So there is an ongoing, let’s call it a difference of opinion, about whether massage should hurt or be uncomfortable. My practice is dedicated to reducing chronic pain. Pain makes the body defensive, it makes the body withdraw from the source of pain. Or pain makes the body fight back. It is rare that pain makes the body more easy, more relaxed, more free. My work reflects this principle. If a massage stroke or technique causes pain, then the body hardens, resists that painful stimulus. As a therapist it then feels like I am battling against the muscle, that I am pushing and the muscle is pushing back, and I don’t feel like I am getting anywhere. What I want is to promote ease and relaxation. In order for the body to feel like it can open and unwind, it needs to feel safe. If I as a therapist am causing a pain sensation, the body is going to interpret me and my work as a threat, and we are not going to accomplish our goals.
Now, on the flip side, it is often essential for massage to recreate the painful symptoms that led a person to seek help in the first place. In order for improvement to happen, there needs to be some change, and the body often needs to be nudged into seeking that change. Massage that does not help the body to be aware of where and how it is restricted is going to be less effective. It is important to note, that in this case the massage is not strictly causing the pain. It is showing the body where the pain is, and asking the body to make some kind of adjustment to ease the pain. If this is done right, then the body deals with the pain by relaxing, easing, the area whose tightness is causing the pain.
Now for a final consideration, a really deep and intense massage does give a LOT of stimulation, and for a lot of people this level of stimulation feels great. For some clients, they do not feel like a massage is doing anything without this very high level of stimulation. If this is the case, then sure, I will get my elbows in there and work. After all, no massage is going to be good if the client is disappointed in not getting what they wanted from the massage. I would just make the point that intensity is not the only way to get things done in bodywork, and in my experience subtlety and patience creates way more lasting change than speed and intensity.