You already know that massage therapy can have a number of positive implications for your health. We’ve explored many of them already. However, even though receiving massage can have many positive impacts, there are some times when receiving massage is inappropriate. These are called contraindications.
There are two types of contraindications: local and systemic. We’ll explore the meaning of these two terms and what constitutes as a local or systemic contraindication.
Local Contraindication – a pathology that makes massage inappropriate for a certain area of the body.
- Varicose veins – Your massage therapist will not use specific pressure over varicose veins. The theory is that this can cause clots of blood that are caught in the vein by gravity to dislodge and become a deep-vein thrombosis. Light, general work is okay.
- Bruises – Similar to why varicose veins are a contraindication, the theory is that massage can cause the blood pooled under the skin to break off and become a traveling thrombosis. Although not yet proven, it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.
- Cuts – I mean, how unpleasant would that feel, am I right?
- Sunburn/Any kind of burn – Again, how unpleasant would that feel? Massage over cuts and burns will just aggravate the area. It’s best to just let them heal.
- Inflammation – Including that accompanying arthritis. Inflammation is your body’s response when an area needs healing. Because massage increases circulation, the theory (again not proven) is that massage may spread the substances that cause inflammation, thereby reducing inflammation and slowing the healing process. Also, areas of inflammation are usually tender, and massage over the area will exacerbate this. If occurring over a joint, pressure from the massage may cause even more stress on the joint, thereby causing more pain and maybe even damage!
- Cancer – While again not proven, the theory is that massage may cause cancer cells to break off and spread. Scary right? Your massage therapist will not massage near a tumor, even if it is benign.
- Skin conditions – Skin conditions should be covered during massage, especially if they are contagious. Otherwise they are considered a systemic contraindication.
- Hernia – In these cases, your massage therapist will not massage your belly. You will also be asked to lay on your side instead of on your stomach, as pressure applied to the lower back area while laying face-down can aggravate the hernia
- Broken bones – Self-explanatory.
Systemic Contraindication – a pathology that makes massage inappropriate in general. Your massage therapist will ask you to reschedule your massage until symptoms subside.
- Any contagious disease – It’s just a common courtesy to reschedule your massage if you’re sick, even if symptoms are mild. Because your massage therapist is going to be intimately close to your body, she may very well catch your sickness, as may any clients that come after you.
- Under the influence – If you’ve been drinking or are under the influence of any drug that alters your state of mind (including marijuana), massage is inappropriate. Not only is your judgement impaired, but so is your sense of touch. You may not realize that your massage therapist is working too deep, and this could cause injury.
- Use of pain medication – It may seem obvious if you’re seeking massage for pain management to consume a pain pill before your massage, but don’t do it. Pain medications impair your sense of touch, thereby not allowing you to recognize if your massage therapist is working too deep. This could cause serious injury.
- Uncovered skin conditions – As stated above, skin conditions affecting a small area should be covered, or else the massage should be rescheduled. Conditions covering large areas difficult to cover are treated as a systemic contraindication.
- Unregulated high blood pressure – High blood pressure causes pressure against the walls of the blood vessel. Since massage increases circulation, it will only cause added stress to the area. If your high blood pressure is not regulated by medication, you should reschedule your massage until a time where it will be.
Although not necessarily contraindications, there are some pathologies where certain types of massage are not appropriate. For example, patients with fibromyalgia should not receive deep tissue massage, as this will cause more stress on the nerves that cause fibromyalgia pain. Patients with osteoporosis should not receive deep tissue massage, as brittle bones may fracture under pressure.
If you have a pathology that you’re not sure is okay for massage, just ask! There are few times when massage is inappropriate entirely, and those times are usually pretty obvious. Keep in mind that if your massage therapist asks you to reschedule your massage until symptoms subside, she’s not trying to be rude. If a massage therapist gives a massage to someone she knows shouldn’t receive one, she could lose her license. Don’t get angry. She’s not telling you that you can’t ever get a massage! She’s simply looking out for your well being.