People feel pain in different areas of the body. Most people think that where they feel the pain is the location of the tight muscle, trigger point or knot in the muscle. This, however, is not always the case, the pain can radiate from the origin (what is causing the pain) to the area of pain (where the pain is felt).
On several occasions the place a person is feeling discomfort or pain is sometimes called the referral pain location and sometimes called the exhaust point. A lot of times the location that a person feels pain in their body is contacted to another area in the body that is causing a slight “pulling” effect on the area the pain is felt. There is a line of connective tissue through out the body, and a tight spot in one area can have a varying effect on other muscles near by and one further away. Sometimes it is a straight line up, or down, one side of the body, and sometimes it will criss-cross, one side to the other, up the body. So, a tight calf or hamstring can be part of what is causing your low back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, and even headache.
One way to be able to get a picture of what I am talking about is to pinch a spot of your shirt and start to roll it over on itself. After you have rolled it over a few times take a look at where and how far from the pinched spot the wrinkles in your shirt are and where they go. The more you roll it and the tighter you roll it will affect how long and far the wrinkles go. Your muscles are very similar, the tighter and more congested a spot is in the muscle can affect how far away the referral pain is felt and some are connected in a way that they tend to pull on specific other muscles. So anywhere along the ‘wrinkle’ can be the referral pain location or exhaust point. So only working a spot along the ‘wrinkle’ where the pain is ‘felt’ will not necessarily relieve the over-all pain, it may help temporarily but generally not for any length of time.
For example, I once worked on a gentleman (a professional drummer) that was experiencing pain on one side of his neck, and seeing we were only doing 30 minutes of massage he wanted me to focus on his neck. While doing my normal warm up and prep, I found the opposite calf muscles to be very tight. When I started to work a little on the calf muscles (and he realized how tight those muscles were) he told me that when he had gone to an acupuncturist in the past for his neck pain that the acupuncturist had put the needles in the same calf that I was working. So I did some more work on his calf and then went back to his neck and did some work there as well. When I was finished his neck pain was greatly diminished.
This is not to say that the referral point is always far away for the location that needs the actual work. And several occasions the two spots are the same. However, if you tell a massage therapist that you are experiencing pain in one location but they seem to be focusing more on another location, they may really be working the spot that needs the work.
Regardless of how great a massage therapists is, they are not miracle workers and cannot always relieve all of the pain in one visit, especially a short one. And sometimes is takes a little while for the muscles to loosen up and the massage only helps get the process started. It also depends on how much you are able to relax and trust the therapist working on you, a confident and competent massage therapist should be able to help you with this as well. So the right massage should be able to give you come relief. If they never work the area of complaint and you do not feel any relief after the massage, I would suggest talking with the therapist to see what they were trying to achieve by focusing so much on the area that they focused on. A great therapist will be able to tell what they were doing, and might spend a few more minutes on the area that is still bothering you.