Sports Massage Therapy

Can a Deep Tissue Massage Cause Blood Clots?

Dr. Carl Clarkson
Dr. Carl Clarkson August 31, 2022
Massage on legs

Massage may seem like one of the safest healthcare interventions a client can have. But, does it have any harmful side effects? In this article, we specifically look into whether or not deep tissue massage can cause blood clots, as well as discussing some of the other contraindications to massage.

So, can deep tissue massage cause blood clots? Deep tissue massage, or any type of massage, cannot cause blood clots. However, due to increased circulation, massage can dislodge existing blood clots, allowing them to travel to the heart, lungs, and brain, causing serious health concerns such as stroke, heart attack and pulmonary embolism.

Read on to learn more about the effect of deep tissue massage on blood clots. 

Does Deep Tissue Massage Cause Blood Clots?

Blood clotting is a normal defence response to injury, meant to prevent further bleeding and begin healing the injury. However, sometimes, clotting progresses into blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - blood clots within the legs. This may be a result of an inflamed or blocked blood vessel, dilated weak blood vessels, or even just sitting for too long.

That being said, deep tissue massage, or any type of massage, does not cause blood clots. It can, however, dislodge existing clots. Blood clots and DVTs are extreme health conditions that can be adversely affected by any type of massage but the techniques involved in deep tissue massage may pose a greater risk than more gentle massages such as a Swedish massage

How Does Massage Affect Blood Clots?

The aim of deep tissue massage is to stretch the muscle and connective tissue layer by layer until even the deepest layer has been released. But in the cases of blood clots, this may cause the clot to dislodge and allow it to travel around the body where it poses an even greater risk - especially if it reaches the heart, lungs, or brain. 

Clots can form in any vein and, whilst massage should definitely be avoided around the affected area, it should also be avoided in general until a Doctor advises otherwise. Massage stimulates blood circulation, therefore can dislodge a clot, even if the point of massage is elsewhere on the body. 

What are the Side Effects of Deep Tissue Massage?

Whilst blood clots aren’t strictly a side effect to deep tissue massage as massage doesn’t cause them, there are a number of other side effects to be aware of:

  • Lingering pain
  • Muscle ache or fatigue
  • Headaches and migraines
  • General fatigue and sleepiness
  • Inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Bruising
  • Aggravating old injuries

Are Blood Clots a Contraindication for Massage?

A blood clot is considered a medical contraindication for massage and should only be treated if approved by a Doctor in writing. Other massage contraindications are split into three sections; total contraindications, local contraindications and medical contraindications.

Total Contraindications for Massage

For various reasons, it is best to not treat clients with total contraindications. It may be that it is not healthy for the client to undergo massage, or could post a risk to the therapist.

  • Fever
  • Contagious diseases, including any cold or flu, no matter how mild it may seem
  • Under the influence of drugs or alcohol-including prescription pain medication
  • Recent operations or acute injuries
  • Neuritis
  • Skin diseases

Local Contraindications for Massage

Massage Therapists can massage clients with local contraindications, but not at the affected site.

  • Varicose veins
  • Undiagnosed lumps or bumps
  • Pregnancy
  • Bruising
  • Cuts
  • Abrasions
  • Sunburn
  • Undiagnosed pain
  • Inflammation, including arthritis

Medical Contraindications for Massage

Massage should not be given to clients with medical contraindications unless it has been approved by their Doctor in writing. Examples of medical contraindications include:

  • Cardiovascular conditions (thrombosis, phlebitis, hypertension, heart conditions)
  • Heart problems, angina, those with pacemakers
  • Oedema
  • Psoriasis or eczema
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Bell’s palsy, trapped or pinched nerves
  • Gynecological infections

Learn more about the contraindications to massage in our recent blog, where we discuss the various contraindications and other adverse reactions in more detail. 

Final Thoughts

Deep tissue massage does not cause blood clots, however it can dislodge existing blood clots. As such, blood clots, DVTs and other blood conditions are considered medical contraindications to massage and patients with such conditions should not be given massage therapy without the consent of their Doctor. 

At Breeze Academy, we teach massage contraindications on our Sports Massage Training courses to ensure that new therapists are knowledgeable, safe, and effective in their treatment. We offer Level 3, Level 4, and an accelerated Level 3 and 4 course to suit all requirements. 

Learn more online today, or get in touch with us for more information.

FAQs

What are Blood Clots?

It is natural for blood clotting to happen at the site of an injury to prevent excessive bleeding; platelets and proteins work together to stop the bleeding by forming a clot over the injury. However, sometimes, clots form on the inside of an injury (or within veins) and can dislodge. This is incredibly dangerous; the clot can travel through the body's circulatory system towards the heart, lung, and brain. 

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a major vein in the leg. Less commonly, it can also form in the arms, pelvis, or other large veins in the body. DVTs are just as dangerous as other blood clots, posing the same risks, especially in relation to massage. 

What Causes Blood Clots?

Blood clots can sometimes form for seemingly no reason, without an obvious trigger. However, some causes of blood clots include:

  • Prolonged sitting or bed rest
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Birth control pills/hormone replacement therapy/breast cancer medicines
  • Certain cancer types (pancreatic, lung, multiple myeloma, or blood-related cancers)
  • Trauma (serious injury)
  • Some types of major surgery
  • Age (especially over the age of 60)
  • A family history of blood clots
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Diseases related to chronic inflammation
  • Certain infections (HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, or Lyme disease)

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