Massage Side Effects and Risks

Written by: Kevin Cash



Time to read 11 min

Massage is a popular way to unwind and promote healing. However, it's essential to understand potential side effects, which can include bruising and even serious nerve damage.

We'll discuss what you might experience after a massage, from nausea and diarrhea to headaches and fatigue. You'll learn why these things happen and, more importantly, how to deal with them.

Have you ever left a massage clinic feeling worse than when you went in? We're about to find out why these reactions happened. We'll also share tips to ensure your next massage leaves you feeling great.

Most Common Side Effects of Massage

Getting a massage is typically a pleasant experience, but it can occasionally result in unexpected reactions. These side effects are usually mild and short-lived. Let's dive into the most common massage complications and ways to handle them.


A woman feeling nauseous and holding her stomach and mouth

Nausea after massage might not be as rare as you think, especially after a lymphatic drainage massage. As the massage works on your muscles, it releases lymphatic fluid and toxins, like lactic acid, into your bloodstream. This sudden increase can sometimes overwhelm your body, causing nausea.

Other factors that may contribute to feeling sick after a massage include:

  1. Vagus Nerve Stimulation - The Vagus nerve regulates heart rate, digestion, and other bodily functions. Some individuals may feel lightheaded or nauseous when receiving extra attention during a deep tissue massage. This sensation indicates that the body is readjusting.

  2. Not Hydrated Enough - Insufficient hydration before and after the massage may lead to nausea, signaling that the body requires more water.

Drink some water, rest, and let your massage therapist know if you feel nauseous after a massage. They might be able to adjust things to make you more comfortable and keep the benefits coming.


Massage brings bliss, but it can also bring literal bumps. Bruising after massage is one of those surprises that intense pressure or vigorous strokes can cause.

Bruises are more common with intense massage techniques like deep tissue and sports massages. These methods focus on deeper muscle layers, applying strong pressure to untangle knots and alleviate tension. Occasionally, reducing oil usage to improve grip can increase skin friction, worsening the bruising effect.

Although rare, there have been reports of serious massage side effects such as blood clots, nerve injury, or bone fractures, according to NCCIH research. This was the case with a woman who reported nerve damage from a deep massage in a 2017 study.

Here's how to treat bruises after a massage:

  1. Apply Ice - Placing ice or a cold pack on the bruised area can help reduce the bruise and swelling.

  2. Get Some Rest - Resting and not putting too much strain on the bruises allows your body to heal more comfortably.

Bruising is usually nothing to worry about and should fade in a few days. It's your body's way of dealing with the extra pressure and movement you experience.


Massages can stir up deep layers of your body, including tense muscles. When these muscles are worked on, they might release stored toxins, causing unexpected reactions like diarrhea.

For some people, abdominal massages can trigger diarrhea. The pressure in techniques like deep tissue, sports, trigger points, and Swedish massages can also lead to an overactive digestive system and loose stools.

Opt for a gentler massage technique if post-massage diarrhea is a concern. This lessens the intensity of toxin release, reducing the chance of loose bowels. Fortunately, diarrhea after massage typically resolves within a day.

Muscle Ache

Man holding his upper back in pain

Massage therapy, especially deep tissue and Swedish massages, can sometimes cause more pain initially before you start feeling better. It's not like the usual soreness after a workout. These are called muscle aches, and they can be quite intense.

Deep tissue massages can cause small injuries to your muscles that you may not realize at the time. However, within a day, you might experience intense pain. This pain signals that your body needs time to heal.

In rare instances, some individuals may even experience more severe dangers of deep tissue massage, such as influenza-induced rhabdomyolysis. This condition occurs when injured muscles release proteins and electrolytes into the bloodstream. This was the case for a 39-year-old man in a Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings 2021 study.

If you feel a lot of pain after a massage that doesn't feel like normal soreness, it's important to pay attention to it. If you feel very bad pain or see swelling or bruises, you should see a doctor, even if some discomfort is normal.


Woman holding her head in pain

Headaches are one of the negatives of massage therapy, but they're usually not severe. Releasing muscle knots and tight muscles in the neck and shoulder during a massage can send disruptive signals to your brain, which may result in a headache.

