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Massage Isn’t Always the Answer: When it Hurts

While we think that most situations can be improved by a great massage, preferably by our own Peter, there are certain unique situations when massage can actually be painful.

“If you could somehow melt away your skin, what you would see is the network of your nervous system, and some of those nerves are very close to the surface of your skin,” says MMT’s Dr. Jeffrey Sergent. “Sometimes, applying pressure doesn’t make things feel better; it can make you feel worse.”



Nerves can get caught in our fascia, which is the fibrous layer of tissue that encloses a muscle or organ. This can cause your nerves to become inflamed and uncomfortable, and massage can increase those symptoms.


“There are also certain areas of the body that are more vulnerable to this – the shoulders, the lower back, the knees,” he says. “Manual manipulation can really fire up those nerves.”

When a patient presents with this situation, there are methods that can provide relief. Dr. Sergent may use cupping, which actually pulls the tissues apart rather than compressing them through cups. Actual cupping is not uncomfortable and can provide some immediate relief for the irritated areas.


“There is also another technique called ‘yapping’ – yank away pain  –  which can be used in all different regions of your body,” he said. “We have mild, yet growing anecdotal information about the effectiveness of yapping. It certainly won’t hurt you – it’s basically the quick pinching and pulling away of skin from an affected area.”


When assessing an injury or problem, Dr. Sergent looks at a wide variety of options for treating the problem. Sometimes the treatment plan will include massage, but sometimes it will not. If you feel discomfort during a massage, do let your therapist know.

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