When Massage Is Not Called For
Massage is appropriate most of the time; however, there are conditions for which it is not beneficial and is actually contraindicated. Some of these deal with symptoms of disease or particular physical defects, such as abnormal body temperature, inflammation, or vein abnormalities, whereas others deal with certain conditions of the skin. Some are specific disorders while others are more general, yet equally as important.
“Contraindicated” means “inadvisable.” For some conditions, massage may be contraindicated entirely, while for others, only certain types of movements or strokes are not recommended. Contraindications in massage protect the giver as well as the receiver.
Abnormal Body Temperature and Inflammation
If someone feels too hot or complains of being feverish, massage is not recommended. A fever is the body's way of fighting off attacks to the immune system. Generally high temperature is a sign to let the body heal itself, without help from you at that moment. Another reason for feeling heat might be inflammation in a particular area. You may be massaging your friend and find an area of the body that is noticeably hotter than anywhere else. Do not work on the hot spot because heat indicates an abnormality. Often such an area will have swelling and sometimes even discoloration. Advise your friend to see a medical practitioner. There are times when you will actually see an open infection that is pus-filled or discolored. Pus is another way the body fights infection by localizing the infection to that area only. Massage could push the infection into the bloodstream, causing a more severe illness, so do not work on the person at all. This infection needs medical attention.
There are a few conditions affecting the veins for which massage is clearly contraindicated. Varicose veins are the most obvious of these conditions.
Varicose veins are caused by the breakdown of the valves that allow blood to pass through the veins in one direction toward the heart. The valves act like inward-opening doors, allowing blood to pass in only one direction, and keeping it from flowing backward. When valve action is faulty, blood flows back through the door, causing a bulge in the vein.
Varicose veins are usually bluish in color, greater than normal in size, and generally bulge out of the lower legs. Sometimes these protruding veins may be painful even without being touched. Varicose veins can be caused by prolonged periods of sitting or standing, when the valves may receive undue stress. Pregnancy and obesity may cause this vein condition as well. Varicose veins may also be inherited. Varicosities can be found anywhere in the legs and should not be touched.
Phlebitis is an inflammation of a vein that can be painful and is generally accompanied by swelling. Often phlebitis can evolve into thrombophlebitis, where a blood clot has formed along the wall of the vein. Massage is clearly contraindicated if this condition exists.
Broken blood vessels should not be massaged, but you can gently massage the area around the vessels.
Many skin conditions are not affected by massage. Your concern is with conditions that can be spread over the body of the receiver or to you. The rule of thumb is if the skin is broken, cut, bleeding, or has a rash, do not massage. If the receiver has acne, boils, burns, blisters, eczema, or psoriasis, do not work on the affected area. You may massage other parts of the body but not the affected areas.
Areas affected by sunburn are not to be massaged, either, nor should any parts of the body that have sustained insect stings or bites. If there is contact dermatitis or exposure to poison ivy, oak, or sumac do not massage the body at this time, because this will spread the infection not only on the receiver but to you as well.
Some disorders require a doctor's go-ahead before you can massage. Folks on any long-term medication or medication for high blood pressure, asthma, nervous disorders, or cancer should check with their medical practitioners before beginning a course of massage. All of these conditions respond well to massage, but a doctor's go-ahead is essential. Once medical consent is given, massage works to support whatever conventional treatment has been arranged.
People with low blood pressure may feel light-headed after a massage; so take care to allow someone with this issue to relax a bit longer on the table, and give a little extra assistance when the person gets up. Heart patients do well with massage once their doctor gives the okay. Although these conditions and disorders do not completely rule out massage, great care must be exercised. If massage is allowed it must be performed gently, and the length of the massage should be reduced. When in doubt do not massage.