Why is massage painful

Classic and Asian forms of massage

"Massage" is derived from the Greek word for "knead". Massages can aim to relax and increase wellbeing. Often they are also used to alleviate symptoms. Such therapeutic massages are intended to loosen the muscles, relieve pain, reduce stress, improve the metabolism and influence the nervous system or certain organs. It treats, for example, musculoskeletal disorders, neurological diseases, rheumatism and often stress-related complaints such as headaches and sleep disorders. Therapeutic massages can also be painful at times, especially when pressure is applied to hardened areas. The skin, the subcutaneous connective tissue or the muscles are usually massaged.

The different types of massage differ in the hand movements and in which areas of the body are massaged. The pressure exerted and whether one works with the hand, the fingertips or with aids is also different. The individual forms are also based on different assumptions about how diseases arise and how the body functions. In Chinese medicine, for example, there is the idea that massage improves the flow of energy in the body.

In the meantime, not only a variety of massage forms is offered, but also various massage aids: from oils to massage rollers to electric massage chairs. The following description of the most common massages explains the different techniques without going into their benefits for treating ailments and diseases.

Classic forms of massage

Classic (Swedish) massage

In Europe, a “classic” massage is the so-called Swedish massage, which was developed in Stockholm around 1800. With a classic massage, the affected skin regions and the muscles below are massaged directly by hand. Five different movements are used: brushing the skin, kneading, rubbing, tapping and vibrating.

The classic massage assumes that pain is often triggered by muscle tension and hardening, which disrupts blood circulation and irritates the nerves. The massage is intended to loosen the muscles, promote blood circulation and thus alleviate pain.

Manipulative massage

In the manipulation massage, ligaments, tendons and muscles are treated with massage handles and stretched and moved at the same time. This is said to improve range of motion and relieve pain. The transitions between a manipulative massage and a manual treatment are fluid.

Mobilizing massage

In this form, in addition to massaging the muscles, the joints or the spine are moved. The mobilizing massage also aims to improve mobility and moves in the border area between massage and. It is also used to loosen muscles and treat misalignments.

Connective tissue massage (fascia massage)

The connective tissue connects body structures such as organs, muscles and nerves with one another. By massaging the connective tissue (the fascia), hardening in the tissue is to be loosened, but organs located further away are also to be positively influenced and diseases are thus treated.

Deep tissue massage

The deep muscle and tissue layers in particular are massaged here. With the fingers, strong pressure is exerted on the muscle strands and the tendons, which is supposed to relieve tension in the body. The stronger the pressure, the more likely it is that such a massage can be painful.

Trigger point massage

With trigger point massage, pain-triggering points (trigger points) are specifically treated by applying pressure. These points are hypersensitive, hardened muscle fibers that the treatment is intended to loosen up.

Periosteal massage

The “periosteum” is the “periosteum” - a thin layer of tissue that covers all bones. There are numerous nerves and blood vessels in it. A massage that puts pressure on this periosteum is said to relieve certain forms of pain.

Chinese medicine massages

Acupressure and similar forms of massage

With acupressure, gentle to stronger pressure is exerted on certain points of the body by rotating the fingertips. Acupressure comes from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is based on the idea that energy channels (meridians) run through the body in which life energy (the chi) flows. By massaging certain points on these paths, the life energy should be influenced.

The "acupuncture massage" has a similar approach to acupressure. In this form, points on the meridians are stimulated with metal rods. Even if the term acupuncture massage suggests otherwise, no needles are set in this type of massage.


During this treatment, gentle pressure is applied to the soles of the feet and toes. The assumption is that different points on the foot are connected to certain organs via so-called "reflex pathways" (not to be confused with the nerve pathways), through which the massage should have a healing effect.

Vacuum or suction bell massage

In the case of a vacuum massage, a vacuum pump, to which one is connected, is used to generate a negative pressure. This is placed on the skin, which is drawn into the bell by the negative pressure and massaged in this way. If larger areas are to be massaged, it is moved.

Other Asian massages

Thai massage

During a Thai massage, the masseuse pulls hard on the limbs, which are then stretched and stretched. In addition, strong, rhythmic pressure is exerted on the body - with hands, elbows, knees or feet. According to the traditional idea, energy lines run in the body that connect body parts and organs and the manipulation of which is intended to alleviate diseases. From a modern medical point of view, Thai massage affects the muscles, bones and blood circulation.


Shiatsu is a Japanese form of trigger point massage (see above).

Ayurvedic massage

Ayurveda is a traditional Indian healing art. During the Ayurveda massage, the body is gently massaged with herbal oils and rhythmic stroking movements. According to Ayurvedic belief, this should have a cleansing and relaxing effect.