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When to skip that massage

  • Story Highlights
  • Massage is often beneficial, but in some situations, it's not a good idea
  • Don't get a massage if the pressure could move bones or irritate inflamed nerves
  • Massage can aggravate some skin conditions such eczema or poison ivy
  • Check with your doctor before massage if you have high blood pressure
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By Linda Saether
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Massage, that art of laying on hands, has been around for a while and has seen some changes through the years.


Massage increases blood flow to muscles, which can speed healing time.

Gone is the simple back rub with some oil tossed in. Today's list of massage options is long and varied, a veritable smorgasbord of touchy-feely options: deep tissue, hot stone, underwater (watsu), massage for couples, massage for your energy fields (reiki) and even for Blackberry users.

What's next? Remote massage? Teenage texting massage?


But no matter the variation, most experts agree that massage is a good thing.

"It increases blood flow to muscles, and that increases healing and speeds healing time," said professor Allan Platt, who teaches physician assistants at Emory University's School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. "It's also good for obtaining the relaxation affect for the entire body, which lowers blood pressure, lowers the heart rate and decreases stress, which is all good." Video Health for Her: More on when massage isn't a good idea »

But there are times when massage is not the answer. Platt gives examples:

"If there's any damage to bones or muscles that could be manipulated out of place," massage isn't a good idea, he cautioned. "Like a slipped disc or things like that, where it actually may increase irritation of the nerves or the nerve roots. Those are times where it may be beneficial to stay away or stay away from that area."

Other factors also might make avoiding that area a good idea.

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"Rashes -- stay away from those areas that might be infected," warned Martha Young, a certified massage therapist. "Whether it's eczema, poison ivy or some other skin allergy, massaging that area might irritate it further."

She suggests clearing the therapy with a doctor, even before heading out for that massage. She has massaged patients with rashes and just avoids those areas so it isn't a complete deal-breaker.

But some things are deal breakers. Patients with high blood pressure who are not on medication should rethink this hands-on therapy method.

"Because getting a massage will increase your blood flow," Young explained, "that increase in a patient with already high blood pressure could cause problems."

And cancer patients should be especially cautious. The lymphatic system is a key vehicle for the spread of cancer. Massage that stimulates those glands could be detrimental, Young says.

The best rule of thumb is to check with your doctor if you have any major medical issues before you lie on that heated-up and padded-down massage table.

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And, finally, there are some huge misconceptions on just what a massage can and can't do.


Shannon Grant, a massage therapist with the Art of Touch Therapeutic Massage Center in Atlanta, Georgia, outlines what they are: "Massage cannot fix any broken bones, make you lose weight, reduce cellulite, and it cannot 'fix you' in one session."

And it's just not magic, Young said. When her clients complain over chronic back problems that haven't gotten better even after several massage sessions, she is tempted to say, "Hey, how about losing those 50 extra pounds you have around your middle, or maybe trying some exercise? Then you might really feel the fix."

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