Why Am I Sore After a Massage?

Feeling sore after a massage? This could be normal but could also be cause for concern. Learn how to recognize any issues and address and prevent soreness here.

Massage, we know, is far more likely to reduce muscle soreness and tension than create it. But maybe you recently switched massage providers. Maybe you requested a particularly deep treatment. Maybe you were looking for a specific type of therapy after intense physical exercise. Later that day or the next morning, you realize … everything hurts.

Generally speaking, receiving massage therapy is unlikely to make you sore. There are few types of treatments designed to work deeply enough that muscles need to recuperate afterward. Still, there are some reasons massage could leave you sore, and you can do several things to guard against this experience in the future.

You’re an Athlete

Extremely active people may request different types of massage or bodywork that specifically support what they do. Sports massage and other services like ice baths are designed to increase circulation, accelerate healing, guard against stiffness, and more. Because intense exercise and athletics can be extraordinarily physically demanding, the maintenance and care that keep the body in top condition can also be demanding.

Sports massage therapists are more likely to use deeper pressure, especially on areas of high exertion. Massage also flushes out metabolic waste products generated during exercise, and these can irritate tissues. The body continues to process these toxins after massage, and this often registers as soreness. However, this is a completely healthy response to sports massage. In fact, it indicates the body is receiving the treatment well.

You Overestimated Your Tolerance

People new to massage and people seeing a new bodywork provider are more likely to misjudge their limit and less likely to speak up if they are uncomfortable. Whether they assume most massage will be feather-light and skin-deep, or whether they incorrectly believe massage treatment must be painful to be effective, many people insist they “like a lot of pressure” or want the therapist to “dig in.”

Neither of these requests, if they are truly your preference, is wrong or inappropriate. It’s helpful for massage therapists to have some idea of what clients are expecting from treatment and how to proceed. But if you realize you’re feeling more aches and pains after a massage as you were before the session, this may indicate the treatment was beyond your tolerance.

The Therapist Overestimated Your Tolerance

Bodywork professionals are trained to “read” tissues, paying special attention to resistance in the muscles and fascia and easing up when they feel tension. Usually, a massage therapist will work up to the allowance of your body, but not beyond. But if the therapist does not feel resistance, does not adjust accordingly, or works deeper before your body is open to it, tissues may sustain microtrauma that can result in later soreness.

Massage therapists generally are not interested in pushing limits, seeing how much clients can take, or in any way making treatment challenging. If the professional you see continues to misjudge your tolerance or push beyond a level you’re comfortable with, make sure they are aware of your unease, and consider finding a new therapist if soreness persists after your sessions.

You Forgot to Stretch Afterward

It’s not yet common knowledge that stretching after massage is a good practice, and massage therapists may not even recommend it after most treatments. While stretching is unlikely to completely guard against soreness after deep massage, it can go a long way toward retaining the effects of relaxation from your treatment. See our guide for simple stretches after massage to get you started.

What You Can Do About It

First, avoid the notions a good massage is meant to be painful or a massage should be deep to be effective. Even when massage doesn’t feel particularly forceful, the therapist may be working deeper than you think. Remember, the more relaxed you are, the less extreme a massage will feel.

Some people do prefer a treatment with deeper pressure or enjoy that “sweet spot” between pain and pleasure in a treatment. If this describes you, feel free to tell your massage therapist and continue to communicate throughout the treatment. Monitor any tension in your own body while breathing deeply; breathwork helps soften the tissues, allowing healing to take effect. Use an ice pack on specific areas of soreness later on.

Always check in during the session about your desired amount of pressure. You will not be judged on the type of pressure you want or enjoy; every body handles bodywork differently! If you do continue to experience soreness with a particular massage provider, that person’s services may simply be incompatible with your needs. Consider finding another therapist and experiencing something new.


  1. Moraska, A. (2005). Sports massage: A comprehensive review. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 45(3), 370.

5 Tips for Reducing Burnout in Massage Therapy

Caregiver burnout can result from job stress and can impact both physical and mental health and potentially your massage practice. These tips can help!

Burnout, an issue generally stemming from job-related stress, especially affects massage therapists and people in other health care professions. It is not something to ignore or let pass, as it can be accompanied by serious mental health issues like depression, isolation, and trauma. There’s no need to make drastic changes, but by shifting your focus at times and listening to your emotional and mental state, you can achieve more life balance and reduce the daily burnout you feel.

