Tried to relax -- got a pain in the neck
May 12, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Massage therapist pulling on neck?

I just got an hour long massage. The certified massage therapist pulled firmly up on my neck from the base of my head several times, as if to put me into balance. Basically she manipulated my neck. This made me very nervous as it seemed more like something a chiropractor might do. It didn't actually hurt but it felt odd. Now, after the massage, I have an odd, numbish/burning feeling in my scalp on that side. Have you had this technique in a massage and is it normal?
posted by Tylwyth Teg to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
What do you mean by pulling "up" on your neck? I saw a physical therapist for neck problems a few times and during the massage part of the appointment she would hold the base of my head and pull away from the shoulders, as though trying to pop the head off a Barbie doll. I don't know if it was helpful (it certainly felt weird) but I never experienced any numbness afterwards.

Pulling on your head doesn't really seem like something a massage therapist should be doing, unless he/she has more training than a typical massage therapist. Was it a specific type of massage (sports, shiatsu, whatever)?
posted by enlarged to show texture at 10:48 AM on May 12, 2011

This was supposed to be an ordinary massage at a spa. I've had plenty before and never had anyone do this.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 10:52 AM on May 12, 2011

I have a neck/brain stem problem, and this kind of manipulation would seriously screw me up. It's not an area you want to be messing around with. If you're still experiencing numbness/burning tomorrow, I would consider going to a doctor. (You're probably fine, but my personal experience has me saying better safe than sorry for something like this.)

Also, take a shower. It's possible there was some sort of peppermint/menthol something or other in the massage oil and you just have a patch of oversensitive head skin.
posted by phunniemee at 10:54 AM on May 12, 2011

(I am currently in massage school) - for Swedish massage this is a no-no on the neck. I'm not sure on shiatsu, but in general I agree that a massage therapist should not be pulling on the neck - ever.
posted by MillMan at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2011

It a normal part of some massages. It's cervical traction. It doesn't usually cause any problems, but if you are experiencing issues, consult your doctor.
posted by inturnaround at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've had this during therapeutic massages. I do this (gently) when I give massages as well, because it feels great to me. IANALMT.

Did your LMT do an intake with you? Concerns like this would be something to mention next time.
posted by momus_window at 11:00 AM on May 12, 2011

Seconding inturnaround; I've had this too. Usually just a gentle pulling that stretches the neck muscles, though firmer and more focused when it's been a physical therapist. In fact I had a therapist teach me the basics of the (gentler, easier) technique so I can do it on my husband when his neck is sore after hunching over the computer all day.

But yeah, if you don't like it, don't have them do it again; and if you have a problem, talk to your appropriate medical professional.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:24 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I definitely would not let anybody mess with my neck. Even chiropractors are advised not to do it; there is a risk of stroke and death with neck manipulations.
posted by zug at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2011

I also enjoy that stretching of the neck (just pulling it gently away from the shoulders), but I know people that hate it. We used to do that in theatre school as part of stretching, also because it's good for posture (stretches the back). But mainly, if you don't feel good about ANYTHING during a massage, you should just straight up tell it to your therapist. While I haven't gone to a "real" massage school, I've done some workshops in university and one of the most important thinsg to learn is that everybody is different, and communication is essential (it's like sex, the more open you are about you like and don't like, the best chances it has to be good)
posted by kitsuloukos at 2:16 PM on May 12, 2011

Former massage therapist here. I used to do cervical traction all the time, with the caveat that my client talk to me if it made them uncomfortable at all. YOU have a responsibility to communicate to the massage therapist any time anything bothers you - from how they drape you, to the pressure they're using, to how they're pulling on your neck. If you're having discomfort at this point, I would suggest making an appointment with a D.O.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:57 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had this from the massage therapist where I work. I did NOT enjoy it. (Though that may have had more to do with the fact that she was talking about her ex-husband while she did it, and I think she put a bit more force into it than she meant to) It totally undid all the good work she did beforehand.
posted by Caravantea at 4:31 PM on May 12, 2011

YOU have a responsibility to communicate to the massage therapist any time anything bothers you

This is true in a sense, but, I would respectfully suggest, also misleading; it is an idea that lulls one into feeling that one can control these things. You really can't, often. You're in a deeply relaxed, almost hypnotically altered state when suddenly something * happens * in less than a second. After it happens, you think it's over, and then, bam, it happens again. The whole thing takes a couple of seconds and by the time it's over you're just kind of getting into a more normal state of consciousness where you can verbalize something. At that point, one tells the therapist to please not do that anymore, but I think it really is mostly the therapist's responsibility to ask the client before any potentially uncomfortable moves. What's more, I'd already told her I didn't want any intensive neck work; she said she didn't think this was intensive and that she often does it much harder on other people. She said she was checking to see if I was in balance, etc.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2011

If you had clearly stated that you didn't want intensive neck work, then yes, she was out of line / crossing a clearly defined boundary. However, I would say that if this is a therapist you intend to form a professional relationship with, then you should immediately tell her that you don't like a move - especially important during the firs few sessions. The therapist really has no idea what you do and don't like until after a few sessions.

Has the tingly sensation gone away yet?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Massage therapist (in Australia) here. Gentle cervical (neck) traction is within the scope of practice for MTs if the intent is to put some tension through the neck muscles. Your experience does sound as if she was pulling a lot harder. Ask if she has been trained in cervical manipulation. Don't go back if she hasn't!
posted by flutable at 11:32 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Echoing the other bodyworkers, yes, traction is a pretty common technique. That said, it's usually done after you've worked someone's muscles so it's a gentle pulling to extend the neck and take pressure of the disks. You might do it once or twice, but not a whole lot of times, and certain not with sudden force.

I wouldn't be going back if that's what happened, and I'd be getting someone else to check out my neck if it persists more than a day.
posted by yeloson at 11:56 PM on May 12, 2011

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