From time to time clients will come in and say something like "go ahead and beat me up" or "you can go really deep on me. I don't mind if it hurts." Personal pain tolerances aside, the frequency of this request brings up a really good question: "Does massage have to hurt to be effective?" Therapeutic massage can be uncomfortable and yes, sometimes painful when working on recent or chronic injuries, but the pain should not be a result of a massage therapist digging an elbow into you and ironing you out like a sheet. Therapeutic discomfort is something to be worked with cautiously and within limits. For example, working within a client's pain tolerance using a pain scale of 1-10, a well-trained therapist will work within a range of 5-8 and only for a limited amount of time.
The body and mind work as one, with the body being a reflection of the mind and mental state. When the mind can relax, the body will follow. That is why I blend both therapeutic and relaxation work into all of my massage sessions, along with hydrotherapy and aromatherapy as appropriate to assist in this process.
If you are seeking massage for muscular tension or chronic injuries, look for a therapist who is able to work with you using a variety of techniques and whose goal is more than just giving a deep massage. Do they check in regularly with you regarding your pain level when doing therapeutic work? Are they able to develop and discuss a treatment plan with you if you plan on coming in for a specific injury or problem? And most importantly, what does your body tell you? Do you feel better for a few days after your massage or does your condition seem worse?
When it comes to massage therapy, tuning in to your own body and feeling its response to particular techniques or a particular therapist is a much better indicator of effectiveness than the how much pain a therapist can inflict during a session.