Aim for More Balance

Work-life balance means different things to different people–some might balance out their business by spending more time with a partner and children, while others might introduce a new hobby or learn a new skill to feel more balanced. One 2003 study, for example, demonstrated positive improvement in caregivers who began making music recreationally.

If you’ve been working nonstop, even a short vacation could create more harmony between your career and your personal life. When a vacation simply isn’t feasible, reconsider the hours you’re putting in at work. Evaluate whether they’re serving you well as a practitioner but also as a human who needs time to rest and recharge. If more and more evenings or weekends have become occupied with work, it might be time to reprioritize.

Boost Your Self-Care

Studies show health care workers are notorious for neglecting self-care. If your practice feels particularly rushed or hectic, you might benefit from allocating more time for your own care and well-being. Treating yourself to a spa day might not always be realistic, but simple activities like staying hydrated, stretching, taking short walks, or journaling, however briefly, can effectively help ease burnout.

Mindfulness activities have particularly positive effects on burnout and are a sustainable way of preventing burnout and incorporating a self-care routine. Meditation, mindful movement, and walking meditation do not require any props or extra preparation. What’s more, they can be done anywhere. If you’re new to meditation, try downloading a free app to facilitate the process.

Try New Things

An immense field, bodywork offers numerous professional opportunities that only require a few continuing education hours or workshops. If your practice starts to feel less fulfilling, consider looking into an adjunct endeavor.

After years of practicing Swedish massage, for example, you might be interested in incorporating a therapeutic rock treatment. Or perhaps circumstances in your personal life are drawing you toward mindfulness-based approaches or energy work, such as Jin Shin Do and reiki. If your office setting allows for it, you might consider purchasing a spa tub and offering some types of hydrotherapy.

Acquiring new skills can breathe new life into your massage therapy practice, attract and help you retain clients, and introduce you to different bodywork modalities. Your new approach might allow you to be more creative and attentive to your own needs, and you can feel good about having taken the time for discovery and self-improvement.

Switch Up Your Marketing Strategy

By marketing differently you can reach new audiences, learn new skills, and boost your practice in a way that fits you better. Advertise your services in a local gym, for instance, and brush up on what you know about sports massage to attract a new type of clientele. Alternatively, connect with your local hospice organization to offer your services. Even if your involvement is strictly voluntary, you might make connections that result in more clients.

You might also consider branching out in marketing through new types of social media. While unlikely to become your go-to strategy, image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest create a unique branding opportunity. Invest a bit of time into researching these avenues, following bodywork and health accounts, and posting some images of your office space, for starters.

Seek Your Own Therapy

Massage therapists are always advised to receive massage regularly, both to experience others’ techniques and for the same benefits their clients receive: lowered stress and anxiety, reduced muscle tension and fatigue, and increased serotonin and dopamine levels (to help counteract depression). Of all people, massage therapists know the many ways bodywork can improve multiple aspects of life, and they are uniquely positioned to receive various types of bodywork because of professional connections.

If you’re experiencing burnout in your business, emotional state, physical well-being, or mental health, you can begin addressing these areas by receiving massage treatment. In many cases, caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue should also be regarded as a serious issue worth addressing with a mental health professional.

Avoid the temptation to immediately dismiss burnout as a phase you will naturally work through. Though this may be the case, feelings associated with burnout may also be deeply seated in grief, trauma, or depression. Either way, consulting with a psychotherapist can help you identify the roots of those emotions and a path for moving forward.

Health care providers are particularly susceptible to caregiver burnout because of the extraordinary amount of time and attention they put into meeting others’ needs and a tendency to neglect their own. But burnout is not a death sentence for your career or livelihood. Once you pay attention to the exhaustion you are feeling, you can address it and begin moving past it.

Inside Out: What Emotional Trauma Does to the Body

The body can be impacted greatly by emotional trauma, and vice versa. Learn how the effects of PTSD can be counteracted for mind-body wellness.

A good bodywork practitioner knows that health issues and pain are not just physical and mental health issues are not just psychological. For optimal health, the body and brain work in tandem to function properly and keep each other running smoothly. When we come into contact with something that endangers either side of that process, all systems are affected and must be treated to re-establish total body and mind wellness. For effective treatment, it helps to understand what happens in both body and mind when a traumatic incident occurs.

