experienced after a massage.
Neurological sensitivity, or “sensitization,” explores the “whole response of what’s going on in a person.” During a massage, the body’s experiences are processed through the central nervous system to be understood by your brain. At times of high stress, the nervous system and the brain may feel overwhelmed by this increase in information.
This may explain why some soreness and tiredness can be seen as a side-effect of this “new” information that needs to be adapted to.
Minimizing Muscle Soreness
There are several ways to minimize the unwanted side effects of a good massage. Here are just a few things you may want to consider:
- Understand the need to look after your body and mind
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water after your session
- Take it easy after your massage; relax and find your balance naturally
- Communicate honestly with your therapist, particularly about your general health and mental wellbeing
- Try different massage techniques
- Change the length or intensity of sessions
In most cases, experiencing some muscle soreness after a massage is completely normal. However, if this lasts more than a couple of days, or incapacitates you in any way, then it needs to be addressed with your massage therapist.