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.

15 Reasons to Make Massage Your New Year’s Resolution

Many people set health and wellness goals at the beginning of every year, but lack the motivation to turn those goals into steady, healthy habits. This year, you might try committing to a steady dose of massage therapy treatment sessions. As you go through your regular massage therapy sessions, you will likely notice a wide variety of positive effects, which may include increases in your general level of health and wellness, pain relief and recovery, emotional balance, better sleep, and improved digestion.

Massage therapy can also positively affect your other health and wellness goals. When you get the mind/body benefits of massage on a regular basis, you’re more likely to have the energy you need to tackle even your most daunting resolutions. Imagine yourself feeling great on your way to the gym, enjoying better relationships, and putting a positive spin on your finances.

Why Is Massage the Perfect New Year’s Resolution?

  1. Let go of stress – Massage therapy can reduce your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that suppresses your immune, digestive, reproductive, and cellular growth systems.
  2. Reduce anxiety – Researchers have found massage therapy can soothe anxiety in people of all ages—from healthy adults to children with medical illnesses to hospice patients. Whether your anxiety stems from work, play, trauma, injury, pregnancy, or something else entirely, your massage therapist can help reduce your symptoms.
  3. Manage chronic illness – Many doctors recommend massage therapy as a complementary treatment for chronic illnesses. For example, one study observed the positive effects of massage therapy on a person with Parkinson’s. The effects included a reduction in resting tremors, a common symptom of the condition.
  4. Relieve pain – Research has shown massage therapy provides pain relief for people with many conditions, diseases, and injuries. In one study, a research team found massage therapy reduced pain in acute care patients, helped them regain their emotional balance, and promoted healing.
  5. Reduce the need for medication – Massage therapy can help people avoid or reduce using pain medication. For example, a team of researchers studied patients at a Portland methadone clinic. The patients received an hour of Swedish massage once a week. Study participants who received massage therapy experienced a significant reduction in pain, as compared to those who received only standard treatments.
  6. Soothe nausea – For those who experience frequent bouts of nausea, massage therapy can help soothe an upset stomach. One study found cancer patients who received Swedish massage before and after chemotherapy experienced a substantial reduction in nausea and vomiting.
  7. Sleep better – Research shows people who receive regular massage therapy treatments can enjoy more restful nights and energetic days. For example, researchers from one study observed improved sleep patterns and better quality of life in post-menopausal women with insomnia.
  8. Increase your energy – If you have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or just need a boost in your day, consider massage therapy. A team of researchers found CFS patients benefited greatly from massage therapy, as compared to those who received other complementary treatments.
  9. Relieve depression – A team at the University of Miami School of Medicine studied a group of pregnant women with depression who received massage therapy in addition to standard treatments. These women experienced substantial mood increases, felt less pain, and gave birth to healthier babies.
  10. Improve digestion – Massage therapy has been shown to encourage healthy digestion. In one study, researchers found premature infants who received massage treatments had better digestion, gained weight faster, and showed better insulin levels than those who only underwent standard treatments.
  11. Soothe headaches – You can use massage therapy to get relief from many kinds of headaches, even chronic ones. Research from one study found massage therapy provided effective non-pharmaceutical relief from migraine headaches. Participants in this study reported fewer headaches and better sleep. The researchers noted improvements in these patients’ anxiety levels, heart rates, and cortisol levels.
  12. Recover easily – Many physicians recommend massage therapy for patients recovering from injury and surgery. For example, a group of Mayo Clinic researchers found massage therapy reduced pain in thoracic surgery patients, increased their mobility, and helped them breathe easier.
  13. Manage sports injuries – Athletes can benefit greatly from massage therapy—especially sports massage—for pain and soft tissue damage. An Ohio State University research team found massage therapy provided relief after the repetitive muscle contractions associated with exercise.
  14. Stimulate your immune system – Massage therapy can boost white blood cells and the “killer cells” that keep the body free of infection, even for those who have an immune-suppressing illness such as cancer.
  15. Lower blood pressure – Massage provides safe, non-pharmaceutical relief from many health conditions. One researcher studied a group of 50 women with moderately high blood pressure. Study participants who received Swedish massage treatments three times a week had significantly lower blood pressure than others.

In addition to these 15 benefits, massage therapy can help with other aspects of health and wellness, such as regulating heartbeat, improving memory, and managing obesity. Due to its healing and pain-reducing effects, doctors often recommend massage to people with heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and cancer. Massage therapy also works as a complementary therapy to medical treatments due to its low rate of negative side effects.

However, massage therapy isn’t for everyone. If you’re curious about using massage therapy to treat the symptoms of a medical condition, check with your physician first. Certain patients, especially those with deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) and certain skin ailments, should avoid massage therapy until their conditions improve.

Whatever your motivation for seeking massage therapy—physical health, pain relief, emotional balance, or pure enjoyment—you might consider regular appointments as a way to start your new year off on the right foot.


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  5. Casciaro, Y. (2016). Massage therapy treatment and outcomes for a patient with Parkinson’s disease: a case report. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 9(1), 11-18.
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  8. Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2004). Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, 25(2), 115-22.
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  11. Lawler, S. & Cameron, L. (2006). A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 50-9.
  12. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
  13. Mazlum, S., Chaharsoughi, Banihashem, N., & Vashani, H. (2013). The effect of massage therapy on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in pediatric cancer. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 18(4), 280-284.
  14. Quinn, C., Chandler, C., & Moraska, A. (2002). Massage therapy and frequency of chronic tension headaches. American Journal of Public Health, 92(10), 1657-1661.
  15. Wiest, K., Asphaug, V., Carr, K., Gowen, E., & Hartnett, T. (2015). Massage impact on pain in opioid-dependent patients in substance use treatment. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 8(1), 12-24.