top of page

No Pain No Gain Bodywork

Updated: Jun 5

I love Chick-fil-a's branding and advertisements as much as I love their chicken, sweet tea, and waffle fries. Their ads and billboards always crack me up, and when I saw their 2017 'No pain No grain' calendar, I bought 20 of them as Christmas gifts. I thought it was brilliant marketing and a hilarious spin on the 'No pain, No gain' concept.

Deep Tissue in Durham

It seems that Benjamin Franklin originally coined the phrase 'No pain No gain, ' but Jane Fonda made it famous along with "Feel the burn" (Ha! Bernie followers put their spin on that!) in her aerobic videos.

'No pain, No gain' is the concept is that suffering is necessary to achieve something worthwhile. Today you hear the phrase often, referring to exercising/working out (seems to really resonate with you Crossfitters) and even with massage or Rolfing.

Pain is complicated...

A LOT more complicated than this blog post, or my mind can comprehend! It's not always straightforward, and even sometimes, pain can be entirely in the mind(which technically, it is). For some, it's a constant part of life. Women generally can tolerate it better than men. Sorry guys, but I guess that why we have the babies! But pain is different for every person. And to some, even mild discomfort can be translated as pain. Some people can't handle being a little uncomfortable. For them, you can throw the 'No pain, No gain' concept out the window!

Whatever your concept of or relationship to pain is, it's going to shape what your bodywork session may look like and how your therapist works with you.

So let's talk about the 'no pain, no gain' mentality during your massage or Rolfing session. When you can no longer take deep, controlled breaths, you're squirming to get away from the therapist's touch, your body tenses up(yeah, we can see your butt muscles tighten up, toes curl, or know when you're holding your breath), then you need to communicate with your therapist verbally. Even the best therapist can miss certain cues or fail to check in with their client. Please read our blog Communicating with your Massage Therapist.

Is the pressure too much? Are you anticipating pain before it happens? Is the therapist working too deep, too fast, or need to slow down? Sometimes it's not the depth or pressure so much as it is the pace or the intention. Establishing a rapport with your therapist will go a long way in helping you deal with deep work that's on the edge of being painful. Feedback is as much YOUR responsibility as it is the therapists!

"Rapport: a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well."

Synonyms: affinity, close relationship, understanding, mutual understanding, bond, empathy, sympathy, accord

This is where it gets sticky or controversial with some massage therapists and bodyworkers...

In my experience, I have learned when it's productive to work around the edges of discomfort and how to engage the client in working around the edge of their comfort zone. I remind the client that they are in control of their session at all times! Sometimes, only with the client's consent, I may cross over that barrier to addressing the source of pain. Some therapists think that there should never be any pain during a massage.

But there's such a thing as 'stored' pain in the body. Whether it's emotional or physical, we all hold 'stuff' that can manifest itself physically in our bodies. You don't have to be a psychologist, if you have any massage or bodywork experience and have touched enough bodies, to realize this.

During a session, I occasionally check-in with the client on pressure. Being small and petite can be deceiving to most new clients that have never received bodywork from me, and they can be in for quite a surprise when they get on my table. I can pack quite the punch, and I have this built-in 'find the source of pain' radar (my husband calls it an evil gene) in both my hands and my feet. My clients often jokingly say they can't believe they pay me to beat them up. I laugh and tell them to lower their voice so that they won't scare off the other clients.

The ability to go deep(through depth or intention) has never been an issue for me, even before I learned Ashiatsu. My work is neither subtle nor indirect. I'm very comfortable working with clients in pain and have helped many people work through some difficult issues.

I'm not afraid of a little pain, giving or receiving, as I have had some hard knocks along the way. Using my own experiences and confidence in what I do, goes a long way in helping clients deal with their chronic pain issues. And most of the time, they find relief on the other side of that brief moment of pain.

Is 'No Pain, No Gain' in bodywork for everyone?

No. Again, with some individuals, any slight discomfort can be translated as painful. For them, I recommend other types of indirect bodywork like cranial sacral. Nor is every massage therapist comfortable in approaching bodywork this way. Different strokes for different folks. ;) It truly is different for everyone. That's what I love about bodywork. Every day is an adventure, and I'm always learning.

So in some instances, the 'No pain, No gain' concept may come into play during a bodywork session, whether it's massage or Rolfing. Sometimes it's a matter of 'exposing' the stored pain versus 'imposing' pain on the client. To be successful, client consent, awareness, and participation are needed.


There are several options to schedule your appointment at Bull City Soles: you can schedule online (most convenient method), email or call 919-477-9887 Monday through Friday 9 am-2 pm when we have front desk staff available. Thanks for reading our wellness blog!


bottom of page