Understanding and Managing Soreness after Massage | Essential Guide

Soreness after massage
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Brief Overview of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy, a practice well-regarded for its pain relief, muscle relaxation, and calming effects, significantly boosts both physical and mental health when a professional administers it.

Understanding Common Post-Massage Experiences, Including Soreness

Soreness often follows a massage session, resembling the ache from an intense workout. Muscle manipulation, inflammatory reactions, dehydration, or the easing of previously tight or knotted muscles primarily cause this discomfort. The extent of soreness varies with each individual’s sensitivity to massage.

The Role of Soreness in the Healing Process

Soreness after a massage signals the body’s healing mechanism. The therapist’s pressure can create microscopic tears in muscle fibers, leading to inflammation and the associated soreness. This natural response repairs and strengthens the muscle fibers. The soreness, varying with the massage type—be it Swedish, deep tissue, sports, or trigger point—usually lasts from a few hours to up to 72 hours.

Understanding Post-Massage Soreness

Causes of Post-Massage Soreness

  • Microscopic tears in muscle fibers occur during massage, similar to post-exercise discomfort. This natural response helps ease muscle tension and knots.
  • Release of toxins and lactic acid into the bloodstream during massage, leading to soreness as the body works to expel these substances. This process benefits muscle function and health.
  • Stretching and lengthening of tight muscles (muscle contractures) during massage cause temporary discomfort as muscles adjust to their new length.
  • Intense stimulation can temporarily overwhelm the central nervous system, contributing to soreness as the body and mind adapt to the therapy’s effects.

The Difference Between Good Soreness and Pain

It’s crucial to differentiate between ‘good soreness,’ a mild discomfort that decreases over a few days indicating healing, and actual pain. Pain, particularly if sharp or lingering, may suggest an injury or excessive intensity of the massage.

Key Takeaways

  • Post-massage soreness typically signifies the body’s healing process in response to massage therapy.
  • The discomfort results from muscle manipulation, the release of toxins, and the nervous system’s adjustment.
  • Recognizing the difference between beneficial soreness and genuine pain ensures the safety and effectiveness of massage therapy.
  • Awareness of these aspects helps manage post-massage care and supports a more efficient recovery.

Types of Massages and Their Impact

Deep Tissue Massage and Its Likelihood to Cause Soreness

Deep tissue massage targets deeper muscle layers with intense pressure, often causing soreness similar to post-workout discomfort. Despite this, the benefits, such as improved circulation and chronic pain reduction, are significant.

Gentle Pressure Massages as an Alternative to Avoid Soreness

Gentle pressure massages, like Swedish or aromatherapy, use light touches and strokes to promote relaxation without intense muscle manipulation, making them ideal for those seeking stress relief and mild muscle tension relief without post-massage soreness.

Factors Contributing to Soreness

Deep Tissue or Intense Massage Techniques

  • Target deeper muscle layers to alleviate chronic pain and muscle tightness.
  • Apply significant pressure, leading to microscopic tears in muscle fibers, similar to post-exercise tears.
  • Can cause soreness as the body enters a recovery phase.

Individual Pain Tolerance and Body Sensitivity

  • Soreness varies among individuals based on pain tolerance and body sensitivity.
  • Influenced by factors like previous injuries, underlying health conditions, or nerve sensitivity.
  • Makes soreness a highly subjective experience.

Dehydration and Its Effects on Muscle Recovery

water ripple effect
  • Proper hydration is crucial for efficient muscle recovery.
  • Dehydration can exacerbate post-massage soreness by impeding the body’s ability to transport nutrients and flush out toxins.
  • Hinders the elimination of lactic acid released during a massage.

The Role of Lactic Acid and Toxins Released During Massage

  • Muscle manipulation releases toxins and lactic acid, contributing to fatigue and soreness.
  • While the release is beneficial for cleansing and recovery, it can temporarily increase soreness.
  • The body uses the circulatory and lymphatic systems to eliminate these substances.

