Does Bodywork Need to Hurt to be Effective?

Ask a Therapist

By Cathy Ulrich

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2007.

Q“I’ve heard that bodywork hurts sometimes. Is this true? Does bodywork need to hurt to be effective?”

A. While some bodywork techniques can be intense at times, they don’t have to hurt to get the desired results, according to practitioner Cathy Ulrich of Fort Collins, Colorado. “In fact,” Ulrich says, “painful bodywork can be counterproductive. If you can’t breathe comfortably, want to tighten up, make a face, or curl your toes, the technique is too much. Your body will go into a protective mode and actually block any positive change.

“‘No pain, no gain’ just doesn’t have to apply when it comes to bodywork. I like to teach my clients how to give me feedback. I use a ‘scale of intensity.’ On my scale, zero is not touching you and ten is pain. My ten is not ten on the pain scale, not the worst pain you’ve ever felt. Ten on my scale is the place where you want to hold your breath, tighten up, make a face, leave your body. That’s a ten.

“I don’t ever have to be in a pain range to get results, and I want to know if we’re in an eight or nine range. I may stay at that level if that’s where I have to work to get the changes, but I’ll be watching you more closely.

“I find that I can get as deep as needed without ever causing pain. All I have to do is slow down. Sometimes, if clients are nervous or stressed, just reminding them to breathe will make their body more open, and they’ll remain comfortable.