While massage is often used to treat headaches, there are circumstances when you may experience a headache or fatigue after a massage. Serious side effects of massage are rare, and a post-massage headache is usually a mild and temporary condition.
Be Aware of Sensitivities
When you get a massage, you may come into contact with a large number of chemicals and fragrances that may cause a headache. Massage therapists often use scented oils or have scented candles or other fragrances in the room that may trigger an allergic reaction for you.
Some unscented lotions have botanical ingredients that may cause sensitivity in some individuals. In addition, you may find you have a reaction to the cleaning products or detergent used on the table and sheets.
Sinus headaches are a common reaction to allergens. This pain is usually located over the sinus cavities, and may be described as facial pain behind your cheekbones or behind your forehead. If you experience these headaches, it is best to identify and avoid the allergens that cause them.
If you find you have a fragrance sensitivity to the lotions or oils your therapist uses, be sure to request unscented options. Likewise, if you have a reaction to the detergent or cleaning products, request they use fragrance-free options or bring your own sheets to use.
Day After Deep Tissue Massage
A deep tissue massage is designed to get deep into your muscles and fascia to break up scar tissue and knots that may be causing you pain or limiting your range of motion. This type of massage may be uncomfortable as the massage therapist uses more pressure than with other types of massage.
Sore muscles and stiffness are common after a deep tissue massage, according to an advisory from Renaissance College. Your muscles should feel better within a couple of days, but the soreness may contribute to a tension headache after your massage, especially if your massage therapist was focusing on your upper back, neck and shoulders.
Tension headaches may feel like a vise around your head, and may be worse in your temples the back of your neck. They typically produce a dull, constant pain rather than throbbing pain. Try taking over-the-counter pain relievers to help your symptoms, if approved by your doctor.
If you frequently experience this type of headache after a deep tissue massage, it is possible that the pressure is too much for you. If the massage gets too painful, be sure to speak up so your massage therapist can adjust the pressure.
Avoid Headaches From Dehydration
If you have a headache after a massage, you may be dehydrated. Mild dehydration can be caused by not drinking enough water, which can often trigger headaches, notes the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Other symptoms of dehydration include feeling thirsty, dry mouth, darker yellow urine, infrequent urination, dry skin and muscle cramps.
Mild dehydration can be quickly treated by consuming fluids. Water is always a good choice, but you can also drink sports drinks with electrolytes. Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages. These both may trigger more severe headaches, causing you to have a migraine after a massage. Do not take salt tablets in an attempt to replenish electrolytes, as this can cause complications.
While it is unlikely that you will become severely dehydrated after a massage, this level of dehydration is a life-threatening emergency. Symptoms of severe dehydration include dizziness, confusion, irritability, listlessness, rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing.
You can avoid a dehydration headache by drinking plenty of water, both before, and after, your massage. If it is hot, or if you do a workout during the day before your massage, be sure to drink extra water, as you are likely to lose more fluids from sweating.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
Individuals with postural hypotension often experience a drop in blood pressure when they stand up after sitting or lying down for a while, as one does during a massage. When this happens, the individual may feel dizzy or woozy for a short time after standing. Other symptoms include headache, blurry vision, nausea, fatigue and pressure across the back of the neck or shoulder, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This condition may be connected to dehydration, anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency and certain medications including antidepressants and diuretics. Parkinson's disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes and alcoholism may also be linked to postural hypotension.
Consult your doctor if you experience symptoms of this condition. You may need to adjust your medications and supplements to help treat the underlying causes. When you are getting up from a seated or reclined position, start by moving your limbs, and rise slowly. Be sure you have something to hold on to, to maintain your balance, and do not attempt to walk until the dizziness subsides.
When to Skip the Massage
Despite the many benefits of massage, there are times when it is better to skip the session. You should not have a massage that places pressure on an injury, including bruises, areas of inflamed skin, hernias or recent fractures.
Do not get a massage if you are fighting a cold or the flu. You risk spreading the illness to your massage therapist and their other clients. In addition, you need rest to fully recover, and massage can be overstimulating for your system.
Do not get a massage if you are intoxicated. You may miss pain signals your body is sending, and wind up with bruising or muscle injuries from the massage.
There are many types of massage, some of which may not be suitable for individuals with certain health conditions. For example, individuals with osteoporosis, and pregnant women, should avoid deep tissue massage. Individuals with blood clots may also want to avoid deep tissue massage, as it may dislodge clots, which can cause a stroke. Consult your doctor before getting a massage.
Consult your doctor if you have undergone surgery, chemotherapy or another medical procedure, or if you have a known medical condition. Determine if it is safe for you to get a massage before attempting one.
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Dehydration"
- American Migraine Foundation: "Top 10 Migraine Triggers and How to Deal With Them"
- Renaissance College: "Deep Tissue Massage Explained"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Tension Headache"
- National University of Health Sciences: "When It’s Not A Good Idea to Get a Massage"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Postural Hypotension, What It Is & How to Manage It"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Allergy Headaches"
- University of Minnesota: "Are There Times When I Shouldn't Have a Massage?"
- JAN Job Accommodation Network: "Employees With Fragrance Sensitivity"