Alleviating and Managing Soreness

Immediate Steps to Reduce Soreness

  • Hydration: Essential for flushing out toxins released during the massage and aiding muscle recovery. Drinking plenty of water post-massage is key.
  • Light Exercise: Stretching or gentle yoga can enhance blood circulation, promote faster healing, and reduce the intensity of soreness.
  • Hot/Cold Therapy: Applying heat relaxes and loosens muscles, while cold therapy reduces inflammation and numbs pain. Both are effective in managing post-massage soreness.
a bathroom with a claw foot tub and a wooden door
  • Epsom Salt Baths: The magnesium in Epsom salts helps with muscle relaxation and reduces inflammation. Useful for soothing sore muscles.
  • Essential Oils: Lavender or peppermint oils, used in baths or as topical applications, can further soothe sore muscles and enhance relaxation.

When to Be Concerned About Persistent Pain

Persistent pain or discomfort extending beyond a couple of days indicates the need for medical consultation. Severe pain, swelling, numbness, or tingling after a massage may signify a muscle injury or adverse therapy reaction.

Long-Term Strategies for Preventing Soreness

  • Communication with Your Massage Therapist: Discuss pain tolerance and any sensitive areas to tailor the massage to your needs.
  • Adjusting Pressure and Techniques: Tailoring the massage based on your feedback can reduce soreness.
  • Scheduling Massages Appropriately: Allow sufficient recovery time between sessions to minimize soreness and enhance the benefits of massage therapy.

Communicating with Your Massage Therapist

Before your massage, it’s essential to discuss any concerns and specify your preferred pressure level with your therapist. This ensures a tailored session, improving its effectiveness and minimizing discomfort. The therapist needs to know your expectations and any areas to focus on or avoid due to sensitivity or injury.

Feedback During the Massage

Providing feedback during the session is key to a comfortable and effective massage. Letting your therapist know if the pressure needs adjustment ensures the massage meets your needs, whether for relaxation, pain relief, or addressing muscle tension.

Consulting a Doctor for Persistent Pain

If you experience ongoing pain after a massage, consult a doctor. Persistent discomfort or symptoms like swelling, numbness, or tingling may indicate underlying health issues or reactions to the massage, requiring professional medical advice.

When to Be Concerned

Identifying Signs of Excessive Soreness or Injury

green and silver stethoscope on white envelope

After a massage, it’s common to experience some level of soreness, akin to what one might feel after a rigorous workout. However, there are other factors that must be considered, which include:

  • Pre-existing Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing conditions, such as blood clotting disorders or severe osteoporosis, should be cautious with therapeutic massage. If symptoms worsen after a massage, it’s crucial to seek medical advice.
  • Acute Injuries: Recent injuries often necessitate a gentler approach to massage therapy, as the affected area is typically inflamed, and further manipulation could exacerbate the soreness.
  • Bruising: While some light bruising might be expected after certain types of massage, extensive or very dark bruising is not normal and could signal an unrelated issue.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Experiencing a loss of sensation or a persistent tingling sensation in the area that was massaged may also be a symptom of an unrelated medical condition.
  • Signs of Infection: Warmth, redness, swelling, or fever following a massage could indicate an infection, especially if there’s been any break in the skin.
  • Severe or Unusual Symptoms: Symptoms such as dizziness, difficulty breathing, or severe headaches after a massage are not typical and should be assessed by a doctor.


Through exploring the nuances of massage therapy, we’ve highlighted the importance of understanding different massage types, managing post-massage soreness, and the crucial role of communication with therapists. Acknowledging the causes of soreness and employing effective alleviation strategies enhances the massage experience. Open dialogue about pressure preferences ensures tailored therapy, optimizing benefits. Recognizing when to seek medical advice safeguards health. Embrace regular massage as a key component of holistic well-being, fostering physical recovery and mental tranquility.


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About Athlete’s Choice Massage

Athlete’s Choice Massage was created to provide consistently excellent rehabilitative services for health-conscious people. Our team is extremely well-trained and they take pride in their work. They are constantly striving to learn and better themselves in their respective fields so that they can help you recover and aid in the maintenance of your well-being.

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All appointments will begin with a short but in-depth one-on-one assessment. This is your opportunity to point out what area you’d like to work on during your time, as well as identify any special requests or concerns you may have. Should you have more than one area of concern, your therapist will prioritize the chief complaint and create a treatment plan for the time allotted and for follow-ups as needed.

Please note our 24 Hour Cancelation Policy.

With massage therapy being covered by many people’s extended health care benefits, it is now easier than ever to experience the positive effects of therapeutic massage.


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