Areas To Avoid With A Neck Massage

You should be aware of neck anatomy if you want to give yourself a neck massage. Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

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).

The jugular vein drains blood from your head and face. The hypoglossal nerve directs the movement of the tongue.

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?

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  1. Hi! Thank you for sharing this important information! Everyone in my family enjoys massages, whether by hand or use equipment. I will definitely remind them to not massage the carotid triangle area.
    So a stroke happens because our brain does not get enough blood, and that happens because of high blood pressure or low blood pressure? I am a little confused. Hoping you can clarify.
    Thank you!

    • Thanks! I am glad that you found this post informative. Stroke does happen when blood doesn’t reach the brain and that can be for many reasons. With a massage, I am not really as concerned about the changes in blood pressure leading to a stroke (even though, if you are alone, and you faint and hit your head, that could be a bad situation). I am more concerned about the arteries becoming damaged and leading to a stroke. I think that this is more likely to happen if you use a massager since massagers can give extremely strong massages. 

  2. Hi Eva,

    I didn’t know that neck massage can cause injury. This is very good information. Due to a shoulder ache, my mother will usually massage her shoulder and neck as well. I better warn her. Perhaps using our own hands to massage will reduce the risk as we know how much pressure to apply.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Would a stroke usually happen relatively soon after a massage or how long could it take to have a stroke after a deep pressure neck massage? Also, even if there was no stroke, can there be permanent damage on the artery? She kept digging and digging in those areas for like over 5 minutes on each side. I have been getting massages for years but never realized this. I also had them stop doing the neck because it hurt so much. This recent massage was at a new place.

    • Hey Jeff,

      Sorry to hear that you had such a rough massage experience. It is always good to stop the massage therapist if it is too painful, just like you did. Thankfully, strokes with massages are rare. It is difficult for me to comment on the timing of a stroke after a neck injury since I do not have the depth of knowledge of an actual doctor (and that is too important of a question to be wrong on). However, I do trust the information from Harvard Health. You should check out this article about carotid artery injuries from them. It mentions important symptoms that you should look for if you suspect an injury.

      At any rate, I hope that you feel better and take some comfort and knowing that these cases are pretty rare.

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