A massage is not the riskiest thing that you can do. Risky is going skydiving. Or cliff diving. Or any type of diving, really.
Going to a spa and getting a nice massage seems more therapeutic than dangerous. However, everything comes with some degree of risk, even a nice, relaxing massage.
You can minimize risk by learning the areas to avoid. This is especially important for people who use massagers at home.
This post focuses on some of the risky areas to avoid when you are getting a neck massage. I will go over a couple of areas on the front of the neck that you should be aware of and also review the symptoms of a stroke.
Please keep in mind that this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Read my full medical disclaimer here.
Areas to Avoid During A Neck Massage
The Carotid Triangle
The carotid triangle carries some important blood vessels. I will show you how to find it, but I am not going to go into exact detail.
If you turn your neck to one side, you will notice a muscle that runs diagonally from just behind your ear to your collarbone. This is your sternocleidomastoid muscle and it forms one of the sides of your carotid triangle. A muscle just below your chin forms the top border and a muscle that runs alongside your voicebox forms the third side.
As mentioned above, the carotid triangle carries some extremely important blood vessels. As the name implies, it carries the carotid artery. It also carries branches of the jugular vein as well as the hypoglossal and vagus nerves. Keep in mind that these vessels are not protected by bones, like your heart and brain. They are near the surface and thus more vulnerable to damage.
Below is a video from the Swansea University School of Medicine that explains the borders and contents of the anterior triangle of the neck (the carotid triangle is a subdivision of the anterior triangle).
The carotid artery is extremely important because it carries blood to your face and brain. In addition, there are sensors around the carotid artery that are sensitive to pressure. Pressure to this area can potentially cause your blood pressure to drop suddenly (not good!) and may even cause you to faint.
The vagus nerve also deserves special mention. According to Mental Floss, this nerve is involved with controlling your breathing and heart rate (definitely not something that you would want to mess around with).
More important Blood Vessels
The External Jugular Vein
This vein crosses over your sternocleidomastoid muscle (mentioned above) and is vulnerable because it doesn’t have much covering it. You should avoid massaging this muscle to avoid rupture of this vein.
The Vertebral Arteries
The vertebral arteries actually run through holes on the side of your vertebrae in your neck. These arteries are extremely important and provide blood to your brainstem and parts of your brain. One risk of cracking your neck too much is that your vertebral arteries may rupture.
Has anyone actually gotten injured from a neck massage?
In a word, yes, people have gotten injured from a neck massage. The Daily Mail ran a story in 2015 about a woman who ended up with a stroke because her carotid artery split following a massage.
M Live also covered a story about a man who suffered from a stroke from too many neck massages.
Even though these stories are pretty rare, strokes from a massage do happen. However, knowing about the blood vessels and nerves of the neck might help prevent a medical emergency.
The next section includes information from the US Department of Health and Human Services and goes over the symptoms of a stroke and what to do if you think that you are having one. This information is vital for anyone who wants to massage their neck at home.
In conclusion, there are certain areas that you should avoid if you want to give yourself a neck massage. Most of these areas are on the front and side of your neck and involve major blood vessels and nerves.
In this post, I went over some of these vessels and their significance. I also included some stories of people who suffered from strokes as a result of neck massages that were too harsh. Lastly, I included an excerpt from the US Department of Health and Human Servies about how to recognize a stroke and what to do if you think that you are having one.
My hope is to reduce your risk from neck massagers and any massage that you might get at home. I encourage you to continue to learn about massage and your body.
In the comments below, let me know which of the vessels were most interesting. Were you surprised to learn that some people have actually been injured by a massage?