Enduring the Fight-or-Flight Response

When we’re met with a stressor–anything we perceive as a threat–our brains must choose to fight or flight? Sometimes we make this decision and move on so instantaneously we’re hardly able to register something was a threat. Other times this conundrum, known as the alarm phase, is so sustained the body has to make adjustments to accommodate it.

In this survival mode, the brain signals the body to use all energy and resources to resist the threat. Heart rate increases, cells use more energy, and there are changes in circulation. If this process lasts longer than a few hours and the threat is still present, the body can begin to shut down all reserves in order to protect itself.

The alarm phase of stress response teaches the brain to recognize and overcome similar threats in the future. But during a particularly stressful event—one categorized as trauma in the brain that could lead to posttraumatic stress—the brain might get stuck, logging its extreme trauma response as a default rather than one to file away. Next time it is presented with a threat, even if the threat is relatively harmless, the brain might use the same response. This is one possible indication of posttraumatic stress (PTSD).

Survival mode is not meant to be the body’s standard response, however. Such a reaction takes a toll on the nervous system and can lead to subsequent health issues. There is also evidence the brain may be damaged during these periods of intense stress response.

When Stress Becomes Trauma

In extreme circumstances, when a stressor lingers, is physically harmful, or causes an intense emotional reaction, the brain and body are likely to register it as trauma. After such an incident, one may experience posttraumatic stress, which can manifest in many ways:

  • Sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Depression
  • Mood issues, irritability, or anger problems
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Anxiety

Though these effects are considered largely psychological, each can have physical consequences. This means that while you may have addressed an issue like whiplash after a car accident by seeing a chiropractor and massage therapist, ensuing depression may disturb digestion and contribute to health problems.

The Physical Toll of Untreated Trauma

Some mental health aspects of PTSD affect the body in more abstract ways, while others have a more direct correlation with physical health. For example, when PTSD leads to altered eating habits, including binge eating or skipping meals, physical ailments can range from fatigue and malnutrition to cardiac issues.

Depression, which can occur on its own or as an aspect of posttraumatic stress, may manifest in feelings of loneliness or a tendency toward isolation. An individual with depression may find it difficult or impossible to leave the house or interact with strangers. As a result, they might not be motivated to seek health care, potentially prolonging illness.

Compromised mental health has been linked to general aches and malaise, acute pain, inflammatory issues, and more. When psychological issues are present, the immune system is more likely to fail, increasing the possibility of illness. If the source of trauma caused substantial physical injury, the body may be slow to heal or prone to infection if PTSD symptoms are complicating the recovery process.

Approaching the Treatment of PTSD

The far-reaching effects of mental health issues related to PTSD have helped psychotherapists and bodywork professionals alike understand more about the ways one can heal after trauma. More comprehensive treatment methods are being developed to help manage all aspects of PTSD.

The days of thinking about stress, anxiety, trauma, depression, and other mental health issues only as psychiatric diagnoses have passed. After all, we know the brain controls everything about how we function–whether it’s picking up a fork, catching a ball, or fleeing from a potential threat. When something happens to disrupt this healthy brain activity, the psychological damage has the potential to adversely affect not only thoughts and mental state, but also physical health.

The more we learn about the physical nature of PTSD and trauma symptoms, the sooner we can continue to promote whole-body, person-centered healing techniques that address issues beyond the psychological.

The more we learn about the physical nature of PTSD and trauma symptoms, the sooner we can continue to promote whole-body, person-centered healing techniques that address issues beyond the psychological. Massage therapy has been shown to decrease stress and release feel-good chemicals like serotonin and cortisol, counteracting the adverse effects of almost any mental health issue. Massage and bodywork are not meant to replace psychotherapy, but they can be effective complementary therapies. If you are experiencing PTSD or related mental health issues, consider seeking bodywork in addition to ongoing psychotherapeutic care.


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The Benefits of Massage Therapy for High-Stress Professions

Massage therapy, widely recognized as an effective treatment for injuries and pain, is also known to lead to improved relaxation and greater overall well-being. But massage can be applied broadly, and its benefits are not only physical. Research shows massage therapy can positively impact mental health in a number of ways.

One way massage can have a beneficial influence on emotional well-being is by helping to reduce the effects of stress. Workplace stress is one challenge most individuals cope with from time to time. While massage therapy can be helpful regardless of occupation or the type of stress experienced, some individuals, especially those in high-stress professions, may experience more stress than others.

