Why I don't believe in a Hard & Fast style of massage

Many people, therapists included, believe that massage needs to be painful in order to be effective. Several clients claim that they have a "high pain threshold" so not to worry if they squirm on the table or start squealing. This "jerk" or "guarding" response is your body trying to protect you and is likely that the work is causing further trauma (not necessarily on a cellular level but certainly your psychological association) to already dysfunctional muscle tissues, leading to more discomfort and stress - and not just for you, so many MTs end up with wrist or back injuries themselves in trying to live up to this expectation. For some MTs it can be a source of pride in being known as someone who can cause pain, and indeed for clients who can take a lot of pain. I had an experience with one client who described they had to psych themselves up for a "beating" with their Chinese Massage Therapist - If the primary objective of a massage is to reduce pain then causing more pain to you, and potentially injury to myself, is surely madness and neither of us will have a positive experience.

Intense, but not painful

Many clients comment that deep pressure on tense muscles "hurts so good." It seems that the "good" pain people crave occurs during the release of chronic muscle tension; whereas the pain people (should) avoid is inflicted by insensitive technique and/or going too fast. We are able to distinguish between different types of sensations such as sharp, dull & achy, tingling, throbbing, etc. when pressure is applied to the muscles through our interoceptive awareness - feedback from our body about its physiological condition. When a client insists on a painful massage I believe that they are not able to (desensitisation from only having painful massages) or are unwilling to (psychosocial factors coming in to play here) pay attention to this internal feedback. Deep pressure into the belly of a tender muscle needs to be slow enough to give clients time to process what's happening with the tissues allowing them to feel more in control, and better able to give honest feedback should I come across an area that needs a little more TLC. Creating a safe space where clients can flag up anything that is uncomfortable or causes more pain is key to building trust and achieving lasting results.

A creative combination of techniques

I have found that different clients respond better to a variation of techniques allowing me to refine my work with each session and apply my knowledge according to individual needs - In my experience many clients book a particular “type” of massage based on preconceptions of how much it will hurt, without too much knowledge of why certain techniques are more/less appropriate in certain situations, and rightly so that’s what I’ve trained for! (Although I very much enjoy sharing my process with clients who ask)
To use an old analogy you wouldn’t take your broken down car to a mechanic and start telling them which methods to use to fix it, they would draw upon their skills and training to identify the problem and get your car back to full functionality asap. Using a combination of Eastern & Western techniques that really target the client's pain is not only more efficient but also client-centred in a way that puts them back in control over their long-term health & well-being.