It's not just muscle release that can trigger headaches during a massage. Let's explore some other possible causes:

  1. Dehydration - If you're not hydrated enough before your massage, the relaxation process might provoke a headache.

  2. Uncomfortable Head Position - Your head's position during the massage might strain your neck, causing a headache.

  3. Reaction to Massage Oil - Your skin or body might react negatively to the massage oil, resulting in a headache.

A neuromuscular massage for muscle pain could also cause headaches, especially if you have temporomandibular joint issues, which affect your ability to chew and talk.

Deep tissue massage can occasionally lead to headaches as a side effect. Excessive pressure can leave your muscles feeling sore and can even result in bruising, all while improving blood circulation. These effects have the potential to trigger headaches in certain individuals.

Remember, the chances of getting a headache from a massage are usually small. The soothing effects of massage therapy far outweigh the risks for most people. And if you do get a headache, it will likely be mild and short-lived.


Man resting his head on a desk, looking fatigued

Fatigue following a massage, especially a vigorous deep tissue or trigger point session, is more common than you might think. 10 out of 100 patients reported experiencing tiredness and minor discomfort after a massage treatment, according to a 2007 survey.

Why does fatigue hit you after a massage? There are a few reasons:

  1. Relaxed Body - After a massage, your body is in full chill-out mode. This muscle relaxation can leave you feeling extra tired, as your muscles need time to recover from the manipulation.

  2. Endorphins Released - During a massage, natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins flood your system. Their release can also contribute to feeling tired post-massage.

  3. Possible Dehydration - It's essential to stay hydrated. Dehydration can sneakily add to your tiredness, so be sure to drink enough water.

But there is one benefit, fatigue can set you up for some amazing sleep. Thanks to its calming effect, the deep relaxation from a massage primes you for a fantastic snooze.

Skin Redness

Woman showing skin redness on her shoulder

If your skin turns red after a massage, don't be alarmed. It's a common and usually harmless reaction. The redness is often seen after a deep tissue massage, resulting from the increased blood flow near the skin's surface.

A thorough massage boosts blood circulation, which can leave your skin looking a little red and feeling slightly irritated. However, this effect is temporary and usually fades away within a few hours.

Sometimes, the oils or creams used in the massage can also make your skin more sensitive, adding to the redness. If it’s more than a little red and itchy, you may want to see a doctor because it could be an allergic reaction.

Types of Massages

Therapist placing hot stones on back

There are many types of massages. There is a broad range of techniques, each offering unique benefits. These methods range from soothing, long strokes to invigorating, short taps.

Some therapists use oils for smoothness, while others focus on the touch alone. A massage session can vary in length, from as short as 5 minutes to as long as 2 hours. The massage is customized to the client's specific needs and pain tolerance.

Let's dive into the most common types of massage therapy and their specific benefits:

  • Aromatherapy Massage - Aromatherapy massage is perfect for those who love scents and want emotional healing. Essential oils are used with soft pressure to improve relaxation and well-being.

  • Bunion Massage - A bunion massage focuses on the feet and boosts circulation. It helps with foot relaxation and can reduce bunion pain and swelling.

  • Deep Tissue Massage - Deep tissue massage applies firm pressure to target and relax the deeper layers of connective tissues and muscles. It's great for injury recovery, pain relief, and posture correction.

  • Hot Stone Massage - A hot stone massage involves the use of smooth, heated stones on specific points on the body while giving the massage. It helps to provide a deeper relaxation and release tension.

  • Prenatal Massage - Prenatal massage is for pregnant women and helps with the aches and stresses of pregnancy. The massages are comfortable and safe for both mom and baby.

  • Reflexology - Reflexology involves working on specific points on your feet, hands, and ears. It helps you relax and restore your energy levels.

  • Sports Massage - Sports massage is mostly for athletes but could be for any active individuals. It prevents and treats injuries from sports or chronic pain, keeping you in top form.

  • Swedish Massage - Swedish massage is a classic therapeutic massage for overall relaxation. It uses kneading motions to improve circulation and soothe superficial muscles.

  • Thai Massage - A thai massage combines movement and stretching. It is great for those who want an active form of relaxation to control pain and stress.

There's a massage type perfect for you, whether you want to relax, recover from an injury, or enjoy some pampering.

How to Deal with the Side Effects of Massage

Woman relaxing on couch
Side effects during a massage are rare but possible. Let's talk about how to manage them, including ways to reduce pain after a massage, so you can get the most benefit from it.

Drink Water

Staying well-hydrated after a massage is key to avoiding side effects and letting the benefits of your session shine.

Drinking water is crucial because it helps your body clear out toxins more effectively. This reduces the chances of having headaches, tiredness, red skin, or feeling queasy after your massage.

Make it a point to drink plenty of water before and after your session. This simple step supports your body's natural detox process, making it easier to feel relaxed and refreshed.

Improve Position

How you position your head during a massage matters more than you might think. Adjusting your head position slightly now and then can greatly improve your comfort. It's an easy way to improve your sensory experience and reduce the chances of tension that could lead to headaches.

When your head isn't well-supported on the massage table, it can lead to neck tension, potentially causing headaches. By keeping your head in a comfortable position during your massage, you are ensuring that the therapy is effective and safe.

Don't be afraid to ask the massage therapist for help; they can adjust the headrest or suggest a better position.

This advice won't ensure a headache-free experience, but it's a big step towards making sure you leave the session feeling great.

Better Meals

Eating right before and after your massage can significantly impact how you feel. Keeping your meals light helps you avoid any unpleasant experiences during or after your massage.

Having a heavy meal before a massage can lead to discomfort due to bloating. However, arriving for a massage on an empty stomach isn't ideal either, as it can make you feel lightheaded or excessively tired. Finding a balance with a light meal is best.

Here's a quick guide on what to eat before and after your massage:

  • Before Your Massage - Have a light meal at least a couple of hours beforehand, such as a colorful salad or your favorite fruits.

  • After Your Massage - Choose another light and nutritious meal to maintain that post-massage relaxation.


Resting after a massage gives your body the peace and quiet it needs to recover effectively. Consider it the perfect excuse to relax and do nothing.

Let's explore why downtime matters after a massage:

  1. Facilitates Recovery - Your body undergoes repairs and adjustments following a massage. Feeling a bit tired or sore is normal, and resting aids in the recovery process, ensuring you reap the benefits of the massage later on.

  2. Prevents Additional Discomfort - Inadequate rest can exacerbate feelings of discomfort. Without proper downtime, headaches, muscle pain, and other issues are more likely to arise.

  3. Enhances Well-Being - Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night is highly beneficial. It supports your body's repair mechanisms and enhances the enjoyment of your next massage session.

Find a comfy spot, put your feet up, enjoy a calming drink, and listen to gentle music. It's a simple way to help your muscles stay relaxed. If you can, a short nap is a great refresher, too. It gives your body a chance to focus on healing without other jobs.

Lighter Massage

If you're new to massage or trying out a new massage tool, understanding the appropriate amount of pressure is crucial. Talking openly with your massage therapist or adjusting your self-massage device is key to a soothing experience.

Here's why requesting a lighter touch during a massage is important:

  1. New to Massage - A gentle approach helps your body acclimate, reducing the likelihood of post-massage soreness.

  2. Sensitive Skin or Prone to Bruising - Lighter pressure minimizes the risk of marks or discomfort, particularly for those with sensitive skin or a tendency to bruise easily.

  3. Self-Massage Tool User - Start with the lowest setting and gradually increase it to avoid unpleasant surprises such as muscle soreness.

The ultimate goal is always to feel better, whether you're at a spa or at home. Follow these tips to customize your massage experience to suit your preferences and needs.

Massage FAQs

1. What Happens to Your Body After a Massage?

A body massage can improve the circulation of blood, allowing for a better exchange of nutrients and waste products between cells. This can help repair tissues, promote relaxation, and reduce muscle tension. With these benefits, your body can recover quickly and be better prepared for physical activity.

2. What Is a Common Body Reaction After Massage?

Muscle soreness is one of the common reactions people get after a massage, especially if the therapist applies deep pressure to your muscles. This soreness may occur due to the intense pressure that relaxes your muscles, but it can also cause tiredness or aches.

3. Why Do I Feel Unwell After a Massage?

It's possible to feel unwell after a massage because the body's immune system reacts to the intensity of the massage. This can cause feelings of sickness, particularly in individuals who are not in good health or are out of shape.

4. How Long Do You Feel Bad After a Massage?

Side effects from massage therapy can last from a few minutes to several days, depending on the massage's intensity and your health. If you have a light massage, you might feel minor muscle soreness or aches that should go away within a day.

But if you have a more intense massage, you might experience more severe side effects, like nausea or headaches, that could last longer.

5. How Often Should You Get Massages?

Weekly or bi-weekly massage sessions are best for optimal benefits. They can help prevent common injuries, reduce body pain, and relax muscles and minds.