Carlos Correa, an elite Major League Baseball player, has sustained a broken rib while receiving an in-home massage! If you want more details about the story, you can check it out here. Imagine the dismay of the 2017 World Series Champions, the Houston Astros, finding out that they are losing their All-Star’s contribution because of a massage gone wrong. Imagine the financial investment they made on him to be benched until he has healed.
As a Doctor of Physical Therapy and someone who provides expert manual therapy care, let me iterate: THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!
As I help patients navigate their healing journey, I am often asked by my clients if massage is beneficial in conjunction with their care here and it’s, frankly, a complicated question. Massage may offer a short-term, feel-good experience, but that’s all it is. And, really, that’s all it should be. Physical therapists are the ones who are mechanical experts, not necessarily massage therapists. But time and time again I hear about horror stories such as this with Mr. Correa.
Now is that to say that all massages should be avoided? No! I even get massages from time to time, and I love them. But I do not get them with the expectations of being healed. Massages can be a great benefit to your overall health, but it is important to regulate your expectations of what a massage therapist can and should do.
Here are some of my tips for picking a massage therapist as well as how to communicate with that therapist:
I get massages for mental rest and relaxation and to feel good about taking care of myself. I consistently go to one therapist whom I have researched and trust. If you are getting a different therapist every time you get a massage (like at Massage Envy™) be wary. Look for a therapist with the proper credentials and certifications. Once you’ve found a therapist you like, stick with that person. They will be more familiar with your body and will know how to adjust accordingly.
Now that you’ve found a therapist you like, the next important thing to note is what exactly they’ll be massaging. Whenever I go to someone new (like at a resort while I’m on vacation) I tell them never to touch, stretch or turn my neck to get a “knot” out. This “knot” is most likely your first rib, which is a bone that is densely populated with nerves. It’s rarely a muscle that causes this pain in the neck that so many of us want massaged out. In fact, let me tell you the sore truth about your aches and pains: it’s more often than not NERVE PAIN, not muscle pain. So when you’re going to a massage therapist to rub out these pains, you may actually be aggravating your nerves.
We’ve all heard “no pain, no gain,” but this should NOT be a mindset in a massage. Sports massages and deep tissue massages are horrible. It can anger nerves (as mentioned above), but worse, you can create lots of inflammation.
Clearly the point of a massage is to put pressure, but how much is too much? Well, if you are getting broken bones or fractures from your massage, I think it’s safe to say that’s way too much pressure. I’d say a good massage encompasses some rhythmic strokes or methods that help lengthen muscles. Never let a massage therapist adjust, crack or manipulate your bones EVER. Massage is therapeutic in its own way. With the right amount of pressure and a gentle, healing touch, it should be soothing, relaxing and good for your mental health. Remember it’s not meant to be corrective!
Did Carlos Correa know what to look for in a massage therapist? Did that therapist overstep their scope, or did Mr. Correa ask for a more intense massage thinking it would do him more good in the long run? We may never know. But if you follow the above guidelines and watch for red flags, it may just save you from a fractured rib…
Remember Manual Physical Therapists are the experts in mechanical correction using hands-on care. We go through a lot more schooling and specialize in addressing biomechanical issues. Check out our video illustrating how nerve pain works.
If you want manual care check us out! Unlike most therapists, we work on the nervous system first in a gentle way before we go “hard” on the joint if necessary. But, often times, freeing up the nerves first and then restoring biomechanics will ease the tension on the muscles. That’s the benefit of our Neuromechanical Therapy method and system!
Heal Smarter, Not Harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin