My massage therapist broke me.
April 11, 2014 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Last night I had a really painful massage and now I'm freaking out over how much it hurts. Is this normal? Should I go to a doctor?

A few days ago, my friend was giving me a back rub and mentioned that my back and neck were really tight. I've been going through a stressful time lately, so I figured now was a good time to get a massage. I found a place on Yelp that had great testimonials/ratings, so I went there last night for a 60 minute massage. Big mistake.

So right off the bat, the guy was focusing only on my neck and back. He said there were really bad knots. It hurt like CRAZY. I had to keep telling him to go lighter and he kept saying that he WAS going as light as possible, but he had to get the knots out. It hurt like....oh my god. I can't believe how much it hurt. Finally I had to tell him to stop. I was so upset.

When I got home, I felt really achey. i took a hot shower, put icy hot on my neck, and went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night realllly hurting, so i got a hot water bottle on my back and was able to sleep a little. When I woke up for work this morning, I was in AGONY. I took two advil and slathered more icy hot all over me, but holy crap. This hurts so much. I dont know what to do.

My question is, is this normal for an intense massage? I haven't had a TON of massages before, but I've had at least a dozen and sometimes they hurt a little while they were happening, but nothing like this. i certainly never had debilitating pain 24 hours later. I"m really freaked out. It feels like someone beat me with a baseball bat.

Should I go to a doctor? Should I go back to the massage place? It was difficult for me to communicate with the massage therapist because of a language barrier. And if I go there, there is no chance in HELL that I'd let him put his hands on me again.
posted by silverstatue to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would try ice first. Putting heat on something that hurts can inflame it further.
posted by xingcat at 8:22 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you should go to a doctor. Then, you should go to Yelp and share your experience.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:23 AM on April 11, 2014

Oh believe me, I just posted a blistering review on Yelp. And yet.... every single other review is 5 stars! I don't get it.

Unfortunately I'm at work right now so I can't put ice on. My only options right now are to take more Advil or use more Icy Hot. Ohhhh my god, it hurts.
posted by silverstatue at 8:31 AM on April 11, 2014

It is not normal. Definitely don't go back to the masseuse, and I think you should go to the doctor. It sounds to me like you could use some anti-inflammatories, at the very least. I would guess that you already had some muscle spasm issues walking in, and exacerbated them further by getting the massage. I think the masseuse should have realized that you had a problem he couldn't fix, and told you to get treatment. But I don't think he was the original source of your problem, I think he just poked it hard with a stick. A doctor can help you get to whatever is the main issue, and help to solve it.
posted by backwards compatible at 8:31 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

That sounds normal-ish for a deep tissue massage but if you did not ask for a deep tissue massage AND you repeatedly told the therapist to go lighter then that is NOT okay. Take some advil and drink lots of water today, and try to avoid any exercise for a few days.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:34 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

My mom's massage therapist always tells her to ice her (very tense) shoulders after she works on them and to drink lots of water for a day after she works on her.
So ya, try icing before you go to the Dr. (You should always ice somthing ouchy before heating it.)
posted by missriss89 at 8:35 AM on April 11, 2014

I'm a regular massage-goer and one of the people who actually enjoys/requests lots of deep pressure, but the one time I've had an experience similar to what you describe (really bad pain and achiness for days after the massage), it was at the same time that I was having a flareup of an auto-immune disorder (didn't know it at the time, yay!). Not trying to scare you, just saying your body might be in a high alert/inflammatory state already, in which case a deep tissue massage would only make things worse. I would visit your PCP if this continues.
posted by telegraph at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is normal, but it has definitely happened to me. In my case it was in one of those "I'm so good at backrubs, everyone says so!" guys who likes giving women backrubs and not taking no for an answer. (I was in college at the time... I've gotten better at saying "No, seriously, don't touch me.") If everyone really loved this dude's backrubs, all I can say is DAMN, because I was in serious pain for two days after that "friendly" backrub. I took a lot of Advil.

Reassuring anecdata: I didn't have any underlying issues that caused the reaction, and I was fine by a week or so later. That being said, I don't think going to the doctor could possibly be a bad idea!
posted by pie ninja at 8:41 AM on April 11, 2014

IANAD, but if your shoulder/back pain is mostly a result of muscle tension, just be aware that ice could cause your muscles to tense up more, whereas heat is usually better at relaxing muscle. However, if you have some kind of acute inflammatory reaction going on, then heat can make that worse, so I guess you're probably safer erring on the side of ice. There's frankly a lot of conflicting advice regarding cold vs heat treatment.

If the pain doesn't seem to be improving, and especially if it's interfering with your ability to function, I don't see how it could hurt to go see a doctor about this. At the very least, they could give a more definitive recommendation about whether or not you should use ice and which over the counter (or prescription) meds could help.

