Sports Massage Therapy

What are the Contraindications of Sports Massage?

Dr. Carl Clarkson
Dr. Carl Clarkson February 9, 2022
shoulder sports massage

As with most treatments, there are groups of people that are at particular risk of adverse reactions or side effects. This is known as contraindications. As a sports massage therapist it is crucial that you are aware of the contraindications of sports massage so that you can confidently make decisions on whether or not a client would be at significant risk. In this article, we discuss various contraindications of sports massage, as well as a number of potential side effects. 

So, what are the contraindications of sports massage? There are a number contraindications of sports massage, including open wounds, infection, pregnancy, muscle ruptures and tears, burns, broken bones, thrombosis, inflammation, and bleeding disorders. Some are more severe than others, but all contraindications should be taken seriously.

Read on to learn more about the contraindications and side effects of sports massage. 

Can Anyone Have a Sports Massage?

The vast majority of the public can, theoretically, have a sports massage without risking adverse or unusual side effects. Despite the name, clients do not need to be an athlete to have a sports massage; the treatment is known to be beneficial for anyone that suffers from muscular pain and/or injury. 

However, there are a number of groups of people that should not have sports massages for health reasons. These are known as contraindications, and the use of massage for those with such conditions could be harmful or dangerous. 

Contraindications of Sports Massage

Like most treatments, sports massage has a number of contraindications. Contraindications are injuries and conditions where using a particular treatment could be harmful or dangerous. As a sports massage therapist, you should always ask clients about contraindications before beginning treatment. 

Contraindications of sports massage include:

Open Wounds

Open wounds cover a number of cuts, lacerations, grazes that are not yet healed. Your client should wait until a scar has formed over the wound before proceeding with massage. 

Muscle Ruptures and Tears

Muscle ruptures may still be bleeding in the acute stages, and sports massage has the potential to increase this bleeding, incur soft tissue damage, and prolong recovery. Clients should wait at least 48-72 hours after injury before having a sports massage, but this timeframe can differ based on the severity of the injury. 

Tendon Ruptures

The above information about muscle ruptures also applied to tendon ruptures. However, complete tendon ruptures require surgery; massage will not help. 

Contusions

Massaging a contusion too soon after the injury occurs may cause further damage and, in some cases, can lead to bone growth within the muscle. 

Burns, Chilblains, and Broken Bones

Never perform sports massage on burns, chilblains, or broken bones. It will likely hurt the client, and cause further damage.

Periostitis

Periostitis is inflammation of the sheath that surrounds the bone. Sports massage to this condition will cause further irritation. However, you may be able to massage other areas of the body that will not have an impact on the periostitis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gout

These are inflammatory conditions, and sports massage can make the condition worse. 

Bursitis

Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa; a small sack of fluid that helps tendons to pass over the bones at joints. Massage should be avoided if there is pain, swelling, and redness over the skin. 

Infections

Massaging various types of infection can spread the infection to other parts of the body, and to the massage therapist. Clients should wait until the infection has cleared and any associated wounds have scabbed over. 

Thrombosis

Thrombosis is a blood clot in the vein, common to the calf area. Never massage a client with any kind of blood clot as massage may dislodge the clot, allowing it to travel to the heart, lungs, or brain with severe consequences. 

Bleeding Disorders

Never massage clients with bleeding disorders such as haemophilia. Sports massage can cause damage to tissues and may result in bleeding. 

Tumours

If your client has a known tumour, or any undiagnosed lumps and bumps, stay well clear. Only specialist cancer massage therapists should carry out massage for clients with any kind of cancer or tumours, as it requires specialist knowledge and techniques. 

This list acts as a basic guideline to contraindications of sports massage, however it is not exhaustive. If your client has a condition that isn’t listed which you are unsure of, do not proceed before confirming your client’s suitability for sports massage. 

Pregnancy

Sports massage should be avoided during pregnancy unless the massage therapist is trained in prenatal massage, in which case the therapist may choose to perform a more suitable type of prenatal massage. Experts have reported numerous benefits of massage therapy during pregnancy, however certain areas of the body must be avoided during this time.

What is an Adverse Reaction in Sports Massage? 

An adverse reaction, also known as a side effect, is a negative reaction to sports massage. These reactions may be common or uncommon, but are unwelcomed nonetheless. They can also be minor reactions that do not warrant medical attention and will resolve themselves in a few days or, in rare occasions, can be more severe. 

Side effects of sports massage can include:

  • Causing new injuries (such as bruises and nerve lesions)
  • Aggravating existing conditions
  • Distracting patients from seeking more suitable healthcare (some patients may, unwisely, prioritise massage over more suitable healthcare)
  • Mild stress to the nervous system
  • Rhabdomyolysis (this occurs when too much protein is released into the bloodstream from crushed muscle)
  • Mild pain or discomfort 
  • Sensory injury

Final Thoughts

There are a number of contraindications of sports massage that massage therapists must be aware of before proceeding with treatment. Some contraindications are more severe than others, but none should not be overlooked under any circumstance. 

Each and every client is different, and therapists are unlikely to be aware of their clients’ medical history. As such, any reported conditions should be taken seriously, and chances should not be taken. If you are unsure of the likelihood of adverse reactions to a particular condition that a client has disclosed, do not proceed. Instead, you should recommend that they seek advice from the GP or relevant healthcare professional before seeking treatment again.

At Breeze Academy, we offer sports massage courses that provide more detail on the contraindications of sports massage so that you can be more confident in who you can and cannot treat. Our courses are suitable for beginners, and existing practitioners alike, with the option to study Level 3 Sports Massage or Level 4 Sports Massage. Find out more about our sports massage courses online today, or get in touch for more information.

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