Dangers of Massage

Like any other kinds of therapy, massage has its own dangers.

In my more than 20 years of doing massage, there is one place, of the body, believed to be a dangerous spot that caused the death of some clients.

I was warned many times that massaging the back of the neck is dangerous. In effect, some patients were wary to have massage for this reason alone (I thank the One who gave talents and skills- no one died after I massage their neck and head). Still, the question that comes to mind is why others resulted in disaster while others did not.

That same question has been bothering me for years. Why is it that if neck massage is contraindication of massage how come no one showed even a slight problem during the stretch of my practice, as I always focus on the neck and head as my last finishing touch. (I admit, some effects were felt by some patients in response to some massage moves and health conditions, but it will be discussed in a different page)

I confess I never saw one gave a massage where the patient died afterwards. I only heard it, so, I was not giving weight to it. Nevertheless, I was disturbed because it is sworn by people who saw and know people who actually died after the massage. The fifth and last story I heard was from a friend whose friend was like kind of blaming herself because a 60 years old woman whom she gave a neck massage about two years ago, died a few hours afterwards. Not a big number, but when three or four different people are talking of the same issue, especially when it involves life, then we better listen if we are serious about our profession as massage therapists.

From all the stories I heard, there are common circumstances, and group of people who are casualties of such kind of massage. Here are the common conditions and health of people that succumb to the side effects of massage:

A. Middle age and above
B. People with high blood pressure
C. Overweight
D. Having neck pains when they ask for the magic of massage
E. All are women(maybe no man became a victim yet)

However, in my own experience, I encountered all the conditions and people enumerated above without any trouble afterwards( Big thanks to the ONE who gave talents and skills that nothing undesirable happened).

In fact, massage can lower high blood pressures as we learned during our outreach with my students in the latter part of 1990s. All those with high number of BP’s before the massage became normal or were closed to normal, and those who had low BP’s gained numbers.

Since I never experience the problem, I speculated that there must be a connection to the technique of the massage therapist. So, to discover what it is, I went around as a patient to anyone I learn as massage therapist: paid or not, licensed or unlicensed, experts or non-expert just to learn how they massage the neck.

The Probable Cause

In my wandering, I experienced light massages to just a brush on the neck moves. When I ask them to do more and make it with more pressure they told me it’s dangerous or repeated it with same light touch. Out of about closed to 50 masseuses/masseurs, however, there are two techniques I found to be the most probable reason why some massage ends in tragic result. Not so common techniques, I experienced from about three people, and who were not aware of the danger of massaging the neck.
Being not aware about the danger of massaging the neck, coupled with their unique style of applying pressure could almost certainly caused problems to the patient – and the worst – death.

Claw technique

The hand technique I am referring is the Claw hand massage technique or commonly known as the letter C. This is the technique used by three people in my search as the possible cause of death in few clients.

The letter C hand massage technique

This technique, while it is good when applied to some clients, it usually results to flu-like-pain the following day for the receiver. Especially, when the clients have chronic muscle lethargy it could also make the patient to have fever.

The technique works with great precision pressing into the muscles, hence, if it is not used correctly could damage muscles which result to blood clots very visible on the skin. It is therefore strongly advised never use it on the neck region. Even a mild press could damage arteries going into the brain remarkably to people who have high blood condition.

Curved thumb

This technique is common to people using reflexology, acupressure, and sometimes shiatsu to dig deeper on a calloused feet, and to reach a deep point of the body.

Curved Thumb Pressure

However, this technique should never be used on the neck area because of its limited muscle cover. In addition, one could not control the pressure because it is directly pressing on the cervical bones.

Using the tip of the thumb to apply pressure on the sides of the neck and any part of the body could cause injury, trauma on the muscles and, arteries and veins. Therefore, a great caution must always be observed when applied to the body for therapeutic purpose.

Safe thumb position

This is the right thumb position when applying thumb pressures anywhere in the body.

