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Can you damage a spine while massaging?

Quick Answer

It is possible, but rare, to damage the spine while receiving a massage. With proper massage technique and awareness of contraindications by a licensed massage therapist, the risk is very low. Damage is more likely to occur if massage is performed by an unqualified person or if the recipient has an underlying condition that makes their spine vulnerable.

Can a massage actually damage your spine?

Yes, it is possible for a massage to damage the spine, but this risk is very low when working with a properly trained massage therapist. Some ways a massage could potentially damage the spine include:

  • Applying too much pressure over the spinal joints – This can put strain on the vertebrae and discs.
  • Improper body positioning/technique – Hyperextending joints or putting the body in awkward positions can cause injury.
  • Massaging over an unknown injury or condition – For example, massaging directly over a herniated disc or fracture without knowledge of the injury could make it worse.
  • Utilizing forceful joint manipulation – High velocity joint cracking done incorrectly could damage joints.

However, licensed massage therapists are trained to avoid these issues through proper technique and contraindication screening. Serious injuries from professional massage are extremely rare.

What spinal conditions make damage more likely?

Those with certain pre-existing spinal conditions have a higher chance of injury if massage is performed incorrectly:

  • Herniated discs – Applying pressure over a herniated disc could compress the nerve root.
  • Spinal fractures – Massage could disrupt a fractured vertebra before it has healed.
  • Spinal stenosis – Narrowing of the spinal canal risks impinging nerves with improper massage.
  • Osteoporosis – Fragile bones are at risk of fracture with excessive pressure.
  • Recent spinal surgery – Surrounding tissues need time to heal before massage.

Properly trained massage therapists will screen for these conditions beforehand and alter their techniques accordingly.

Can poor posture while giving massage cause damage?

Yes, using poor posture and body mechanics during massage can increase the risk of injuring the client or the therapist themselves:

  • Bending at the low back – Hyperextends the spine and can lead to disc injury.
  • Unsupported arms – Can cause shoulder strain and numbness in the hands.
  • Asymmetric stances – Can put unequal strain on the spine leading to muscle imbalances.
  • Incorrect weight shifting – Not utilizing the body’s weight properly can cause back strain.

Massage therapists learn proper body positioning and mechanics to maximize leverage and minimize effort and potential injury. Proper table height, use of forearms and body weight, and balanced stances are key.

Can massage paralyze you if done improperly?

Paralysis is an extremely rare side effect of massage, but could potentially occur in certain situations:

– Direct pressure or manipulation over the spinal cord itself could theoretically pinched a nerve or disrupt blood flow resulting in paralysis symptoms below the level of injury. However, the spinal cord is not directly massaged.

– Massage around the neck area could possibly injure the vertebral arteries. If blood flow in these arteries is severely diminished, it could cut off blood flow to the brainstem and lead to paralysis. But proper massage technique avoids excessive pressure here.

– Those with underlying spinal cord issues like tumors or instability may be at higher risk of further spinal cord compression with massage depending on the location. This highlights the need for massage therapists to properly screen clients beforehand.

So while paralysis is technically possible in massage, it is not a likely or expected outcome with proper training and screening. Serious side effects this severe are exceptionally rare.

Can a pinched nerve in the back be caused by massage?

It is highly unlikely for massage performed by a licensed professional to pinch a nerve in the back. However, a massage done by an untrained person could potentially pinch a nerve in rare cases:

– Applying excessive pressure directly over a nerve as it exits the spine could pinch it against the surrounding bone and tissue.

– Improperly forcing a joint into a restricted range of motion could put pressure on an adjacent nerve.

– Massaging directly over a herniated disc could compress the protruding material into a nerve root.

– Not identifying areas of neuropathy beforehand could lead to careless pressure over already compressed nerves.

A massage therapist properly trained in anatomy, kinesiology, and contraindications would be careful to avoid techniques that could pinche a nerve in compromised areas. They will adjust pressure and positioning as needed.

Can spinal misalignment or subluxation occur?

Spinal joints shifting position or becoming displaced, also known as vertebral subluxation, is not likely during massage:

– The joints and ligaments of the spine are designed to be stable and difficult to dislodge without significant trauma.

– The positioning used in massage is not forceful enough to actually shift spinal vertebrae out of place.

– Any pre-existing instability or joint hypermobility would be identified beforehand as a contraindication.

– Sudden articulations like those done in some chiropractic adjustments are generally not part of massage therapy.

While muscles around the spine can be loosened with massage, this would not cause bones to shift or become misaligned on its own. Any cases of reported subluxation from massage would be exceptionally rare.

Can massage techniques like chiropractic manipulation be dangerous?

In the hands of an unqualified person, certain joint manipulation techniques used by some chiropractors and physical therapists could be dangerous:

– High velocity spinal thrusts could potentially damage vertebrae or discs if done incorrectly.

– Neck manipulations run the risk of injuring blood vessels in that area.

– Those with conditions like osteoporosis are at higher risk of bone fractures.

However, these types of techniques require extensive training and licensure to perform safely. They are not commonly practiced in general massage therapy, and untrained individuals should not attempt them.

For the average massage, slower joint mobilizations within a normal range of motion are safer and just as effective for increasing mobility without forceful thrusts.

Are there ways to massage the spine safely?

Yes, gentle massage techniques can be safely performed along the length of the spinal column with proper precautions:

– Avoid direct pressure over the vertebrae and use broad, soft pressure instead.

– Do not hyperextend joints into end range or apply heavy pressure on bony landmarks.

– Use neutral body positioning and proper leverage so minimal force is needed.

– Carefully screen clients and avoid massaging spinal areas with contraindications.

– Slowly warm tissues and loosen muscles surrounding the spine rather than forcing joints to move.

– Stop if the client reports any worsening pain, numbness, or other concerning symptoms.

With proper training in spinal anatomy and pathology, massage therapists can assess any contraindications and safely adapt their techniques as needed.


While spinal damage from massage is extremely uncommon, it requires licensed, professional therapists who screen for contraindications and alter their techniques accordingly. Forceful spinal manipulation should be avoided by untrained individuals. With proper precautions andLicensed, experienced massage therapists almost never cause serious spinal injuries. But unqualified individuals attempting spinal massage without proper training, screening precautions, and technique adjustments could potentially cause harm in rare cases.

Key Points

  • Spinal damage from massage is very rare but could occur from excessive spinal pressure, hyperextension, or forceful manipulation in compromised areas.
  • Those with spinal disc herniations, bone fragility, stenosis, recent fracture or surgery are at higher risk of injury if massaged incorrectly.
  • Poor massage posture like bending at the low back can also increase risk of injury for client and therapist.
  • Paralysis, pinched nerves, misalignments, and joint dislocations are highly unlikely with proper massage training and screening.
  • Gentle massage techniques can be safely performed along the spine when precautions are taken.