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Deep massage can damage nerves

Researchers at the Arizona May Clinic have found that excessive focal pressure to the neck and shoulder area can damage the spinal accessory nerve, which was not previously recognized as a cause of injury to the nerve.

The spinal accessory nerve is a small nerve traveling in the back side of the upper shoulder area.

To illustrate the dangers of deep massage to the neck and shoulder area a healthy 38-year-old woman found it difficult to lift her left arm and experienced shoulder pain after a massage. When the pain and limited arm movement persisted she visited her doctor who used electromyography (EMG) to confirm injury to her spinal accessory nerve. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed evidence of swelling in the shoulder’s trapezius muscle, which is supplied by the spinal accessory nerve.

For the following 6 weeks the woman underwent physical therapy and gradually improved, however, 2 years later, the woman still experiences mild pain and weakness in her left shoulder.

The researchers suggest that anyone experiencing pain or shoulder weakness, after a massage, should consider a visit to their physician to determine if nerve damage is the cause of their symptoms, which can be determined with an EMG test.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Gisele Siat January 4, 2011, 10:50 am

    I had a massage in November that caused nerve damage. The therapist used too much focal pressure on my back which resulted in nerve damage radiating down my arm into my hand. The pain was so intense that I had to go to the ER, had an MRI, x-rays, triggerpoint injection and physio therapy. Two month later my left hand is still very weak, I lost a lot of dexterity and it is constantly dingeling like it is asleep. Now the bills start poring in from all the treatments. I am depressed about it. Cannot play golf. Anybody have any advice?


  • Amy April 15, 2011, 11:03 am

    I also sustained nerve damage from a massage. I had stretch traction on the neck and compression that was too deep on my scapular area. As a result when I got up off the table I could not lift my left arm. The EMG shows LTN palsy and Spinal Accessory nerve palsy. I am a very active person so this has been horrible!!
    The massage place was very dismissive of my concerns. Not caring in the least to my injury.


  • Jason September 30, 2011, 7:45 pm

    I am a student for massage therapy and I am deeply concerned about this. In defense of bodyworkers, at my school we are given a plethora of things we ought to do prior to, during, and after each session to ensure no injuries are sustained during a session. We are taught that it is of upmost importance to check in to see if the pressure is too heavy, as well as not heavy enough, amongst other things. There are several things I am curious about as to the cause for these damaged tissues; were the superficial layers previously warmed before deeper pressure was appilied, was deep pressure applied too rapidly, was the muscle that was massaged overworked? Are there any genetic factors? There are lots of things I have learned during massage school, and I humbly announce that I am top of my class, but this is something I am going to ask my instructors about to see if I can prevent this kind of injury.

    • Damaged and in pain through massage May 21, 2017, 10:29 am

      Did you ask about injury – 5 months on my legs and back are in pain with getting massaged.

    • Anon October 26, 2017, 1:17 pm

      A nerve is not a tissue.

  • So sad September 14, 2012, 11:55 pm

    I just recieved a deep tissue massage yesterday. I had a big knot in my upper left shoulder area toward my neck. It had been a month since i had a massage and this small pain had been there a few weeks. The therapist asked what pressure I preferred and I told him generally deep is fine. He massaged my back with this pressure and it was fine. However, when he attempted to massage the knot in my left shoulder the pressure became intensely deep and I am afraid it has now done serious damage. He had me do odd things like lift my shoulder up against his pressure, then slowly relax it. Same with my neck. At one point the pressure gave me an instant head ache and hurt very badly. When I got up from the table I felt drunk, light headed and my left arm was numb and I could not move it. Today I can move it in certain ways but not others. I can lift it up in front of me and behind me, but I am unable to life it up on the side. When I shrug my shoulders with my hands on my hips it lets me, but as soon as i take my hands off my left shoulder drops down and outward. Something is seriously wrong with my arm. I can pinpoint the exact muscle or nerve that is just not working anymore. I am very scared this is permanent nerve or muscle damage. i have an appt scheduled in a month for a neurologist. I am praying it just goes away on its own. So sad and depressed and in a lot of pain. I wish I never went to get a massage.

  • david September 11, 2013, 8:42 am

    I have just retuned from holiday from Greece and while there my wife had a facial, she came back saying why don’t I have a treatment, I said that I did not want one but if anything I would have a massage, I went for one the day later and after 5 minutes I had was almost in tears, she said that I had booked on to a deep tissue massage and that it would get all the knots out, I have never had one problem with my back, I was expecting to have an hour of a nice relaxing massage and almost fall asleep, I ended up having an hour of excruciating pain after which I could barely walk for two days, since I have returned its got slightly better, but yesterday I went for a little run and today my back is killing me. I think she has done me permanent damage.