Scientific research supports the effectiveness of massage therapy for people in the following five high-stress occupations, though its benefits are not limited to professionals in these areas.

Massage Therapy for Athletes

A primary goal of massage therapy is the treatment of muscle strain, injury, and general soreness, and massage is widely utilized by athletes as both treatment and preventative care.

One study examining the effects of massage on muscle function found massage therapy to be effective at reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness without negatively affecting muscle performance. These researchers found massage to also help reduce swelling, especially 3-4 days after exercise.

Another study found that massage treatments, when they were administered immediately after exercise, showed greater promise for restoring muscle function and lowering inflammation levels than when the massage treatments were delayed.

Massage Therapy for Models

Many fashion models and other performers get regular massage therapy sessions to soothe the stress of their profession. Stress and poor sleep can accelerate the appearance of aging, and models might often seek alternative treatments, such as massage, to help maintain emotional and physical well-being.

One research team tested massage therapy’s anti-aging effect on skin tissues, both inside and outside of the body. Ex vivo (out-of-body) skin tissues responded positively to massage treatments from a mechanical device. Researchers noted increases in essential anti-aging compounds like procollagen-1 and tropoelastin. After the ex vivo testing, researchers further examined the effects experienced by a group of 20 women who received facial massage from a mechanical device. These results were also positive.

Massage Therapy for Office Workers

People who work long hours in office environments might often have poor posture, which can put strain the musculoskeletal structure of the neck, shoulder, and back. Many of us sit down for more than half our waking hours, and this prolonged sitting can shut down nerve impulses in our legs. Sitting also turns off digestive enzymes and lowers the rate at which energy is used. A massage lasting even 20 minutes can get digestion moving again while also flushing out the legs.

One study, which focused on a group of 38 office workers who received manual therapy for shoulder pain, highlighted the ability of healing touch to reduce pain, activate neural structures, lengthen tissues, and increase range of motion.

Another study, this one following 34 female office workers, found that scalp massage reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones. Study participants who received 15- or 25-minute massage therapy sessions showed significant improvements in their levels of cortisol and norepinephrine levels (hormones related to the fight-or-flight response).

Massage Therapy for Nurses

A study following 66 intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, who are some of the most stressed workers in health care environments, found massage therapy produced a significant reduction in the occupational stress they experienced. Further, massage therapy led to improved emotional well-being and quality of life in study participants.

Further research showed that massage therapy for nurses did not only lead to improvements in their own health, it also had a positive impact on their ability to provide care to patients.

Tiffany Field, director of the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute, led a research team that studied the effects of massage therapy on health care professionals. According to Dr. Field, a 10-minute chair massage study with medical faculty and staff found altered brain waves in the direction of heightened relaxation and improved performance on math computations. The professionals made half the errors at twice the speed.

If massage therapy has such a profound effect on error reduction and productivity, it may be a self-care practice worth offering to all health care professionals.

Massage Therapy for Firefighters and First Responders 

Firefighters, like nurses, often work long shifts (such as 24 hours on and 48 hours off). One researcher conducting a study for the Ohio Fire Executive Program at the Forest Park Fire Department in Ohio found firefighters enjoyed reduced stress and increased well-being after receiving massage therapy treatments.

First responders who work with injured or deceased people often experience posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), and some show signs of full-blown posttraumatic stress (PTSD). In the months after Norway’s two 2011 terror attacks, for example, first responders such as firefighters, police officers, and EMTs reported on their experiences and any PTSD symptoms they experienced. Over 5% of respondents found their work “extremely strainful,” and 1-2% showed signs of PTSD.

A research group at Boston’s Pathways to Complementary Medicine studied 47 first responders treated by massage therapists (including shiatsu, tui-na, and acupressure practitioners) and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers after 9/11. They pointed out the benefits of these alternative practices, when combined with standard stress treatments such as therapy or counseling, and the increasing demand for CAM services and advocated for rapid deployment of CAM professionals to treat first responders.

Does Massage Therapy Help Professionals?

Massage therapy can be of significant benefit to any professional. People from all walks of life, regardless of occupation, need stress relief. Current research shows professionals in high-performance, competitive, and traumatic workplaces may see even more positive results from massage therapy. No matter a person’s profession, massage therapy can be helpful, whether a person utilizes it regularly for physical health, relaxation, emotional well-being, or preventative care.


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