Negative Effects of Massage Therapy

close-up of a young woman receiving a back massage
Seek out a trained therapist to reduce your risk of injury. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Massage isn't just a relaxing endeavor to enjoy at your next spa visit -- it has healing and therapeutic properties. A rubdown can help ameliorate the symptoms of autism, eczema, ADHD, bulimia, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. Cancer patients, those recovering from injury, premature infants and depressed people also garner benefit. Massage may alleviate sleep disorders and reduce blood pressure. Random controlled studies show that massage helps speed recovery after exercise, notes a 2008 issue of the "Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine." Despite all these benefits, massage isn't an appropriate treatment for everyone, and in rare cases, may cause negative side effects.

Soreness

Massage may bring to mind images of soothing, gentle touch. Deep-tissue and sports massage are much more intense, though. You may experience discomfort during the session and could be extremely sore the next day. A study published in the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" in 2007 found that, among 100 people surveyed, about 10 percent of massage clients experienced minor discomfort in the 12 to 36 hours following a session.

Keith Grant, head of the Sports and Deep Tissue Massage Department at McKinnon Institute in Oakland, California, told massagetherapy.com that your body may respond to massage as if it's just completed a challenging workout. The muscles aren't accustomed to being manipulated, and respond with inflammation and discomfort. Soreness following a massage shouldn't last more than a day or two -- if it does, you should ask your massage therapist to back off the intensity at your next session.

Fatigue and Malaise

An intense massage can leave you lacking in energy the following day. The massage may have over-stimulated your neurological system, creating a stress-induced fatigue. This fatigue can often be alleviated by hydrating and relaxing. You may also want to avoid intense exercise sessions or important, stressful meetings or engagements in the hours after a massage. Your central nervous system is slightly overloaded from the physical manipulation and just needs time to adjust.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Massage performed at the site of open wounds, blood clots or bone fractures could cause complication. Those with weak bones, from osteoporosis or brittle-bone disease, could have their bones further compromised by massage. Although massage is generally helpful to cancer patients, the masseuse should avoid direct contact with the tumor site, as this could cause complications. In rare cases, pregnant women could experience injury or induced labor as a result of massage. People on blood thinners or with low blood platelet counts may also experience negative side effects from massage, specifically bruising and pain.

Rare Complications

Serious side effects from massage are rare, but the potential exists. An overzealous massage can cause internal bleeding or nerve damage. An allergic reaction to any creams or oils used by your therapist is also possible. To minimize risk of any of these complications, reveal all medical conditions and allergies to your therapist before getting on the table.

Inadequate Treatment

Over-reliance on massage for treatment of all your ailments is another possible negative side effect. Massage isn't a replacement for medical treatment of an injury or chronic disease. It has palliative qualities, but can't be a substitute for a doctor's visit. If you have a chronic ache or significant pain in a joint or muscle, consult your physician to rule out serious injury.

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