Also, I definitely would not go back to that place, even to see a different massage therapist. I might consider calling and asking for a full (or at least partial) refund.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:54 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I get massages for sports injuries/tightness, this is often the outcome.

The therapist is trying to stretch out tendons/muscles and work the knots out. The pressure involved often ends up making me feel like I've had a hard work out and ache from it. I often have to ice the areas for a few days while I recover.

So, I'd say that your experience is not untypical for a specific kind of massage therapy.

If you were looking for a 'relaxing' massage then it's probably a bad therapist overdoing it.
posted by Argyle at 8:56 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

If you got a nerve or something else pinched, that's bad. My uncle is a radiologist and says every couple years he sees a person who has a nerve/ (artery? something like that but I could be off) get pinched from a chiropractor. It's extremely extremely rare, and almost certainly not the case... But something to look into.
posted by jjmoney at 9:06 AM on April 11, 2014

Well first off, you should do more than write a Yelp review, you should contact the place you got the massage and let them know. The therapist should have been listening to you and backing off when you said to. I have serious neck problems and have gotten several deep tissue massages, and while they aren't relaxing like a Swedish-type massage, they were never painful. I am currently in physical therapy and my physical therapist is constantly asking me if the pain level is okay when she is working on me.

I'd go see your doctor, personally.

Out of curiosity, what kind of massage place was it and how qualified did the therapist seem?
posted by radioamy at 9:43 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sometimes my massages hurt a bit while I'm getting it done. I get huge knots in my neck from my bra straps due to being, er, well endowed, but my massage therapist ALWAYS listens to my instructions and eases off when I ask her to. I have never had pain afterwards, period. Especially not the kind of pain you're describing.

I would go to the doctor and talk to someone at the place you went to.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:51 AM on April 11, 2014

I get tons of deep tissue massage (sometimes called sports massage) and this has happened to me a couple of times. Like Argyle said, it's the equivalent of a heavy workout, and it is normal to have some pain afterwards.

You could go see a doctor out of an abundance-of-caution type approach (why not?) but there won't be much a doctor can do for you. You should drink lots of water, have a hot bath or shower, and take anti-inflammatories.

If your muscles are generally tight and strained, your best bet (once you feel okay) is stretching exercises and perhaps the Alexander Technique. But it sounds like this was a case of an inexperienced practitioner, or perhaps one who just can't vary his technique sufficiently to meet his clients' needs. That doesn't mean he actually caused you damage: you may actually be looser and better off overall, once the pain subsides. Don't worry too much. Wait a day or two more and you will probably feel better.
posted by Susan PG at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your muscles are really tight, I don't think a light massage will do much for you. My wife has crazy tense muscles in her neck and shoulders, and was aching after her first massage, but ended up getting a lot looser because of that (and subsequent massages).

That said, I don't think massages should be this painful. You could see a doctor for your muscle tension, and ask for massage suggestions to loosen your muscles.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:25 AM on April 11, 2014

When I have bad knots I get deep-tissue massages to work them out. The massage is usually intense and is painful while the knots are getting worked out and then the aftermath is usually similar to what you're describing. I usually apply some Tiger Balm of China Gel to the area several times and keep it warm and covered for at least a day or two. I also try some light stretching of the area (You Tube videos are helpful if you're looking for stretching techniques for specific muscle groups) and I drink a lot of water. Based on my experience, I would not ice - I find heat to be more effective. If you are very uncomfortable still, taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen can give you relief.

If you have a lot of knots and you need them resolved, a Swedish style, light massage will do nothing for you except for be a pleasant rub-down. If you go for a deep tissue massage and you have some problems to resolve, expect pain and a recovery period. It's not a relaxing experience, but it is effective. It sounds like the massage therapist didn't listen well and you also were not informed about what to expect.
posted by quince at 11:14 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The best massage therapist I ever had was also one who inflicted a ton of pain. It felt like a hot poker BUT he could also completely resolve muscle adhesions. I've also had Active Release Technique (ART) which hurt like you would not believe, but fixed some long standing calf/hip/foot issues. Resolving deep muscle tension/scar is painful.

The real problem here is quite hidden. There was a language barrier. You need to be able to communicate fully with your therapist. If you can't communicate, then you need to ask for a different therapist. No help to you now, but for the future.

Stay fully hydrated. Do some light, full range of motion movements every 30 minutes. Take some Advil. If it's not significantly improved in the next few hours then make a call to the doc (who likely say it's not worth an office visit, but will calm your worries).
posted by 26.2 at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Apparently I did have knots but... they certainly weren't bothering me in any way. I'd much rather live with my knots than feel that mind blowing pain like he was causing me! I've had burns and sprains and gone through months of physical therapy and nothing, NOTHING has ever compared to the pain I've felt in the past 24 hours thanks to this damn massage.

