"Do your worst"
One of the biggest misconceptions about deep tissue massage that I have come across as a therapist, is that most people who walk through my door believe that if there is no pain, they have gained nothing, or when it is painful I hear "no don't back off, work it out." The term ‘deep tissue massage’ actually has nothing to do with the amount of pressure that is applied, but about working the deeper tissue layers of muscle and fascia in order to correct, and heal an area of dysfunction the client is presenting with.
As a bodywork therapist I treat a lot of athletes, and generally active people who have primed their nervous system to bare intensity. They come in with this fixed mindset of "no pain, no gain", and some even want the session to be painful because it feels like I am "being effective". Trust me, you can be effective without experiencing pain.
When someone comes to see me requesting deep tissue massage I often find myself educating them on my goals for the sessions and keeping the nervous system happy with me. Can it be uncomfortable? Sure. But, it is never my goal to make it painful just to please the person. A session with me should be slow and intentional, working through the muscle tissues layer, by layer. Giving an increased amount of attention to the dysfuntional area (typically not where you are feeling pain) and trigger points found along the way. Many therapists make the mistake of trying to ‘force the issue’. Any skilled therapist will tell you that they get much better results by allowing the tissue to respond on its own, and release under a slower, more focused approach as opposed to forcing it.
As with most anything, if you take the forceful approach, it is usually met with increased resistance. Muscles will have more of a tendency to ‘push back’ against a lot of pressure, and with that you aren’t really accomplishing anything with the treatment, except maybe some bruising and soreness the following day.
I am not saying that you won’t have any pain, or discomfort during a deep tissue massage. Working on the trigger points and already sore, tight areas will be somewhat painful. It is usually described more as the ‘hurt so good’ feeling though. It should never be unbearable to the point where you feel as if you can’t relax, or breathe through it. I always tell my clients that on a scale of 1-10, if the intensity of what I am doing goes over a 6 or 7, that I will need to back off. Everyone has a different tolerance level, so communication and attentiveness is key during a deep tissue massage.
And as always, remember to drink plenty of water after a deep tissue massage.