Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Pain / Bad Pain

"Remember: There is good pain and bad pain. Bad pain comes in a spectrum: It may feel like a weird electrical twinge in your back, something that makes you suddenly go ouch, or a movement that makes you feel like you might break something. Good pain feels challenging and even exhilarating. It tells you that you are working but doesn't inhibit your movement or make you want to stop. As you learn to respect your body, you will easily recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain."

--Johanna Putnoi, Senses Wide Open

Do you know the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain" for your own body? What does "good pain" feel like for you? Can you find the words to describe what makes this pain "good"?

As I was free-writing for this very post, it struck me how I don't know if I/we have the language for "good pain." "Bad pain" is much easier to describe. For instance, sometimes I feel a stabbing sensation near my right scapula after working on the computer too long. My left sacral iliac joint aches and throbs after I sit for too long. My left heel feels bruised and sore after wearing certain shoes. These things feel like they belong in the "uncomfortable/bad feeling" category.

But what is that feeling of slight discomfort during a massage, when that tender point being pressed feels, well, good, almost exhilarating? What is that feeling of wanting your massage practitioner to press deeply, almost to the point of real pain? And what do we call that sensation just prior to bad pain? There should be a name for that! Shall we call it a "near pain experience" or "pre-pain" or "ecstatic pain"? Oh, I like that last one: ecstatic pain.

So what exactly happens during ecstatic pain? Is pain actually releasing? Is that what makes it feel good? Does that feeling have to do with chi beginning to move in an area that was formerly tight and stagnant?

With this first exploration into the nature of the pain we may feel during bodywork, I'm curious to know a few things from you:

1) What does good pain feel like to you and when do you feel it?

2) Can you describe this ecstatic pain as a metaphor or simile?

3) How do you know when you've crossed the line from good pain to bad pain?

I'd love to hear your experiences!


  1. Good pain is sobbing after "holding it in" for so long.
    Good pain is that hug so tight that you can't breath.
    Good pain is the ache right after a horrible cramp, because the bad pain has finally stopped.

  2. Beautifully stated, CJ. I think you really illuminated something powerful about the nature of good pain: there is some kind of release happening at the same time there is pressure (either emotional pressure or physical pressure). Thank you so much for your insights. Your post reads like a poem!