• Outi Holmes

When to avoid massage therapy: the contraindications

A question I often encounter as a massage therapist is, when should I avoid having a massage. It is a great question and an important one. Although massage is a natural therapy and relatively gentle one, there still are times when you should avoid coming for a massage.

So before you go ahead and book a massage, it is a good idea to be aware of the contraindications involved. These so-called contraindications are factors that prevent or limit massage and are intended to protect both the client and the therapist. Some of the contraindications completely prevent the massage (fever, flu, etc.), while some limit the massage treatment only locally, for example, to the varicose veins in the legs. Some contraindications require the client’s approval from the doctor, depending on the situation.


Here is a brief list of the most common massage-related contraindications that should be considered before arriving for a treatment. The list is not intended to be a deterrent but an informative information pack on the attention and importance of the contraindications to massage.


Contraindications to massage:

If you are ill, the massage should be postponed. The most common diseases that prevent massage, especially in wintertime, are flu, influenza, and stomach flu. Nowadays also Covid-19, of course. If you suspect that you are getting ill and the first symptom has already appeared, you may want to consider rescheduling your appointment. Massage may make your illness worse, and recovery may take more time.

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Acute trauma is a local contraindication to massage. These traumas include muscle, ligament, or tendon injuries, open wounds, burns, frostbites, and fractures. However, a sports massage therapist can often work around the injury and speed up the recovery after the initial 48 hours. Local infections of the skin, i.e., infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi such as herpes, athlete's foot, or warts, can prevent the treatment. Varicose veins prevent the affected area from being treated. Usually, this means that the affected calf won't be massaged.


Heart failure or dysfunction of the heart (pacemaker). Heart conditions always require medical approval, as massage may slow down or speed up the heart rate. It is a good idea to ask your doctor about suitable massage positions as well.

A malignant tumor and cancer require a doctor's approval. Many massage therapists are trained in oncology massage and know how to treat those going through cancer treatments. Generally speaking, massage is a great stress reduction method during this extremely stressful time.

A thrombosis prevents a massage treatment. Often symptoms can include warmth, tenderness, cramping, swelling, and redness in the affected area. If your massage therapist notices any of these symptoms, treatment will be stopped, and you will be advised to see your GP.

If you have a bleeding disorder or hemophilia, it is a good idea to ask your doctor for permission before a massage. Those who bruise easily may notice bruising after some deeper massage treatments.

Recent alcohol and drug use are contraindications to massage.

Finally, during the early stages of pregnancy (first 12 weeks), a massage is not recommended. Although massage is a safe treatment, we don't want to put any additional strain on your body while it is busy growing the new life. After 12 weeks, massage is perfectly safe and then performed on the side-lying position.



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