Improper Massages Can Do More Harm Than Good

Published: Apr. 19, 2004 at 7:12 PM EDT|Updated: May. 14, 2004 at 7:10 PM EDT
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By Lori Lyle

(LOUISVILLE, April 19th, 2004, 6:30 p.m.) -- A good massage can work wonders. But when it's not done right, a massage can actually do more harm than good. Medical Reporter Lori Lyle explains.

Done right, a massage can help everything from stress and migraines to serious illnesses like Parkinson's and Sickle Cell Anemia. But a bad massage can actually injure nerves and cause muscle spasms and inflammation.

Mary Schreiner loves adventure, but her active lifestyle has had its downside. She broke her back in a climbing accident and her shoulder in a scooter mishap. "I had this constant ache here, which made me want to get massages, which I did every week."

Mary went to massage therapists she found in the phone book and salons. And she even got referrals to massage therapists for help. She says the massages "always helped it, made it feel better at the time, but then it would get more aggravated within a day or so."

Dr. Robert Gotlin says about 15 percent of patients who get a massage end up needing corrective treatment afterward. He says the initial problem usually isn't the muscle. "It's really the bone or the nerve that's underlying that problem that's really causing the pain."

That means massages could make it worse. He says thin people should steer clear of deep massages. A nerve, muscle or bone near the spinal column could be injured.

Also, a person who has weak muscles or who has trouble moving their arms, back or legs should seek medical help before receiving a massage.

If you attempt a massage at home, Dr. Gotlin says don't go too deep in your partner and use gentle strokes along with deep breathing.

It took cortisone injections for Mary to find relief. "For three weeks, I was agonizing over it, and it was over in three minutes."

Now Mary works out on her Pilates machine to keep her muscles in shape. Dr. Gotlin says if you want a better chance of a safe massage, try a therapist from the American Massage Therapy Association.

Also, Dr. Gotlin says you should see your doctor if you have nighttime aches. It could be a bone injury, arthritis or a more serious problem.

Online Reporter: Lori Lyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever