By Pamela Israel
Here at Peaceful Spirit, we spend a large amount of time encouraging our clients and the general public to come in and get therapeutic massage. We strongly believe that massage can help many different physical and mental conditions in ways that Western medicine simply cannot. However, we also know that there are some situations when massage is not the best option for treatment. These situations are sometimes obvious, such as having a sunburn, but can also be things you would never think could be influenced by a massage.
It may be surprising to learn that drinking alcohol is not recommended before a massage. But the combination of alcohol and massage is contraindicated for several reasons. First, alcohol dehydrates the body. And, if you’ve ever gotten a massage before, you know that one of the things your therapist tells you to do afterward is to drink extra water and stay hydrated, since massage pushes impurities out of your muscles and into your system. Drinking plenty of water after your massage helps to flush those impurities out of your body before they make you feel ill. Because alcohol is dehydrating, indulging before your massage makes you less able to flush those impurities out of your system, which can result in headaches and nausea.
In addition to dehydrating your body, alcohol can impair your judgement and make you less able to give your massage therapist appropriate feedback. While this may seem unimportant, communicating with your therapists is actually vital, not only for getting a great massage, but also to keep you from getting injured. By communicating about things like pressure and any pain you feel, your therapist is able to give you a great massage without causing discomfort, bruising, or trauma. Alcohol also desensitizes your body to pain, making it more difficult for you to tell when your therapist uses pressure that is too deep.
Last, massage can actually increase and amplify the effects of alcohol. Depending on what type of massage you receive, it can have either a sedative or a stimulant effect on your body, and it may be difficult to tell beforehand how it will affect you. Adding alcohol to the mix can have major effects that are difficult to foresee. Therefore, the best recourse is to abstain from drinking until after your massage.
Like alcohol, pain killers and other mind-altering substances are also contraindicated before a massage, since they make it difficult to tell if your therapist is using pressure that is too deep. Pain killers don’t just kill the pain that is hurting you; they can actually decrease your ability to feel any type of pain, which can be dangerous when undergoing a massage. Injuries such as bruising can result if you are unable to feel when a therapist uses pressure that is too deep. Other mind-altering substances, such as recreational drugs and medical marijuana, can impair your judgement and make it difficult to communicate with your therapist. As a rule, it’s always a good idea to leave the drinking, pain killers, and other drugs until after you’ve had your massage.
While many things that should not be combined with massage are voluntary (like drinking), there are also involuntary illnesses and injuries that are contraindicated for massage. It is always important to tell your therapist about any illness, injury, or issue you have before your massage starts. While a list of illnesses that are contraindicated for massage would be too long for the scope of this article, in general, if you have an injury (such as an open wound or broken bone) massage is not what you want to be doing – at least not around the affected area. Also, if you’re running a fever and feeling ill, you are probably contagious, and coming in for a massage will not only expose everyone in the office to your illness, it probably won’t do much to make you feel better, either. Taking all of these things into consideration, it is best to come in for a massage when you are feeling well and not injured.
There are also contraindications for massage that apply to women who are pregnant. Believe it or not, there are actually types of massage that can induce labor, cause miscarriages, and all sorts of other problems. But when done correctly, prenatal massage is very relaxing and helpful for expecting mothers. Like with all health issues, it’s important to tell your therapist that you are pregnant so that you are able to enjoy your massage without any discomfort. Another point to consider is your changing body. Here at Peaceful Spirit, we incorporate our Body Support System for our prenatal clients, which enables them to lay safely and comfortably on their stomachs, without the danger of hurting their baby. We also include other techniques (such as sideline massage) to help expecting women experience comfort and relaxation. By telling your therapist about your health issues before your massage, you will help them give you the best massage they can deliver.
The main point to keep in mind when getting a massage is that you are letting another person work on your body. That person (more than likely) can’t read minds, so he or she needs you to speak up about things like how much pressure you like and if you have any medical conditions. Many people have the idea that they are “just getting a massage” and “it can’t hurt anything.” But it’s important to realize that anything you do to your body is going to affect you in one way or another. Abstaining from alcohol (and other drugs) and communicating with your therapist about what is going on with your body are the best things you can to do to make your massage experience as enjoyable and relaxing as possible.
Fehrs, Linda. “Alcohol and Massage: A Dangerous Combination.” Institute for Integrative Healthcare Website. February, 2013. http://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2013/02/alcohol-and-massage-a-dangerous-combination.html