My (Simple) Secret To Better Pain-Relief Massage

I love doing pain-relief massage. It’s rewarding both emotionally and financially. However, along the way I’ve taken my lumps (aggravated pain conditions, lost potential clients).

If you’re new to pain-relief massage, I hope I can help you avoid some lumps by offering this one piece of simple advice: Find the client’s pain areas before she gets on the table.

That’s It?!

I told you that it was simple. But I promise, it’s powerful. First, I’ll explain how I do it.

During the intake, I talk to my client about her pain areas. Then I ask her if I can palpate those areas right then and there (before she gets on the table). It’s at this point, I find the exact locations of the pain areas. I make a mental note and often write pain location information in my therapy notes before I start the massage. Now I’m ready to go.

Winning Hearts

This simple act of locating the pain spots with your hands before a client gets on the table is therapeutically huge. By finding the pain spots, you’re showing your client that you’ve listened to her. You’re also acknowledging her pain. And you’re putting her mind at ease.

Now think about a time when you went to the doctor for a pain issue. Did you feel at ease? Probably not. In fact, you may have felt stressed out.

One reason why you may have felt stressed out is because in the US medical system, pain is primarily viewed as a function of tissue damage. The psychological component of pain is ignored, resulting in the patient feeling alienated and stressed. (I explain this biomedical view to doing medicine in greater detail in 4 Lesson On Chronic Pain–Notes From a Mountain Guide.)

Another way to say it is: The MRI and X-ray are the appropriate tools to help figure out pain issues. Our hands are the appropriate tools to reduce treatment-related stress.

Gaining the Client’s Confidence

Going to the pain spots before the massage starts is proactive. It moves the therapy session in a positive direction and instills confidence in your client that you’re the person to get the job done.

When I first started doing pain relief massage, I wouldn’t look for the pain spots until my client was on the table. To this day, I cringe, thinking about my fumbling fingers as I waited for my client to give me a clue like, Ouch!

Finding the Therapeutic Pressure

Palpating a pain spot before the client gets on the table is the perfect time to experiment with how much pressure you want to apply to the pain spot. At this time, it’s okay if you accidentally press too hard and the client winces. At least now you’ll know the pressure parameters to work within when you start the massage. Pre-massage palpation can also help you rule out areas that are inflamed and shouldn’t be massaged.

Helps You Remember

Often times a client has more than one pain area. During a heavy night of massages, my memory can get foggy. I’ve found that when I go through my pre-massage palpation protocol, pain spots stick in my memory—and I don’t find myself in the embarrassing situation of missing a pain area I should have worked.

Where’d the Pain Spots Go?

Sometimes during a massage, a pain spot doesn’t jump out at me even though I’ve found it before the client got on the table.

Here’s how I find the “lost” pain spot every time: I create contrast.

First, put your fingers or thumbs around the area where you think the pain spot is. Press down and move back and forth over that area. If you don’t feel anything, press deeper and make your back-and-forth stroke longer and faster. If you’re still having trouble, close your eyes so that your focus is in your fingers.

Quick Steps for Finding Pain Spots

Here are my quick steps for finding the pain spots pre-massage: During the intake, (1) ask the client if you can palpate his pain spots, (2) then locate pain spots on the client, (3) test out pressure, and lastly, (4) recall and write down where the pain areas are.

My Stress Is Gone!

Not only was my client’s stress reduced when I started finding his pain spots during the intake, mine was, too!

For one, pre-massage palpation made finding the pain spots during the massage easy. Also, I now had more useful information to use during the massage (e.g., how much pressure should I use, which muscles might be involved).

Like I said, it’s a simple thing. But the therapeutic bang is big. Make it part of your intake and you’ll instantly see the benefit.

If you get stuck and need some help or have a pain-relief massage secret you’d like to share, let me know. You can leave a comment here or email me at

We got this!

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