    What would any one advise me to do?

  • susan Goodman July 17, 2014, 1:07 pm

    please can you tell me if muscles can be damaged with deep massage

  • CF August 19, 2014, 12:40 am

    I had what felt like a knotted muscle in march of 2014. Decided to get a deep tissue massage in July 2014. Since the deep tissue massage, I experience numbness in my left arm and very bad neck pain. Just got my MRI done last week and it is suggestive of a herniated disc. I should have never gone for a deep tissue massage.

    • MTDr March 4, 2015, 6:44 pm

      Deep massage doesn’t cause herniated discs. It’s impossible. Deep massage may cause nerve damage, however.

  • SAF March 18, 2015, 7:53 am

    I think the terminology in articles like this can be a bit confusing for consumers. There is a difference between “deep tissue” and the heavy pressure a lot of patients ask for and patients use. Deep tissue can be accessed with very little pressure. Trigger points, which often replicate a lot of symptoms that prior posters have described, also can be amplified if treated incorrectly.

  • venisha March 19, 2015, 9:22 pm

    I don’t understand. You are paying for the session. If its too much pressure, why not just ask the therapist to lighten up? I am a therapist. Many times over people have asked for “more pressure ” and when I give it, they tense up! That defeats the purpose completely. So many people ask for something they really aren’t informed about. I’m the type of therapist thats really easy going, and am happy to answer any question you may have about the session. I like to help inform people. Massage therapy can help you or clearly can harm you. You control that, we cannot feel your pain, or read your mind. Please speak up. Now if the therapist doesn’t oblige well then you need to find one that fits you. Finding the perfect therapist for you is like finding the perfect pair of jeans.

  • nicole September 17, 2015, 12:56 am

    I receive a deep tissue massage on my feet and since then my nerves has been bothering me. Is it possible that he damage my foot nerve. And is there something I can do to heal it?

  • Barbara October 6, 2015, 5:42 pm

    I had a lot of massages in the past couple of years to fix my tight neck. At first, the deep tissue helped and made me feel good. Then I started noticing that I was getting sore all over my body after massage to an inordinate degree and had to stop. I had neuromuscular therapy, they relaxed my jaw and now my neck is better.

  • Damaged and in pain through massage May 21, 2017, 10:38 am

    the massage I received hurt so much and I was light headed after it. I have been ill for 5 months and feel fluid and chains of pea size lumps moving around my body and a what feels like fluid. I lost a stone in weight in one month and white blood cells are raised. The qualified masseur does not answer my messages.

  • Anita May 30, 2017, 6:24 pm

    I’m physically active, and once or twice a year, my neck and shoulder “seize up” with thick knots, the focus being an intense knot under one of my scapula. I went for a deep tissue massage thinking it would break up the tension. While he really went to town on that shoulder, I was ok with the level of pressure because I thought it was going to help. When I sat up to get dressed, I knew immediately something was terribly wrong: there was an excruciating throbbing electrical type sensation radiating down my arm. I could barely drive home. I thought maybe it would go away after 24 hrs or so and took some pain reliever. It only got worse-the level of pain over the next few days went to a 10-and I went to urgent care and the ER to try to find relief. Pain meds only took it from a 10 to a 9. The only relief I could find was positional-if I held my arm up over my head, the pain went from a 9 – 10 to a 6-7. None of the medical professionals gave any insight as to when I could expect to see some improvement. I was very very frightened that I had permanently messed up my life. Long story short-I did heal completely but it took a long time. Physical therapy helped as did relaxation with heat and some light cardio to improve circulation. The initial two weeks was hell; couldn’t drive, cancelled plans, etc. About week 3-4 I felt perhaps I was healing and was able to do short driving trips. It was about week 8 where I felt more or less healed, though I still had some light tingling in my hand and fingers. That eventually subsided. All of this because of a deep tissue massage that was supposed to help. Never again.

  • Nadia September 15, 2017, 10:28 am

    Hi, I went got a massage about four days ago and have had shoulder pain ever since. First there was a moment where she was pulling my shoulder blade and arm out and than dropped it by accident, could that have done something? And than the masseuse worked hard on my neck and shoulders at one point she hit something that caused a huge wave of pain to my head and neck. I told her to stop and move somewhere else. After that I went home and to bed. The next day I had really bad pain and still four days later do. I have been icing, taking pain relievers, tried little stretches, heat, baths anything I could think of to try and help. What should I do wait a few more days and see if it goes away?

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