≡ Menu

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • 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?


    • Rita February 28, 2019, 4:45 pm

      I had one 4.5 months ago. I am having major problems. Same with my swelling and arms. I won’t be able to cycle or golf or swim if this can’t be fixed. I am also hoping it did not turn on an autoimmune disease.

  • 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.


    • Alena August 16, 2017, 7:26 pm

      Did your nerve damage ever resolve? I have the same thing and I am very worried. Thanks for your reply

  • 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.

    • J August 14, 2018, 8:10 pm

      @Anon, nerves are a certain type of human body 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.

    • Teresita August 24, 2018, 3:48 pm

      I am in the same boat! I had a few tissue massage and my left side shoulder, neck , and lower cerebral are in so much pin. In the last month I’ve been to numerous doctors who referrered me to a neuro. Got an mri done and waiting results this Monday. 🙁

  • 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?

    • Matty July 8, 2018, 1:56 pm

      Nicole, I know this post is old that you wrote. But I just had a deep tissue massage on my foot and I have tingling vibration feelings in it. Did you ever get yours resolved? If so can you give me any insight ?

  • 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.

    • Blair February 3, 2018, 4:36 pm

      First of all let me start by stating how sorry I am your massage caused you pain! I am a licensed massage therapist specializing in injury work and pathological conditions of the human body. I do have to say it is important to ALWAYS SPEAK UP AND INFORM YOUR THERAPIST THEY ARE CAUSING PAIN! We do not always know unless we are told as pressure is subjective and everyone’s pain threshold is different. If the therapist does not lighten up after you have voiced this concern then you need to end the massage. I will say It sounds as though you have stagnant lymph in your body that needs to be properly drained by a certified manual lymphatic drainage specialist. The pea sized lumps you are describing sound like inflamed lymph nodes if they have remained in the same areas. It is important to seek out the care of a physician to medically assess you! Massage will not cause this type of response unless you potentially have some kind of underlying autoimmune disease or condition such as fibromyalgia or lupus to name a few but there are many other conditions associated with this as well. Deep pressure massage in a client with fibromyalgia may feel good at the time to relieve the tender points but it can actually result in a flare up of the disease. I am not saying you have any disease or condition but based on what you are describing I would highly recommend getting medically checked as this does not sound like a response from the massage alone, especially not 5 months later.

    • Joanne April 28, 2018, 5:56 am

      I had a thai massage 11/2 years ago because I couldn’t get into my therapist. It was so hard I told her I was scared short story woke the next morning with extremely bad shooting pain down the left side of my neck down my back and under the top and underneath of my arm . Went to hospital crying in uncontrollable pain had to go on medicine morphine for 3 weeks to settle the nerve pain. Once again had a massage which aggrevated the last nerve damage now back on medicine morphine and nerve tablets yes have permanent damage, going for MRI in 2 weeks but I know under my arm is one spot, lower part of neck and front of left shoulder. Chronic pain even the morphine doesn’t stop the shooting pain. What a life changer happened when I was 43

  • 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.

    • Joanne April 28, 2018, 6:02 am

      Please be careful with the strength of any massage you may have in the future as I ended up the same way in hospital, had morphine medicine and nerve tablets for 3 weeks got better. Year and a half later had massage a little to heavy back in the chronic pain again, so I’ve realised I didn’t heal the injury is always there.

  • 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?

    • Nadia September 15, 2017, 12:17 pm

      Also there is a poping by my calor bone

  • shana January 24, 2018, 10:17 am

    I went through the same experience with the place that I had used hands on approach on Preston rd and hwy 635. The student thearapist was new and started dry massage. Afterwards she put oil and massaged me on my spine with elbow but she put so much force on directly on spine that the next day I broke on my skin with stress shingles. It is been almost five months but I get sharp pricks on my stomach and right side on my waist. The spot on my back is black like a map. I tried all oils, scrubs, but it is not working. I also wished I should not have gone to get the massage. My life and my skin has changed for worst.

  • Emily February 3, 2018, 6:57 pm

    Got deep tissue massage from classmate in university. It was really bad. Pressure was to high. After that my spine and back was in pain it really often makes sounds from bones . It has been 2 months and still it didn’t go away. I’m going to gym for light workouts and eating well and still the pain is in back and neck. Using meds and oils but nothing happens. I’m soon going to visit physiotherapyst and neurologist. Please help me. What to do to make pain go away? It seems like it’s for long time. How did anyone cure something similar and did there was permanent damage afterwards?

  • Justin March 22, 2018, 1:52 am

    Had back issues for eight years following an incident where i severely overworked myself, back always felt tight afterwards, started seeing a chiro last year for a spell but didn’t really help, Threw my back out couple times and this time thought i would try massage for quick recovery, treatment itself didn’t hurt but as soon as i tried to move, holy hell i was in so much pain, i couldn’t get off the table, chiro came in the room and gave me an adjustment and then helped me get dressed, tied my shoes and helped me to my truck, my wife had to help me out and inside.
    Tried ice pack for few hours, no drugs though I’ve never had back pain this bad, hard to roll over, can’t even walk next day. Hoping someone has some suggestions.

  • S April 15, 2018, 7:52 am

    After my first massage session,I had severe pain radiating from my left shoulder down to my fingers. I couldn’t lift my left arm and I was in constant severe pain 24/7. I went to an Accupuncturist and he was able to relieve the pain after the first session. After the second session I was 90% pain free and after the third session, I was pain free. 3 years later I was in an automobile accident and it triggered a tingling sensation from my left shoulder down to my fingers. I went to a chiropractor and they adjusted me and also gave me a massage on my back. I had severe shoulder and arm pain again. I’m going to make an appt with my Accupuncturist for this pain.
    For all those who have nerve damage from a massage, try going to Accupuncturist. It really works and Find a good one who knows what they’re doing.

