No Pain, No Gain.... I call BS.
I can't tell you how many people come in and say they want deep tissue massage, but they don't want to be in pain the whole time.
This saying is amazing for working out. You have to push your muscles to build them and increase endurance. But this isn't the goal when receiving massage.
Are there massages that do cause pain? Yes, but those massages are a very specific modality with very specific goals for the session (yes, I do these sessions as well). But for the general, full body massage you should not be in more pain leaving the massage room.
Let me explain, physiologically.
Pain. Pain is a typically a response to something negative or bad happening to the body and to prevent further damage to an area, the body tries to protect it. This process is called guarding. When you guard, you create a pattern within your posture and your proprioception (how you feel yourself in space, what you think is normal) alters to that pattern. Then strain and stress that is not normal to the body creates more pain, then creates more guarding, and so on. Then you have the downward spiral.
So, if you are getting a massage so painful that you are cringing from the pain, that is too much. Tell your therapist to back off.
For Full Body Massage, even the deeper pressure sessions is really No Pain, Your Gain.
So, what about those other sessions? The ones where pain is expected?
These sessions are things like Trigger Point or Structural Integration massages to name only 2 of them. The pain for these sessions is not a full body session. Only one or two areas will be worked with these techniques. And the pain should quickly diminish if I am using Triggerpoint Therapy.
If you come in with a head ache, I may massage the entire body, but I am going to focus on just the areas causing the headaches. You may have a few moments of pain, but it should be the "Ouch, don't stop" kind of pain. The "It hurts, but feels good" level. Very VERY rarely will I have a client breathe through something more painful, and that is for very specific reasons.
The body has very specific responses to pain. Whether it is chronic and long-term pain, or if it is new, there are different approaches for every condition. As a therapist, I like to see how the body reacts to my touch, and come up with a plan of action for my clients. If your body needs more specific work, I will use more knuckles and elbows. If your muscles need to be kneaded a bit more, I will use more hands, palms and forearms. It all depends on you.
You should never walk away from my table feeling like I ran you over with a steam roller. You should walk away refreshed and worked on. You may be sore, but not the same sore as if you just hit the gym for an hour or two.