Why does massage sometimes make your back and neck worse?


There are a number of reasons for this.  Something to keep in mind is that pain is our friend – it is telling us what not to do.  The type of massage that b2 Chalfont Clinic provides is deeper tissue, therapeutic style rather than spa style relaxation and that is what we are discussing here.

The main intention of massage is to relax muscles. This then allows various other processes to take place.  Blood flow, and therefore oxygen, is increased in the muscles; nerves are more able to send their messages, and joints have more mobility.  When a muscle is squeezed the body recognises that there is a change occurring.  The brain then decides what to do about this.  Sometimes it considers the change significant enough to send a healing response to the muscles in the form of inflammation. This is quite similar to DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after you have worked your muscles in the gym. The signs of inflammation are heat, redness, swelling, loss of function and pain.  The body needs short-term inflammation to repair itself.  It is chronic, or long-term, inflammation that causes problems.  The symptoms of inflammation are telling us that we should not now go and run a marathon or deadlift 200kg; we need to keep the effected area calm so that the healing can complete.  This sort of discomfort is likely to start approximately 6 hours after your massage and last for up to 3 days.

Another reason that we can be in more pain after a massage is because of splinting.  If there is a problem with a joint, a misalignment or a weakness, the muscles around that area become rigid and stiff in order to protect the area.  This causes discomfort and immobility. If that area is then relaxed through massage, the root of the issue becomes apparent, and pain is experienced at the source.  Although the body thinks it is protecting itself through inhibition, sometimes the layers of tissue need to be worked through in order for the whole issue to be discovered and addressed.

If a set of muscles have become accustomed to being in a certain posture, and then that posture is corrected/modified, through reduction of muscle tonicity, other muscles may then find themselves in a different position and may complain, via their communication method of sensation/pain.

There is a theory that the brain has a “Pain Gate”.  This gate will only let in the most important information otherwise the brain gets overwhelmed and cannot deal with the sensory overload.  The gate helps to triage the pain in the body, deciding which is likely to be more life threatening and instructs the body to deal to that first.  If you have a paper cut but you are on fire, the body wont let you know of the pain of paper cut until after the fire and associated injuries are dealt with.  So if you have 2 areas of dysfunction in the body and a massage helps to alleviate one of those problems the next in the queue will then alert the person to its existence.

So, it is common to feel some level of discomfort, for a variety of reasons, after a massage.  These are best treated with ice, anti-inflammatory gel, or in stronger cases, paracetamol.  If the symptoms do not subside or you have any concerns at all please call the clinic to discuss with your practitioner.

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