The Doctor Is In

By Dr. Damon Raskin, M.D. | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Q: After getting a massage while on vacation, my back has been in serious pain. It shifts from my upper back to lower back area over the course of the day. Could they have done damage? What should I do next?

Massage and vacation are both words that are near and dear to my heart. Unfortunately, a bad massage can definitely ruin a good vacation!

Massage, even a deep tissue massage, is not supposed to be painful. There are numerous medical and emotional benefits to a good back rub, including relief from headaches, stress-related insomnia, anxiety and even some digestive complaints.

Research shows that massage therapy can increase blood flow and circulation, bringing needed nutrition to muscles and tissues. Strains, pains or sports injuries can often melt away with the right massage technique.

So, what could possibly go wrong in a massage to cause significant pain? Although unusual, several types of injuries can occur.

For one, excessive pressure on a muscle can potentially cause a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, which is a poisoning by proteins released from injured muscle. This can cause general pain and even lead to kidney damage.

Nerves can also get injured with the wrong massage technique. Signs of this type of injury could be numbness, tingling or even a droopy shoulder if the therapist injures the nerve that goes to the trapezius muscle. Even worse, the wrong move in the neck can rarely lead to spinal cord injury or even a stroke of the vertebral arteries.

There are also reports of massage inducing migraine headaches, dizziness and vertigo attacks, and even dislodging blood clots. These are rare but real incidents, and for the most part, healthy people are unlikely to be injured by a massage.

If you are having minor pain after a massage, this may be normal if you had a lot of knots or sore areas. Try a moist heating pad or over-the-counter pain relievers. Sitting in a warm tub can also be great relief.

However, if the pain is more significant that does not feel like minor soreness or goes on longer than 48 hours, it is time to see your medical professional. Other red flags would include radiating pain down an arm or leg, numbness or tingling of an extremity, or weakness anywhere in the body. Headaches or dizziness or just generally feeling unwell are symptoms you should not ignore.

Always go to a reputable place with a licensed therapist who has the proper training and experience to give a good massage. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about experience and licensure when meeting a new practitioner or going to a new spa. Just as you check out restaurants and even doctors online for reviews, do your due diligence before getting a massage also.

Know what kind of massage technique is right for your body … more gentle strokes or deeper tissue work. The most important thing during a massage is communication with your therapist. If something hurts or feels uncomfortable, speak up and let them know right away. Massage is definitely not a “no pain, no gain” activity.

So, get this pain checked out from your primary care physician and get the right diagnosis. It might be that the best advice is to take a longer vacation.