The Safety of Massage Therapy
One article on PainSci cites Ernst 2003: Massage Therapy Side Effects
PainSci notes on Ernst 2003:
Is massage safe? Researchers attempted to answer that question. Four databases were reviewed; all articles which reported adverse effects of any type of massage therapy were looked at. In the end, 20 reports were looked at. “The majority of adverse effects were associated with exotic types of manual massage or massage delivered by laymen, while massage therapists were rarely implicated.”
The conclusion was that, while not entirely risk free, “serious adverse events are probably true rarities.”
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
OBJECTIVES: After many years out of the limelight, massage therapy is now experiencing a revival. The aim of this systematic review is to evaluate its potential for harm.
METHODS: Computerized literature searches were carried out in four databases. All articles reporting adverse effects of any type of massage therapy were retrieved. Adverse effects relating to massage oil or ice were excluded. No language restrictions were applied. Data were extracted and evaluated according to predefined criteria.
RESULTS: Sixteen case reports of adverse effects and four case series were found. The majority of adverse effects were associated with exotic types of manual massage or massage delivered by laymen, while massage therapists were rarely implicated. The reported adverse events include cerebrovascular accidents, displacement of a ureteral stent, embolization of a kidney, haematoma, leg ulcers, nerve damage, posterior interosseous syndrome, pseudoaneurism, pulmonary embolism, ruptured uterus, strangulation of neck, thyrotoxicosis and various pain syndromes. In the majority of these instances, there can be little doubt about a cause–effect relationship. Serious adverse effects were associated mostly with massage techniques other than ‘Swedish’ massage.
CONCLUSION: Massage is not entirely risk free. However, serious adverse events are probably true rarities.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Inciting events associated with lumbar disc herniation. Suri 2010 Spine J.
- Prediction of an extruded fragment in lumbar disc patients from clinical presentations. Pople 1994 Spine (Phila Pa 1976).
- Characteristics of patients with low back and leg pain seeking treatment in primary care: baseline results from the ATLAS cohort study. Konstantinou 2015 BMC Musculoskelet Disord.
- Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of universal school-based mindfulness training compared with normal school provision in reducing risk of mental health problems and promoting well-being in adolescence: the MYRIAD cluster randomised controlled trial. Kuyken 2022 Evid Based Ment Health.
- No long-term effects after a three-week open-label placebo treatment for chronic low back pain: a three-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Kleine-Borgmann 2022 Pain.