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  • Mary Carolla

Massage Myth Busting: Contraindications

Contraindication is a long word with a simple meaning: A reason you shouldn’t receive a particular treatment, such as a massage. There are local contraindications—something like a small wound—that shouldn’t be massaged directly but it doesn’t mean you can’t get a perfectly good massage on other parts of your body. There are general contraindications, or situations in which you shouldn’t get a massage at all. This type of contraindication can include communicable illness like the flu, or medications like strong blood thinners.

There’s another kind of contraindication that also seems to make the rounds on a regular basis: The mythological kind. Despite the scientific advancements we’ve made in studying massage therapy over the years, there are a few persistent misunderstandings that just won’t seem to die. While tales of mermaids and unicorns can brighten an otherwise dull day, these massage myths unfortunately prevent too many people from getting the professional bodywork they deserve. Here are are few we can definitely put to rest.

Myth #1: You can’t get a massage during the first trimester of pregnancy.

This myth is based around the idea that there are acupressure points around the ankles which can induce premature labor if pressed. Since the first three months of pregnancy are also the time of the highest risk of miscarriage, the thinking seems to be: It’s best not to get a massage at all during this time.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the fact that pregnant people regularly do also sorts of things that put pressure on their ankles. Like wear shoes or boots.

Given most people go at least a few weeks before they’re even aware they’ve conceived, this is basically saying anyone with the sort of working parts that could lead to pregnancy should stay away from the massage table, just in case.

Luckily, there’s no evidence for any of this. Still, it’s important to inform your massage therapist if you are pregnant so they can make adjustments for things like loosening ligaments, a sudden sensitivity to smells, or finding the most comfortable position to receive your massage. I have been providing massage therapy to pregnant people through all trimesters for many years. It’s a safe and effective way to relieve aches and pains during pregnancy.

Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers.

You’re hurting, so you schedule a massage. In the meantime, as you wait for your appointment, you’re still hurting so you take some ibuprofen. Should that stop you from getting your massage? No.

This myth promotes the idea that taking a painkiller leaves you unable to tell whether pressure of a massage is too deep, which can lead to a massage therapist injuring you accidentally. This could be a realistic concern, especially if you’re taking strong narcotics for pain. Drug side effects like dizziness, easy bruising, and low blood pressure can also impact your massage session.

In most cases, though, this can be dealt with through open communication, rather than avoidance, especially if it’s a simple NSAID or another over-the-counter medication. When you let your massage therapist know what kinds of painkillers you’re taking, things like pressure, positioning, and duration can all be adjusted to make sure your session is both satisfying and safe. There is no reason pain medications and appropriate bodywork have to be mutually exclusive.

Myth #3: You can’t get a massage while breastfeeding.

This myth is so insidious because postpartum parents could really benefit from massage. The idea behind this misunderstanding is the belief that massage somehow squeezes toxins out of a person’s tissues, which are then released into the bloodstream. Since the body is “toxic” after a massage, the story goes, so is any breast milk produced at this time. The choice is between “pumping and dumping” after receiving bodywork, or avoiding massage therapy altogether until the child is weaned.

Fortunately, this isn’t even one of those half-true-but-it’s-complicated situations; It’s 100% false, no question. Normal cell byproducts are filtered by the body and are not a danger to breastmilk, massage doesn’t release toxins, and massage can improve depression, body image, and (perhaps most importantly to new parents) SLEEP.

Myth #4: You can’t get a massage if you have active cancer.

The idea behind this one is similar to the breastfeeding myth. The erroneous thinking is massage will somehow dislodge cancer cells from the tumor and spread the cancer, causing metastasis. That is not how cancer works, and that is not how massage works. Massage cannot spread cancer. There are absolutely adjustments to be made during a massage session for a person with active cancer or a history of cancer, so please make sure to inform your therapist if this describes you. Receiving massage can have numerous benefits for people with cancer, including the ability to better tolerate treatment side effects. Working with a massage therapist trained in oncology massage can help you reap those benefits.

Myth #5: You can’t get a massage if you weigh too little or too much.

There are so many variations of this one. Skinny people don’t have enough “meat on their bones” to get a massage; they’ll just bruise. Overweight people can’t get a “real” massage because there’s too much fat between their skin and their muscles. People without perfect bodies shouldn’t show their skin to anyone. (And so on. Blah, blah, blah.)

Big people like massage. Small people like massage. In-between people like massage. Massage therapists love providing massage to all kinds of people. It’s a perfect combination! Are there different techniques better suited to bodies with specific needs? Of course. Is weight or size a prohibitive factor? Nope - not by a long shot. The folks who make these kinds of arguments in the name of health are either misinformed or just being mean.

Massage is for everybody. A little more about my thoughts on that.

Massage myths usually aren’t malicious (just misinformed), but they can still hurt. Who knows how many people avoid getting a massage due to some myth they heard from a source they trust? If you’re one of them, why wait? Since you now know truth from tale, get the bodywork you’ve been dreaming of and schedule your appointment today.

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