“Productive Discomfort”

I talk quite a bit about how my massage techniques are gentle and how my treatment room is a “pain-free environment.” But there’s a phenomenon that comes up in many sessions that I like to call “productive discomfort.” It’s fun to say those words during a session, and then watch clients’ eyes light up and hear them say, “Yes! That’s what I’m feeling right now!” Because it’s not always easy to put into words.

We’re talking about that “hurts so good” feeling that can happen when you’re on the massage table and my hands are concentrated on a certain “cranky” spot. Maybe it’s an area where some muscle fibers within a muscle are involuntarily over-contracted and tender or radiating when I apply some pressure (some people call these “trigger points”). Perhaps it’s a spot along a scar or in an area where there’s some radiation fibrosis and it feels like a burning or an ache that makes you really take notice at first but then it starts to dissipate. You feel something, it’s kinda uncomfortable, and technically yeah, from a neural perspective, it most certainly qualifies as pain.

“You said it was pain-free, dangit!”

I did. But the key distinction is that your body and mind are saying, “Okay, this feels uncomfortable, but it’s completely bearable AND I want you to keep going! It feels like something productive is happening here.” There’s a big difference between productive discomfort and “Lady, get off of that spot now!”

And there’s a difference between productive discomfort and a level of pain that you feel you have to “grit your teeth and get through” to get to an end result. There is no gripping-the-table-and-sweating/no-pain-no-gain going on in my sessions. Nope. If something feels painful to that point, guess what? This lady is getting off of that spot and moving elsewhere or backing waaaayyy out on the pressure.

So if you’re in a session with me and you’re experiencing that “productive discomfort,” we’ll talk about it! We can nerd out and talk about what might be happening with the softening of the fascia under the skin or with the signals between the nervous system and the tissue fibers. We can talk about what you’re feeling from your perspective and what I might be palpating under my hands from mine.

Productive discomfort should feel weirdly good, not like something you have to endure, because the intent is that positive changes are taking place. And as gentle, purposeful touch proves time and again, positive changes don’t have to hurt to be powerful.