I guess I will call my doctor if things haven't improved by tomorrow. I'm drinking inhuman amounts of water right now and will take it easy for the rest of the day.
posted by silverstatue at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2014

Seconding what telegraph said. I once got a medical / deep tissue massage for chronic pain, tense muscles and knots, and oh holy hell did it hurt. And it continued to hurt like hell for 2 days afterward. In fact, I'm 99% sure I also used the phrase "I feel like I've been beat with a baseball bat". Needless to say, I did not die. I also never returned to that massage place (and fwiw it did not help with my pain, either. See: inflammation & autoimmune issues.)

Nthing the advice to hydrate, take some anti-inflammatories and give it a day or two. If there's no improvement or it's getting worse, get checked out by a doctor. (Assuming the pain is the sore muscle / ache / deep bruise type pain, and not burning / stabbing -type severe pain. If the latter, see a doctor ASAP.)
posted by geeky at 12:41 PM on April 11, 2014

Former massage therapist here with some thoughts.

A massage therapist should be able to adjust to the level of intensity his/her client is comfortable with. Some folks do well with an aggressive approach but many others need a much more careful touch. This guy should have been able to adjust to your needs rather than insist on the way he normally liked to do things.

I've been the recipient of some good deep-tissue massage in my time. (Look up Rolfing.) It can be intense at the time you are receiving it. It should absolutely not leave you in such pain that you have trouble sleeping or result in you being in agony the next day. At most it might leave you with some soreness (as if from a workout), and I would argue that is still far from ideal.

It's quite possible, as backwards compatible and telegraph suggest, that you had some pre-existing situation which the massage therapist inadvertently made worse. That still doesn't reflect well on him, but it's a little more understandable.

Before going to the doctor, I would personally try a little more time with ibuprofen, a hot bath, and rest. If it's not better by tomorrow, you might consider getting it checked out to make sure it's nothing serious.

As far as going back to that particular massage place - I don't know if the approach that one guy took will necessarily be reflected by the other massage therapists. Each massage therapist I've known has had their own individual style. Do make sure you find a massage therapist you can communicate clearly with and let them know about this experience before you start.
posted by tdismukes at 1:02 PM on April 11, 2014

I had a similar experience. This was part of PT in Korea. Then again, I have Fibromyalgia and a metric butt ton of inflammation and muscle tension. So much so I'm now on a low dose of Flexeril so I can get some relief at night.

But, yeah, I've had the oh lord make it stop type of pain after a massage. Thankfully the ortho I was seeing at the clinic was able to do lidocaine injections right into the worst spots.
posted by kathrynm at 1:25 PM on April 11, 2014

Should I go to a doctor?

There is a chance the massage could have damaged your neck:

The neck is not generally a fragile structure, but it is in some people. Another serious example of an adverse effect of massage is what happened to my barber — either a brain stem injury or mini-stroke caused by careless massage of a vulnerable neck. One of my own patients was injured the same way by another therapist, vomiting and retching for hours afterwards (a nasty symptom of brain stem impingement, or ripping of an artery going to the brain). I came close to doing this to another patient — that’s three examples of such patients in my career — but I’m proud to say that I spotted the warning signs and avoided disaster.


There's also rhabdomyolysis, where you're feeling ill because you've got lots of muscle cells dieing, but I think that'd be something from an long duration intense body massage, not a short duration neck massage.

I don't know anything about massage or medicine - I'd call the hospital's nurse-practitioner hotline and they'll tell you if they want to see you or wait 12 hours or what, or say "come in, we'll give you pain meds". They'd also give you a laundry list of symptoms to watch out for if it's not just normal post-deep-massage pain.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:44 PM on April 11, 2014

Hi everyone. So I spoke to a massage therapist that I trust and she told me the problem was that, most importantly, the masseuse I had didn't adapt his treatment to my needs/body cues, and then afterward I hadn't drank enough water and I used heat therapy instead of ice. She said that when you get a deep tissue massage, it releases lactic acid and if you don't flush that out, your body will get flu like symptoms (nausea, fever, etc) which is definitely what I was feeling. I drank a ton more water and made a icy compress out of water and rubbing alcohol, and that helped a lot. Today I am still sore but better than yesterday.

Incidentally the spa people saw my yelp review and called me to apologize and offer a refund and a free acupuncture treatment. I'm going to get my money back but I don't think I"ll let them near me again!
posted by silverstatue at 8:56 AM on April 12, 2014

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