Go easy on strong massage services, doctors caution

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Masseuses work at a parlor in Hanoi. Doctors said service from untrained practitioners can be paralyzing or fatal. Photo by Ngoc Thang
A Hungarian man in Ho Chi Minh City died in late December after coming back from a massage.
The 31-year-old was rushed to hospital by his family after complaining about neck pains and headache, but died shortly later of a stroke.
Doctors diagnosed that a strong force, possibly from the masseur, had damaged his carotid and led to hemorrhage that created blood clots in the brain.
The family said he had received strong “breaks” on his neck during the service.
Doctors say that while massage has become part of medical treatment, it needs to be done with caution to prevent such tragedies.
They say untrained practitioners are causing quite a few mishaps.
Doctor Huynh Tan Vu, a lecturer in traditional medicine at Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine, said in a Saigon Tiep Thi report a person needs to study for at least one to two years to master the techniques of massage.
He said massage concentrates force into the hands, mainly the fingers, to influence the muscles, joints and tendons for therapy purposes.
Massage has become part of western medicine treatment as it can affect the cardiological and neurological systems.
The massaging stimulates peripheral receptors which send signals to the brain and bring feelings of relief and relaxation, and thus can ease the mind and has proven useful in treating some mental disorders.
It smooths out blood circulation and other body fluids, enhancing muscular movement and the connection between the muscles.
Vu said massage is recommended for conditions such as arthritis, inflammation of tissues around the joints, bursitis which is the inflammation of a fluid-filled sac bursa of the body, neuritis, back pains, and fibromyalgia which is a disorder causing aching muscles, sleep disorders, and fatigue.
It is also recommended for paralysis cases including cerebral palsy and sclerosis, which is the hardening of body tissue due to unwarranted growth, degeneration of nerve fibers, or deposition of minerals, Vu said.
Massaging enhances the respiratory functions in asthma patients, reduces glucose level in diabetes patients and blood pressure in hypertension patients. It can ease alcohol addiction and spasticity (caused by involuntary muscle contraction), and even help in HIV treatment, the doctor added.
But for all the benefits it can bring, Vu said that a patient needs to be carefully examined for any vulnerability to massages before receiving the treatment.
He said many massage practitioners currently in the market are not professionally trained.
They pass down their experience to each other, but don’t pay attention to the patients’ age and physical health. For instance, they do not find out if their client has problems with his or her spinal cord, whether she/he has a heart condition or blood pressure.
“Any customer is served the same package of pressing, stepping on the back, breaking the neck, and pulling the hair.
“More dangerously, some customers come to a massage saloon drunk and demand strong action.”
Vu said untrained masseurs and masseuses must not do the back stepping because if these are not done right, they can loosen the ligament, cause sprains, damage bone marrow and lead to paralysis.
Doctor Le Hung, former deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Association of Traditional Medicine, said some practitioners even invented their own ways of breaking joints to create the cracking sounds. He said this can cause arthritis or joint degradation after a long time.
Hung said people with bone, spinal cord or spinal cord disc conditions should not be massaged directly on the back or joints, and neck breaking is not recommended for anyone.
The belt area should also be saved from strong massage to protect the kidneys, he said.
Vu said massage can be fatal to patients suffering from bone cancer, or those with thrombophlebitis – vein inflammation related to blood clots – as these can be broken off and block blood flow.
Massage services offered on the street also carry the risk of dermatological infections as all customers share one single mat that might be reused for several days.
Dirty hands or poor quality oil can also irritate the skin, especially parts that are burned or injured.
Doctors also advise against asking for a strong massage, saying just the feeling of relaxation provides greater benefits.

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