  • Kathleen S. August 13, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Just yesterday I has a quicky 15 minute massage. My stress tends to settle in my left shoulder. While working on the knot I had a jolt of numbness go down my arm. This sensation happened a few more time. I left sore but by bedtime it was excruciating. I stayedon meds all day but again tonight the pain is tremendous. Is this normal ? How long will it last ?

  • Ivy W. October 25, 2018, 1:54 pm

    7 months after me massage that I didn’t ask for my knee was swollen for 7 months and it required arthroscopic surgery. I have never had. MRI showed a small meniscus tear but the pain was coming from just outside right now close to ouside of patella bone

  • Chris November 7, 2018, 12:21 am

    There’s comfort in knowing my misery is shared! I agreed to have a deep tissue massage to shoulders and various spinal subluxation ‘adjustments’ to my neck and lower back to treat post-dromal migraine symptoms. I’ve been left with full-body kinetic tremors that feel like I’m constantly shivering, tingling in my left arm/hand and an unremitting buzzing/electrical noise in my head, completely in synch with the tremors.
    My muscles were not warmed up prior to manipulation and the therapy was fierce.

    I feel as though I’ve been permanently crippled. I’ve seen several GPs and a raft of specialists, including a neurologist and neuro-surgeon. I’ve had 2 MRIs (head/neck), both showing nothing amiss.
    I’m at my wits end. My life has come to a standstill and the medics have no idea what’s happened to me. My symptoms have thus been described as ‘idiopathic’. The only thing that helped a little was gentle Bowen therapy.
    I noticed that someone on this site has successfully tried acupuncture; here’s hoping then. I’ll try to find a good one and see if that improves my situation.

    My advice? Stay away from ‘alternative’ non-orthopaedic specialist directed spinal manipulation and/or non-medically referred deep tissue massage. Try Bowen therapy, acupuncture, relaxation techniques and treatment from a registered and experienced physiotherapist instead. Don’t allow anyone to interfere with muscles that are not fully warmed up, and do cry “stop!” if it hurts!
    One the plus side, I’ve read that injured nerves can heal, but it takes several months and sometimes years……………

  • Alan December 12, 2018, 6:58 pm

    Help! My feet are BURNING!! Any massage therapist heard of this before?? I got (2) 90 min. massages about 4 days apart…10 days ago which was the last one…super intense pressure all around my hips, psiatic, hamstrings, feet and lower back. I was having lots of lower back and hip pain. So I asked him to do it hard and it was painful but I endured (unwisely it seems now) During my last massage I felt a warm burning in my left foot that kinda felt good. I thought well I must be releasing energy or something and that’s good. Well 2 days later both feet were burning pretty much non stop and it’s driving me crazy!! 10 days later same hot feeling not better nor worse. Any ideas if this is temporary or possibly permanent? I don’t have diabetes so neuropathy wouldn’t be from that. I’m pretty sure it’s irritation from the message. Help

  • Jojo December 18, 2018, 12:41 pm

    Recently, I went to get deep tissue message and the therapist suggested that I should have an hour and half session. The therapist started working on my muscles and then she start putting too much pressure on one spot for long time on my upper shoulder where my arms and shoulders are connected. Since then, I started feeling pain and still feel pain after 3 weeks. And also she put too much pressure on one spot for long time in between my legs around the bottom of my genital. It was very painful message and the therapist said that that was normal. I am starting to worry because I am experiencing errectile disfuction. I could not have control over my errection and my genital feels numb after that message session. Could it be I’m experiencing ED from the message I had in between my legs around my genital? I am a male and I have never experienced this before. What worry me the most is that I experienced the symptoms the same day after I had the message. Did any one had the same experience? How can I reverse this problem?

  • Melissa January 9, 2019, 9:14 pm

    Wow This is unbelievable! Why didn’t you people tell your massage therapist that the pressure was too deep ? You have to SPEAK UP! A massage therapist should never go so deep to cause you more pain… we always make sure our clients are comfortable. We definitely speak and check in with them through their massage session. PLEASE people tell your massage therapist if they are hurting you !

  • Edith January 16, 2019, 7:06 am

    I did tell my masseuse. What you said did not apply to all masseuses. Mine told me it’s normal and that it’s natural to feel some degree of discomfort when she’s working out the knots and kinks. Now my leg’s nerve pain is flaring up.

  • Melissa February 11, 2019, 8:25 pm

    Wow so sorry to hear this ! Deeper is NOT always better ! I always check in with my clients during their massage session. It’s important people to “SPEAK UP!” Your massage shouldn’t hurt you! Please be a voice. Let your massage therapist know when the pressure is too light or too deep. It’s your massage session and you are entitled to get the best massage! ?

  • Raquel February 15, 2019, 4:26 am

    I had my first, ever, massage 3 days ago. A deep tissue massage, that was very painful with the pressure she put on my mid-upper back and another area. I was naive and didn’t speak up, as I trusted she knew what she was doing and had told her multiple times it was my first time. I was in pain immediately (not shooting pain but tense, like someone beat up my back). Everyone said it was normal but 3 days later and my back pain is worse and affecting me at work and at night. I am very sensitive so I’m hoping it will subside and I’ve realized she didn’t ask me how the pressure was, ever, and was too hard on me. I made the mistake of internet research (here we are) and now I’m scared of nerve damage or permanent pain. It feels like someone dropped 20 bowling balls on my back. (I’m also travelling for a year and have to pay expensive international doctor visits-so I’m pretty upset.) Any advice?