The Safer Hand Technique

Relaxed-snake-mouth fingers style

To be safe, I recommend this finger style when massaging the neck.

Relaxed-snake-mouth fingers style as seen on the front

I don’t know how to best describe the pictures above but I like to call it “relaxed-snake-mouth style” without the fangs and teeth. It looks like a toothless snake’s open mouth. This method is safe to use because it glides easily over the skin and has a minimal chance of hurting an artery or vein.

Nevertheless, I am not saying that the other technique cannot be used, because there are points and places where a concentrated pressure is needed, although a great care must be always remembered. I often use the letter C to treat the arms, and lower legs.

If you’re a beginner better practice caution. And to master the technique (C position) better do it to yourself until you are comfortable with it and when applied to clients, be sure to practice it with caution and care. And of course, never apply the technique to anyone’s neck.

If you heard a similar story, or had a personal experience about the topic you just read, I am glad to hear about it. Please, leave your comments below. Thank you

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What do you think?

8 comments

  • Jacqueline

    I have three disc herniation One in cervical. Thoracic and spinAl. Stenosis and DDD. I have a deep back massage every two weeks which results in immeasurable functional improvement. I have done this for several years. Recently my back has been reactive, pooling sweat while no other part of me is sweating. I feel ill afterwRd for a few hrs. I have a neuro vascular disorder (RSD) on RG side. Could the RSD be spreading ? Today I felt like I had a high fever too Very odd.

    • @Jacqueline, thank you for your question, however, I cannot give you answer because it’s only your doctor can examine you and tell you what’s really happening.
      But, if you don’t mind me asking some questions, how is your abdominal muscles felt to touch, is it hard or soft when probed? How is your urination, does your bladder void completely or it feels like something is always left in your bladder? Are you constipated? How about your diet? I ask because you may need more than just deep massage on your back.

      • Jacqueline

        I have neuro issues from damage to my brachial plexus from a nerve block. Gastroparesis. Problems w sympathetic nervous system. I think I will ask masseuse to reduce pressure as we’ve been spending 90min working out hard knots in back vs an all over massage previously. I also have a heart rhythm disorder …low battery overall. Lol. Thank you!

        • @Jaqueline I hope you also combine some exercise to workout and stretch those knots. Exercises like Yoga, calisthenics, Pilates can do a lot to improve your overall health. I know instructors or trainers can find you movements that will suit your needs which I believe can recharge your low battery.

          Thank you

  • Brenda McLeod

    I had an awful chair massage. Originally, I thought the worst part was when she used her elbow on the edge of my shoulder blade and continuously landed down on the muscle between the shoulder blade and spine. Then she used her elbow to press (very hard) on the bottom of the shoulder blade.

    But the worst part of the massage was on my neck. She stood above me and put her hands down the back of my shirt and pressed on my skin going in an upward motion all the way up to my skull. She did this several times and it was vey painful. When I left, my friend commented on the fact that my neck was so red.

    My neck didn’t hurt immediately after the massage. (Probable because I was so focused on the awful pain in my upper back that lasted for weeks.) But now I am having spasms in my neck and my neck hurts all the time. I have periodic headaches too now.

    Every day I kick myself for not getting up when she first used her elbow on my shoulder blade. I should have gotten up then and told her she didn’t know what she was doing.

    • @Brenda McLeod, Thank you for sharing your experience here. The first one I know who had bad experience was I read in the news feed here in the internet about two years ago. An elderly woman applied with forearm massage over her shoulder that it cracked her bone. The other one is a friend of mine he introduced to me last April this year. She received a massage on her back on the muscles between the scapula and spine all the way down to her arms and hand. A few days afterwards she can’t move her hand and fingers. Sadly the last time we met on way (a month by now) the problem is still there.

      • Brenda

        Thank you for responding. There is a governing board for massage therapists in my state. I decided to email them with a description of the massage to get their opinion whether or not the massage was appropriate. If it was not, I will make a formal complaint.
        It won’t do my neck any good, but maybe I can spare someone else from permanent damage.

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